Editor’s note: This story is part of the Republican Eagle’s 2019 Progress Edition. This year we take readers “Behind the Scenes” of the sometimes hidden work of organizations around the area. Find the rest of the stories at Behind the Scenes.
CAMP LACUPOLIS - Bending River Cove is the definition of "if you blink you miss it." After all, you do not need much room for tiny houses.
The mini resort has four tiny houses, a small house with two bedrooms and a studio that can be rented for a night or a couple of weeks. Each house has a unique design and layout. For example, one has a lofted bed, a second has a bedroom that is just about the size of a king-sized bed, and a third house is not large enough for a bed. Instead, the couch can be pulled out, turning the living space into a sleeping space.
Though all of the footprints are different, they all have one thing in common: the view of Lake Pepin.
According to Denay Kelly, one of the owners and creators of Bending River Cove, many visitors rent a tiny house so that they can watch the action happening on the lake or spot trains. The resort sits on a hill that overlooks the train track and Camp Lacupolis, south of Lake City.
Kelly and her business partner, Mike Burke, both have careers outside of Bending River. Kelly is a nurse at St. Elizabeth's Hospital and Burke is a builder. The two have raised families and, according to Burke, wanted to create a resort as a last "hurrah" before retiring.
"We designed the concept of the tiny house because of two things," Kelly explained, "the request and the demand was there and we were also looking for affordable housing options for people that are coming to the Wabasha area that want to vacation."
There is also, according to the owners, a large demand for hotel rooms and resorts during wedding season. One of the first groups that Bending River hosted was a bachelorette party that rented the entire resort.
Work began on Bending River Cove in 2017 when the house, which was already on the property, was remodeled and the studio added to the side. The studio is often used by writers or creatives who need a weekend to get away from life and just focus on their craft while looking at a breathtaking view.
The tiny houses were brought down from Kellogg, where Burke built them, in 2018. Before Burke builds, he and Kelly sit down to design a house on graph paper. In January, Kelly and Burke were finishing the design for the next structure. This tiny house, which will be shaped like a caboose and have a lofted bed, was one of the first designs the two created. However, they put it off until now because it would not take full advantage of any of the plots that Kelly and Burke were planning to install houses into first.
Each house is built so that it faces the lake and are built so that once inside the visitor feels as though they are in a secluded area - picture windows give those in a tiny house or the studio a view of the lake. Windows that face the road or other homes, in bathrooms or bedrooms, are usually smaller, higher or covered in dreamy curtains.
Visitors can stay inside the tiny house during their entire stay or sit outside and watch for eagles while listening to the trains. Either way, visitors are never entirely disconnected from society because Kelly and Burke are both willing to stop by to deliver a bottle of wine, chocolates or any other necessary items.
"It's an experience. We try to accomodate for people's needs," Burke said.
After he builds a tiny house, Kelly decorates it. Each house is given a name: "Homegrown Honey," "The Bohemian Rhapsody," "The River Queen," etc. and the decorations are as unique as the name.
Burke said that he keeps sheds of reclaimed wood and items that they have used in building and decorating the houses. Some accent walls, for example, have wood saved from old bleacher seats. Other parts of the decoration were purchased new for the house.
"Everything comes together nicely. but there's some very old," Burke said. "That's the crazy part. The wood on the walls is 150 years old; the mural is obviously brand-new ... it's an eclectic blend of stuff."
A structure that looks like a British phone booth is the shower in "The Bohemian Rhapsody," old fish nets decorate the bedroom wall and a glass table top was converted into a large wall clock in "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem." It's eclectic, but it works.
Bending River Cove also offers a "party bus" to take visitors that wine tasting, to the casino, restaurants, shopping and more. Kelly and Burke are also planning to break ground on a new hotel in Pepin this spring.
Kelly explained that visitors have loved the individualized tiny houses and Bending River Cove and she wants to continue that in a hotel: "It's kind of a boutique hotel with intimate small rooms but each of the rooms are going to be unique and different ... and then it will have a bar on the first floor."
Kelly and Burke are kept very busy hosting guests, designing and building new tiny houses and the new hotel. Along with all of that, they build custom tiny houses for people to buy. The buyers design a house with Kelly and Burke and then Burke builds it in Kellogg.
"It's exhausting sometimes," Burke acknowledged. But they both love it and all of the people that they have met.
If you go to visit, just make sure that you don't blink while driving by. You might miss the tiny resort of tiny houses.
For more information about Bending River Cove, visit www.brctinyhomes.com.