A modern Minnesota lake home offers a fresh look at the way design meets living

By Linda Mack

Cristine and Jayson Dock’s house on Lake Waconia isn’t like its neighbors. There are no steeply gabled roofs or faux columns. Instead, the boxy forms are clad in white stucco, brick, dark-stained cedar, and glass.

Walk through the entryway framed by Corten steel, and a two-story living room opens to the lake view. Furnished with only a sectional, nubby rug, and grand piano, it is spare—and stunning. Ditto for the open kitchen, where no overhead cabinets block the view, nothing clutters the counters, and vents, lighting, and speakers are concealed in the ceiling.

Besides an office with two desktops off the kitchen, the only other downstairs room is a swimming pool. On the second floor, the master suite and children’s wing top opposite sides of the house. They are linked by a burnished-steel bridge that stretches over the living room in a memorable merger of art and function.

In what can best be described as an architect’s dream project, Jayson and Cristine wanted a house made beautiful by the architecture, not its adornments. “The house isn’t cluttered, but it isn’t cold or forbidding, either,” says Tim Alt, AIA, of ALTUS Architecture + Design. The design “is about how they live—not what they have.”

The Docks have six kids ranging in age from 8 to 17, so how they live can be summed up in one word: actively. “They wanted the house to be indestructible, and they wanted it to be a gathering place for family and friends—to engender togetherness,” says Alt.

Cristine grew up in a one-room Japanese-style house designed by her father. During Jayson’s time in the Air Force, the couple remodeled several older houses. When they bought the lot on Lake Waconia and decided to build, they were laser-focused on something different—open spaces, a contemporary look, and durable materials. “This was going to be a house that was more than just a work of art,” says Jayson, who along with Cristine brought strong ideas to the design process. “Everything had to have a purpose.”

Starting with the elevation. Rather than digging a basement and disturbing the 200-year-old oak trees, the owners and architect set the house at ground level. “It creates an immediacy of movement from the inside to the outside,” says Jayson.

The dining area off the kitchen reaches out toward the lake. On a hot day, the older folks can sit in air-conditioned comfort and watch the activity outside. The eating counter in the kitchen has an organic, piano-like shape, so family members can see each other and talk as they eat. And in place of bar stools that always need straightening, eight seats are cantilevered off a steel column like spokes off the hub of an axle. To accommodate the different ages of the kids, the wooden seats screw up and down.

The leather-finish Silestone bar and Caesarstone countertops require no maintenance. And a vacuum and dry mop take care of the polished concrete floors throughout the main level. “The kids can skateboard through the living room. They can come in from the beach and be all sandy and have a snack here in the kitchen,” says Cristine. “We can have 15 crazy 11-year-olds from my son’s hockey team swimming and eating, or 70 choir kids here after a performance. I’ve never been in a house that works this well.”

Even the swimming pool is designed for easy upkeep. The saltwater pool and hot tub is in a long room with its own air-conditioning and heating, so the pool smell never reaches the rest of the house. Walls of specialized backer board can take the water and humidity—which work their oxidizing magic on a Corten steel cabinet in the pool bathroom.

The upstairs is perhaps even more customized than the downstairs. The master suite includes a rubber-floored exercise room, a precisely detailed bathroom, and a bedroom with a bed, chair, and telescope. A floor of end-grain Douglas fir lends visual texture to the spare space.

The children’s wing feels like a tree house. Colorful stained-plywood walls individualize the three two-level bedrooms, each of which sports bunk beds and a loft. “We wanted each room to hold as many people as possible,” says Cristine. The boys and girls each have their own bathroom, and they share a laundry room. Sliding steel doors can separate the girls’ section from the boys’.

In the same way that a novel can universalize the story of particular people, a house designed for the needs of a particular family can highlight universal design issues. “This house generates a lot of discussion about how families live,” says Alt. “It expresses flexible, integrated, and dynamic spaces for living.”

For the Docks, says Jayson, “it’s like living at the lake year-round.” Or, as Cristine puts it, “We just kind of eased up on the living.”

Location: Waconia, Minnesota
Clients: Jayson and Cristine Dock
Architect: ALTUS Architecture + Design
Principal-in-charge: Timothy Alt, AIA
Project lead designer: Timothy Alt, AIA
Landscape architects: Coen + Partners; Travis Van Liere Studio
General contractor: Elevation Homes
Size: 5,500 square feet
Completion: April 2013
Photographer: Paul Crosby