Living creatively

By Jennie Zeitler

Little Falls couple likes to keep life interesting

Every bit of the property of Denny Myers and Roxanne Wyatt, inside and out, reflects their creative pursuits. This includes extensive lush gardens surrounding their home and throughout their yard along the Mississippi River south of Little Falls. There is a shop/retreat building where Denny pursues his woodworking and Roxanne works on stained glass.

Their house is itself an ongoing project that began when Roxanne bought it in 2001. It is a hexagonal-shaped building that had been built in the 1970s by a shop class (either Royalton or Little Falls, she isn’t sure). Within the first floor of the house were one exterior door, a living room, kitchen (with no eating area), three bedrooms and a bathroom. The stairs to the lower level were circular, somewhat near the center of the house.

“There were only tiny windows,” Roxanne remembered. “The appliances were avocado. The rooms were small and oddly-shaped. One room had a painted wall, a wallpapered wall and a paneled wall.”

Roxanne Wyatt and Denny Myers have built a haven along the Mississippi where they can garden all summer long and then move inside to their shop to pursue other interests during the colder months. They are pictured with their companion, Tillie. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

She knew what she wanted to do for windows, including a wall filled with windows facing the river.

“I took out a grocery sack and drew a rough plan. My concern was to get those windows in there,” she said.

Lush gardens are visible as soon as a person enters and they stretch the whole length of the yard. Most of the areas are shaded, with some sun along the fence to the left. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

She took the drawing to a glass company and the new windows were installed. Then she hoisted a sledgehammer and began taking walls down. She hired a man named Lars to build the walls and the cabinets. Her son, Kerry, and Lars did the floors.

The final design for the main floor includes a very open living area with living room, dining room and kitchen, the main bathroom, one bedroom, many more windows, three exterior doors – and a standard set of stairs to the walk-out basement.

“I didn’t want to kill myself taking laundry to the basement,” she said.

After Denny and Roxanne married in 2014, they finished a master bedroom in the lower level along with a family room and second bathroom.

In the basement shower, Roxanne put in a stained glass and tile mosaic. Photos by Jennie Zeitler

The interior of the home is an evolving project, changing here and there as inspiration strikes. Many artistic touches have been added. Roxanne installed a stained glass backsplash in the kitchen. The downstairs shower includes a stained glass and tile mosaic. Denny’s work in progress there is a vanity made from an old dresser, with a set-in sink.

“I can see (a project) but I don’t understand the mechanism to make it happen. Denny does that, and can tell me when something won’t work,” she said.

The gardens are also constantly evolving. Flowerbed sizes and shapes change. The growing trees along the shore mean more shade in the yard. Meandering slate pathways go from the house to the shop through garden beds filled with shade-loving plants. There are tucked-away nooks for resting and admiring the peaceful view.

After growing up on a truck farm in St. Paul, Roxanne has declared that “the gardens here are for flowers.” The one exception to that is a pot containing a tomato plant.

Above: Garden gates built with copper inserts is Denny’s current garden work-in-progress. This leads the way through the main yard and garden entrance. Photos by Jennie Zeitler

Roxanne built a fence made of copper pipe along the road. A current work in progress is the main garden gate with copper inserts that Denny is working on. Years ago, he built large pergolas in a side yard as a backdrop for the plants there.

Denny retired as a zoning administrator for Crow Wing County about 10 years ago, after careers in the military (active and Guard), as a steel worker, as a professional fishing guide in Ely, a recycling coordinator and as a consultant.

After the summer gardening months spent outside, Denny and Roxanne retire to their shop for the winter, pursuing other interests. Denny designed the shop, and together they did all the inside work, including the wiring, lighting and insulation.

The main work area is downstairs, while upstairs they built a cozy retreat lined with bookshelves and filled with comfortable furniture and work/design areas. Once he retired, Denny has had more time for this.

“I’ve been working with wood for 20 years but it became more full-time since 2010,” said Denny.

Denny’s woodworking shop is lined with not only larger machines such as saws and lathes, but hand tools as well.

He started out making Shaker furniture because he really liked the design. That developed into an interest in wood turning, which he does almost exclusively now.

“Roxanne has done so much for me in progressing with woodworking,” Denny said. “She comes up with a project and says, ‘You can do it!’ even though I’ve never done it before.”

Denny is working to add woodcarving to his skills as a complement to the wood turning items he produces, to add embellishments. The change is also due partly to health issues, as the sawdust from turning is a problem for his breathing, even with a dust collection system.

Roxanne continues to work as a real estate agent but still has time for the gardens and her favorite winter creative pursuit: stained glass. It began when she and her daughter-in-law took a class in St. Cloud about eight years ago. She made a window for the guest bedroom and a gift for her mom. She gave most of her projects away.

“Then I figured out mosaics,” she said. “I don’t have to be as exact.”

Denny uses shells as a complement to his woodturning, putting together many of these hanging ornaments. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

She took a mosaic class in St. Cloud and now that’s mostly what she does. Her process has also developed into using a glass background for the mosaic design, gluing the pieces to the glass. Instead of lead, she grouts the design. It’s sturdier that way, too.

“Every design is completely unique. They’re all whatever I came up with that day,” she said. “I’m just recently stuck on sunflowers.”

“She has a vision that not a lot of people do,” Denny said.

Her projects are sometimes framed in wood, but more often than not they are tabletops – a dining room table, coffee tables, end tables, patio tables.

Denny and Roxanne have no trouble finding projects to keep themselves busy. There is always another project for the house or the garden and gifts to make.

“She has been my inspiration from day one,” Denny said.

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