Photos by Andrea Rugg
California residents Ken and Becky Kurtz flipped houses before “flipping” was even a term. In fact, Ken remodeled more than 1,000 homes before he and his wife considered purchasing a fixer-upper in the northwestern Wisconsin town of Superior—their hometown of 30-plus years.
The empty nesters started their search for the perfect vacation property in Superior’s countryside, away from the immediate hustle and bustle of the 26,000-person lake town. But after years of searching and even a week-long, in-person trip to bolster their efforts, they never found it. “I’d go to every lake, every river, every house I could find looking for the right summer home,” Ken explained. “But I kept procrastinating, thinking, ‘Nope, not enough beach; this one’s too new; there’s not enough woods.’ I just kept coming up with excuses not to buy.”
Frustrated by his failed efforts, Ken picked up a phone call from Becky one day. She found a vacant house online, but far from the country- and lake-side properties they had their sights (and hearts) set on. Instead, this prospective home was located on a peninsula of the St. Louis Bay—just two minutes off the main road in town. From the sunny confines of Palm Desert, Becky encouraged her husband to visit the home and see if it could be “the one.”
With a city-block-long driveway, 30-inch-diameter pines, towering birch trees, and a plethora of potential, Ken was sold. “When I pulled up and saw the house, I knew what I had to work with was fantastic,” says Ken, who’s worked in construction his entire life. “But I didn’t know what I was going to do with it yet. What colors, tile, granite, cabinets… I’m not good at that, but that’s where Jenika picks it up.”
Jenika Kurtz is a Los Angeles-based interior designer, but first and foremost, she’s Ken and Becky’s daughter. Together, the father-daughter duo converted the dark and dreary mid-century house into a permanent place to spend their summers—closer than ever to the friends and family who reside nearby.
But before any interior remodeling work (let alone the planned addition) could be completed, Ken needed his tools in the Midwest, plus a place to store them. Back in California, he loaded his gear into a trailer, trekked 2,053 miles back across the country, and spent the summer building a beautiful new garage with heated floors, drywall interiors, shelving, lighting, and more. With phase one of the remodel complete, he shifted his focus to the main residence.
This part of the project was twofold: it included plans for ridding the home of its less appealing features, like the closed-off kitchen, single 35-square-foot bathroom, and outdated ‘50s decor. “I was elated, but I think my mom was a little scared,” Jenika adds with a laugh. “But Dad and I, our brains were going a mile a minute.”
Ken’s next move was to build out a 275-square-foot addition on the main level, where the home’s original footprint ended abruptly at one wall. He saved both time and money by using helical piers (a metal foundation system) for the addition—affording space for private bathrooms in both the master and guest bedrooms.
Two seasons later with the addition finished, walls opened, support beams secured, and electrical rewired, it was Jenika’s turn to take over, transform, and transcend her parents’ expectations for the interiors. “My mom loves more modern [styles], and my dad is a little more fancy,” says Jenika, who, after watching her parents remodel home after home growing up, had a clear understanding of their design tastes.
She pulled two items of inspiration she knew they both would love, working off their colors and content to design the rest of the space: one, an oversized photo of birch trees (inspiring the home’s black-and-white palette with pops of coral and gold), and two, a wall-to-wall Lulu & Georgia wool rug that adds a touch of formality to the dining room.
That dining room adjoins the kitchen and cozy living space, with defining interiors Jenika describe as “almost a mixture of Craftsman and mid-century, as strange as that sounds.” The style holds strong across the home’s two levels, complemented by a thoughtful balance among finishes, materials, and textures—from glass and mixed metals to leather and rattan.
In addition, the original baby-blue and lemon-yellow bathroom now serves as a powder room—wrapped in an era-appropriate birch tree wallpaper—while the new guest suite boasts a blush and melon color palette, vintage bed frame, and 19th-century desk chair salvaged from a pharmacy. Contrast is striking in the nearby master bedroom, where deep black walls juxtapose a white Flokati rug that blankets the white oak floor’s whiskey finish. In the adjacent master bath, a glass and steel shower, heated concrete floor tiles, a freestanding clawfoot tub, and crystal chandelier are all enhanced by natural light that pours through the tree canopy. On the lower level, another living space, bedroom, and bathroom complete the four-summers-long remodel.
Although so much was transformed, Jenika still wanted to respect the home’s original bones, even if only through furnishings and finishes that honor the mid-century architecture, like the window and door moldings. The fireplace stone is original, as are the plaster wall textures in the master and guest bedrooms, big picture windows in the living room, and some of the smaller double-hung windows throughout the home.
Those 50-plus-year-old, single-pane windows ignited a source of light-hearted conflict—which Becky lovingly described as a “comedy show”—between the contractor and designer. Oftentimes, Ken trusted his daughter’s vision, but other times he played the Dad card with, “Too bad, it’s my house!” (And to Jenika’s chagrin, he indeed swapped out several windows.)
Despite the stern talking-tos and heated discussions, the father-daughter “fights” never lasted long. “The most gratifying thing was working on this project with my daughter,” Ken says. “She’s my best buddy. It’s like she’s following in my footsteps.”
And that she is, both at home in LA and in Superior, because the projects haven’t stopped since, Becky says. One of their more recent projects together involved renovating the glass-enclosed solarium, complete with a daybed and assortment of ferns, off the lower level. Prior to that, Ken built a chipmunk house and even a tree house, one that cantilevers over the hillside with a 40-foot walking path extending into the trees. Next on his list? Perhaps culinary school (he’s taken up a passion for baking in his new kitchen), a re-poured driveway, or new coat of paint on the home’s exterior— “with Jenika’s blessing, of course.”
But as he smiles and looks back on the fond memories of bonding, building, and bantering with his daughter, he and Becky also look back on their initial search to find the perfect vacation home, finally understanding why they never found it when, where, or how they expected to. “There were probably 100 houses I could have purchased,” Ken says, but none as perfectly meant for the Kurtzes as their summertime escape in Superior.
Floor Plans (top Before, bottom After)