Minnesota family buys Wisconsin cabin on a whim. Here's what happened
"Underneath all the ugly was a really cute cabin in an idyllic setting," said Diana Cole, of Forest Lake.
HERBSTER, Wis. — Diana Cole didn’t need to see this cabin up close to buy it.
The Forest Lake, Minnesota, woman was scanning Instagram when she came across a two-bedroom, one-bathroom A-frame for sale somewhere in Wisconsin.
“I had no idea where Herbster was, but I was curious about the property. When I saw how close it is to Lake Superior, I got really excited,” she recalled.
Cole and her partner, Rob Hartshorn, were snowbirding in Florida when she spotted the cabin, which fit what the family had been seeking in a lakeside getaway. After a “half-joking” text to her daughter-in-law and an inquisitive call to the Realtor, Cole put in an offer.
Rachel Hartshorn was familiar with the area, and was optimistic when Cole texted about the property. As for her father: “Rob thought I was crazy,” Cole recalled, “but it just felt like it was meant to be.”
A week later, Hartshorn and her partner, Jack Nixon, visited the cabin and confirmed for Cole that she made the right choice. “It was small, but it had good potential,” Hartshorn had reported.
The family spent summer 2021 remodeling the very 1970s cabin. It now serves as the their go-to retreat. They try to visit once a month, and when they’re not there, they rent it out for $199 a night through Airbnb . (The hot-ticket spot is already full up for November.)
The cabin hadn’t been touched since the ’70s, and it showed. Shag carpeting covered the bedroom floors. The walls were blanketed in cornucopia-covered paper and dark-wood paneling. A giant wood stove had swallowed the living room. For appliances, the cabin included an avocado-green fridge and a miniature washer and dryer.
“Underneath all the ugly was a really cute cabin in an idyllic setting,” said Cole.
They painted the kitchen cabinets and the walls; added flooring; cleared away many, many trees; and called in a landscaper. They opted for an light and airy decor to open the space up with touches of earthy and neutral colors.
Rachel Hartshorn was in charge of the stark designs on the bathroom floor. It involved lots of primer and stenciling layers with oil-based paint, which presented its own headache because she had to use gasoline or paint thinner to clean a stencil for reuse.
“She’d come out and have more paint on here than’d be on the floor,” joked her father.
“It was a tricky space to maneuver,” she said.
The family said liberating the stove and filling its void in the living room ranked high on their list of conquered obstacles. Oh, and removing the wallpaper. “It went from their job to my job,” Rob Hartshorn said.
Working on a tight budget, the family furnished the cabin from area garage sales, antique stores and giveaways from friends. Many items just needed upcycling, such as the secondhand store couch, which fit perfectly in the living room after Cole removed its floor-brushing fringe.
There are pops of character throughout in the cabin’s original screen door, which is now the bathroom door. And, their thrifty solution to low and too-spaced-out stair railings was to repurpose bed frame dividers. “They’re the right length. They turned out cute and they were free,” said Cole.
Travels out west drew Rachel Hartshorn to A-frames, a love she shared with Cole. Before the family bought their cabin, Cole hadn’t been in one since the 70s, she said.
She and Rob Hartshorn have flipped small houses in the Twin Cities for about 10 years, but this is their first cabin. They’re following up with a second A-frame flip in Danbury, Wisconsin. It’s the antidote to retirement boredom, Hartshorn said.
Hartshorn’s experience with renovations has come in handy for his daughter and her partner. Rachel Hartshorn and Nixon purchased their first home in Forest Lake, about five minutes away from her father. With their help, Hartshorn and Nixon have been able to update and open up their starter home.
“We’ve learned so much from them. We follow their lead,” she said.
For the young couple, the Herbster cabin is a retreat from work and “too many hours a day” looking at screens. It allows them to dive into hiking, kayaking and other outdoor hobbies, she said.
The couple recently got engaged on the North Shore, which Hartshorn expected to happen at the family cabin. “We’re cheating on the South Shore,” she said.
“I got to keep you on your toes,” Nixon added.