A Home Away

Betsy Gall shares her best tips for creating a comfy, stunning retreat.

Betsy Gall is quick to point at a furry source of inspiration and levity in her sometimes-crazy existence. “Liberty. She’s the light of my life!” says Gall of the golden retriever. “She reminds me to just live life, and that it doesn’t have to be perfect all the time.”

Eden Prairie’s Gall is married to Matt Gall, M.D., an oncologist, and they have three kids, ages 11, 12 and 15.

“My husband deals with cancer—it’s a stressful and sad job,” Gall explains. Her career background includes working as a senior manager at Shea Design, creating store fixtures for 555 Design and developing high-end restaurants in the Twin Cities. All of which was demanding in a different way, so in 2007, after designing, building and living in their primary residence for a time, the couple decided to invest in a vacation home, a family retreat.

Torn between purchasing a condo in Florida or a lake home, they opted for a cabin that, in true Minnesota style, would put weekends away within easy reach. Gall began searching for a place where they could all unplug and destress. And they were up for a hefty remodel, with Gall’s history and passion for design.

“It’s all in the same wheelhouse,” she says. “A renovation is design coupled with project management skills from my former career. And I have always loved décor.” In 2009, they happened upon a fixer-upper in Deerwood. Since then, they’ve spent weekends and summer days giving the main home a quick refresh and building an 8-foot by 12-foot, nautically-inspired bunkhouse, which is perfect for kids’ sleepovers or visiting relatives. In the short-term, though, the family stayed there while building the “carriage house”—a garage with an 800-square-foot apartment above it.

The success of those projects inspired Gall to get her real estate license, and she’s since flipped another Deerwood lake home—with a red and white color scheme—and listed several other properties. “I love, love, love having my license, and I’m out there on MLS poking around every day,” says Gall, who builds on the architecture and character of old homes with quirky accent pieces and practical, durable finishes to make second homes into escapes where family memories can be effortlessly created.

“Here’s the thing: When you get to the cabin, you don’t have that pressure to go, go, go. I’ve loved every minute of creating these spaces for my family, because they lead to such great memories,” Gall explains. “We often pack this place with friends and relatives. But some of the best moments we’ve had were just sitting around the bonfire at night, eating s’mores and telling ghost stories, just us. Here you see another side of your kids that you don’t see at home. And Liberty? She’s just so happy when she gets to go up there.”

Achieving the Look

With a few swoon-worthy spaces under her tool belt, Gall shares core design principles she swears by for creating—or updating—stress-free cabins and vacation homes.

Use durable  flooring, countertops.
“I used to care more how everything looked—but it wasn’t comfy,” says Gall. In the bunkhouse, she insisted on real hardwood flooring despite her contractor’s sideways glances. “He thought I was nuts—and he was right!” she says. Learning from her mistake, the carriage house has durable, affordable Mohawk laminate flooring that stands up well to wet swimsuits, dirty feet and dogs running full-speed through the space. (After all, isn’t that what cabin life is all about?) The kitchen counter features Rococo Viatera quartz with a large scotia edge, which keeps the look fresh and bright, while also offering durability.

Go nuts with fabrics.
The Galls often pack extra family and friends into the carriage house for meals and gatherings, once hosting a sit-down dinner for 12 in the space, which needed to be attractive while also being functional and durable enough to house everyone with ease. “It has to be comfortable and laid-back; that’s the priority,” Gall says. She loads up on fabrics from SR Harris—like the buffalo plaid used on some chairs—to infuse fresh color and pattern on the cheap. When she tires of something, Gall simply swaps it out. “When I’m looking at a space—my mind instantly goes to fabric,” Gall says. “You can pick a paint to match a fabric, but you can’t go the other way around!”

Lean on neutral color schemes.
The property’s main structure—the dated, two-bedroom former home of a bachelor—will likely get torn down some day. But prepping it for overflow guest housing quickly and inexpensively in the meantime—while focusing on the carriage and bunkhouses—taught Gall a lot about the power of a clean slate. “It’s amazing what a can of white paint will do!” she says. In the bunkhouse, in similar style, white-washed knotty pine boards cover the walls and ceilings. In the carriage house, Gall also skewed mostly toward board and batten, painted with Benjamin Moore’s linen white, white subway tile and fresh woodwork.

Layer up, and use what you love.
Cabins are about shared moments, memory-making and laid-back fun, so Gall is a firm believer in incorporating interesting pieces that add juxtaposition, style and nostalgia to the feel of each space. For Gall, a marble bathroom sink and an octagonal window were repurposed after a remodel at the family’s home in Eden Prairie. A stainless steel farmhouse sink came from a scratch and dent sale, hanging fixtures are from Lowe’s and entryway fixtures had been in storage for five years before they earned their prominent spot. “I have my office at home full of blueprints and tile samples. Plus Matt has a huge garage,” says Gall.  “When I see things I love, I just buy ’em!”