At first, Lisa Clark Balke was less than enchanted by the towering evergreens that are synonymous with cozy cabins tucked deep into the Wisconsin woods. “I’m from North Dakota,” says the Minneapolis resident and co-owner of Victory Vintage in Linden Hills. “There are so many trees here; I was starting to feel claustrophobic. Every road looked the same.”
But her husband, Jeff Balke, had grown up vacationing in the area, near Danbury, where the couple eventually bought a 1920s fixer-upper that was once part of a nine-acre fish camp. Today, nearly 25 years later, it’s hard for Lisa to imagine not having this secluded getaway where they have made so many memories with their three now-grown children. “We found our groove doing projects at the cabin,” she says of the years spent taking down walls, rearranging rooms, and adding layers of paint and personality.
Similar to at her Minneapolis home goods shop, Lisa’s love of collecting is on display at the cabin, too, albeit in a contained and restrained order. There’s a metal pharmacy cabinet that holds natural curiosities near the front entry, a grouping of vintage clay pots from Red Wing sitting above the TV armoire in the family room, and a series of Audubon prints that Lisa plucked from a book, framed, and hung along a wall in one of the bedrooms. “I don’t like having a lot of things out everywhere,” she says. “But I do like junk and weird stuff, so I try to keep it all in one place.”
“I like clean lines and industrial mixed with vintage.”
—Lisa Clark Balke
Always a collector, Lisa likes to shop restaurant supply shops for hardworking dishes that aren’t as likely to break or chip. Impromptu table settings are simply elegant with antique linens embroidered with old monograms, glass domes, tarnished silver, and wildflowers. A vintage stove she picked up for $50 at an estate sale and industrial-style light fixtures add character.
Daughters Ella, 27, and Kate, 25, inherited their mom’s love of the hunt and also have fingerprints on the spaces. The sisters lived for nearly six months at the cabin during the COVID lockdown and spent much of that time with paintbrushes and hammers in hand, making repairs, building an outdoor herb garden, and giving rooms a refresh. “We aren’t very good at relaxing,” Ella says. “A few years ago, we built the rock retaining walls around the firepit as a ‘fun’ summer activity.”
But when they do unwind, a dip in the lake, beers around the bonfire, or a puzzle on the porch are favorite pastimes. That is, until someone comes up with an idea for the next project to tackle at daybreak. “It’s a more meaningful space because we created it together,” Ella says.