Wright was right: form and function fuel design

By Shannon Riley/Contributing Writer

Iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright was guided by the philosophy that “form follows function and imparts the character of a structure.”

Avid water sports and iceboat enthusiast John Stasieluk and contractor Mark Olson of Applewood Builders are applying Wright’s philosophy. They have designed a barn that is functional and architecturally unique for Stasieluk’s vintage boats and a 38-foot Johnson showpiece iceboat named Phantom.

“I interviewed a half dozen contractors before I found a guy who understood my vision. Mark Olson just gets it … and he’s a master carpenter,” said Stasieluk. Both men share pride in a project that is an ode to persistence and history.


A new-fashioned barnraising by an old-fashioned home

A barn with sleek lines but old-fashioned flavor is rising just a stone’s throw from the eastern shore of Bald Eagle Lake. The august solidness of the made-to-measure barn and the intoxicating balm of rough-sawn Ponderosa pine impart both awe and comfort.

The barn is noteworthy in design, but its form and character are clearly inspired by its predecessor ‒ a grand old home. The barn shares many features with John and Linda Stasieluk’s 90-year-old Tudor manor 20 steps away, designed in 1929 by Ellerbe Architects for oil company executive A.W. Gutterson. A quaint guest cottage that once served as a stable is the residence of Andy and Linda Power, whose family were former owners of the small estate.

The main house has style hallmarks of the era: quirky elevation changes, iron sconces, elaborate plumbing, ceiling beams and a robust use of wood. Its façade evokes an English cottage with Tudor elements and a Dutch hip roof. Extended eaves, known as hay hoods, enhance the storybook charm.

Owners John and wife, Linda Stasieluk, a graphic artist and product designer, spend their weekends “up north” on Bald Eagle away from their current residence in Edina. They love their lakeside Tudor. John noted, “We’ve been plotting our departure from the western suburbs to White Bear Township for more than five years.” Renovations on the home will be scrupulously made over time.

With a forthcoming move and a passion for sailing and iceboats, the Stasieluks needed a spacious storage structure that would echo the historic homestead, appeal to neighbors and meet the standards of the township’s oversight.

The design checklist was growing: lengthy clear spans for tall masts and imposing ice boat gliders, and architectural replications of the home’s distinct features including hay hoods, Tudor trim, Dutch hip roof accents and Oxford brown material to match the home’s clay tiles.

Not your grandfather’s barn

Stasieluk’s persistence is paying off in a comradeship with Mark Olson of Applewood Builders, who loved the idea of building a post-and-beam barn. “After 40 years in home construction, we’ve done all sorts of remodels and renovations but this is a unique opportunity. It’s been great collaborating with John because I have always wanted to build a barn like this,” Olson said.

With input from White Bear architect Scott Mower of Progressive Architects, Stasieluk and Olson decided upon a 26-by-44-foot custom-designed post-and-beam structure from Sand Creek Post and Beam of Wayne, Nebraska. Sand Creek designs and engineers custom wood barn kits with soaring ceilings and architectural details directed by their customers. The sturdy post-and-beam system incorporates brawny bents that support the rafters that are then attached onto solid wood beams and braced with plates and bolts.

Stasieluk, Olson and Sand Creek zeroed in on a final design after 10 revisions and constant focus on character, purpose and function.

Olson toured Sand Creek’s Nebraska assembly plant to evaluate the design process. He had never constructed from a kit of pre-engineered materials. He said, “I had some trepidation until three semis rolled onto the site with perfectly ordered lumber and 100 pages of engineering plans. The kit was so complete, the only modifications were a few additional windows.”

Their collaboration is only a few weeks from completion and Stasieluk’s regard for Olson has grown along with the barn. “Mark has the ability to pass on his tribal knowledge, a wealth of information to younger guys. He and his crew do what they say they’re going to do.”

Olson gives a lot of credit to his wife and partner. An artist and designer, Andrea also manages the administrative side of their business and their “Carpenter and the Artist” blog found on ApplewoodRemodelers.com. They started Applewood Builders in 1983 and offer full-service home renovation and, now, post-and-beam barns.

Folding chiseled and scarred hands, Olson accesses his long career in building. “My goal has always been to love what I do and to do it right. I don’t have a customer who isn’t still a friend … like John.” He credits Stasieluk for his tenacity and vision, and both men laud Sand Creek’s designers and engineers.

Back in the barn, kerosene heaters purr as the Applewood crew places the loft’s weighty stair stringers into place. There’s a bold twist on tradition going up on the sunrise side of Bald Eagle Lake. Its history will speak for itself.