Camp Cottage

Welcome to Wandawega Week!

What’s Wandawega Week, you ask? Well, it’s kind of like “Shark Week”, but instead of ginormous ocean waves, exploding with super scary sealife- think: a serene midwestern lake- filled with sweet little (non-ferocious) fishies instead. Oh, and a whole buncha this kind of awesomeness in a special series of blog posts over the next 5 days too…

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

This is Tereasa Surratt…

She’s one of my home improvement heroes and she’s created a magical little place in Wisconsin called Camp Wandawega.

It all started in 2004, when she got engaged to fellow advertising executive David Hernandez and they bought a tumbledown lakefront resort in Elkhorn, Wisconsin- 90 miles from their Chicago home.

Even though it needed tons of work, they thought it would make the perfect location for their wedding ceremony and, later, for weekend getaways.

Developed in the mid-1920s, the 25-acre piece of lake property they purchased served as home to many different businesses over the years. A speakeasy, a brothel, a modest vacation destination, and finally- a Catholic priest-run retreat for the Latvian community.

But to David, (who’s half-Latvian) the rustic camping resort was sacred ground. His extended family had vacationed there every summer since he was born, and each nook and cranny of the property held special childhood memories. “Going there felt like a fantasy,” David says. “It was a different world.”

When David initially took Tereasa out to see the place (several years before they got engaged) they left with a parting request to the elderly priest who owned it at the time: “If you ever decide to sell this place, call us first.

The good news call came five years later, and the couple snatched up all 25 acres. On it, sat four buildings (and all the furniture inside of them), an archery range, a basketball court, shuffleboard courts, a garage, two piers, and some horseshoe pits.

But years of deferred maintenance had left almost everything in a fragile state. Leaky, sagging roofs; critter squatters; and mildewed drapes were just a few of things that needed to be dealt with. So from the time they closed on the place in February of 2004, until their wedding date six months later, tons of friends pitched in on weekends to help them whip it back into shape.

Their marriage celebration also revealed the potential of their new purchase. With 25 bedrooms divided among the main lodge…

…an old hotel…

…and three small cabins…

…Camp Wandawega makes one heckuva place to entertain. Tereasa says, “It’s like summer camp for adults!”.

Tereasa’s decorating strategy is what she calls “found, flea, or free”, and she really has fun with the camping theme. She reupholsters chairs with wool blankets…

…and cable-knit varsity sweaters…

She decorates walls with vintage, fish-shaped jello molds…

…and old school art…

…and colorful fishing lures…

She also took this rundown kitchen from drab to fab on a $5000 budget…

And check out this shot of the amaaaazing collection of Fiestaware they discovered inside a boarded-up wall in the pantry…


Here are some shots from around the dark green-painted cabin that came with the property…


And the light and airy afters…

Here are some photos from the 3-bedroom, red and white cabin that overlooks the lake…

It was also on the property when they bought it, but Tereasa has given it a sweet & sunny facelift over the past few years…

Don’t you just love those vintage rackets and that pretty painted porch floor? *swoon*

The tiny green and white cottage (now nestled next to the green cottage) was a big time labor of love too…

Plucked from a weed-tangled truck yard in Beardstown, Illinois for $500, the crusty little cabin could barely stand when they purchased it…

Tereasa had had her eye on it since she was “knee-high to a grasshopper”, so David and his brother hauled it 300 miles over to their property on Lake Wandawega…

The white circle on the map below shows where it sits now…

(Take a virtual tour of the whole place at!)

When Tereasa got around to researching her little cottage-that-could, she discovered that it had several prior lives. In the 1920’s, it was an overnight rest stop for motoring tourists. After that, a rod-and-gun club used it for Friday night card games. Then in the 1950s, it served as the office for a trucking company. Eventually it became a storage shed and when Tereasa and David bought it, it was just sitting there, abandoned.

There’s nothing lonely about it today though…

(Photos by Aimee Herring)

…and would you believe Tereasa loved it back to life in just three months and with a budget of $300!?

I dream about moving an old cottage to a lake someday too, so of course this part of David and Tereasa’s Wandawega story was extra intriguing to me!


Tereasa wrote a beautiful book about her cottage-moving/restoring experience, and we thought we’d give away a signed copy here on our blog this week. (Thank you for joining in on the fun, Tereasa!)

Swing by tomorrow if you’d like to throw your name in the (virtual) hat, and stay tuned for more “Wandawega Week” posts to come too!

(Note: Photos in this post are linked to their sources if they were available.)

Click HERE to go to day two of Camp Wandawega Week!


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  1. Kelly Martin says

    My 15-year-old daughter and I absolutely loved reading about this beautiful resort. We poured over every picture and creative description. Thanks for sharing!

  2. says

    I am literally brought to tears at reading all of these posts…..
    I am so incredibly humbled that our little projects could inspire folks.
    and so greatful to you, layla- for choosing to share our little story with all of your friends. it is so much fun to find other folks that share interests with you. thank you- sincerely and truly- you made our year!!!

  3. Karen says

    Absolutely love this post. I recalled seeing a bit about this cabin last year when a cousin of mine referenced it in her little family blog. I loved hearing so much more about it.

  4. susan beaty says

    i read about this in i believe eithr country living or bh and g. ive wanted to get it for a long time, just not able to do so.would be fantastic to win this. thanks for the giveaway:)

  5. Rhonda G says

    Wow, they are truly “livin’ the dream” and with such grace and style. I love that Teresa has such an eye for her transformations on a budget. Just goes to show how far your imagination can take you. Loved this post, one of your best!

  6. Bethe says

    What a lovely, lovely story! Beautiful pictures and a delightful story to match. You really don’t have to be a Vanderbilt, just have a vision and patience and a willingness to work hard. Congratulations to them both and thanks for sharing Layla.

  7. says

    Wow… I’m feeling relaxed just from reading the article, I can only imagine the feeling of being there. Looking forward to spending the week there.

  8. zandermom says

    How inspiring and relaxing just viewing your blog! The camp is a child/adult’s dream – the way life should be lived. Thanks for the post.

  9. says

    Wow! That is amazing! Truly inspirational and gorgeous! Great. Now I want a broken down camp too.
    (I’m in CA, and my pastor is from Chicago. His last name is Surratt. I wonder if there is any relation..?)

  10. says

    OMG OMG how amazing my heart is a flutter I am speech less they so deserve Wandawega isn’t is just the best sorry I missed the giveaway but thats ok I am just so pleased I got to read all about this talented family :))))

  11. says

    I’m in love! What a beautiful post for a beautiful place. We live on a hill overlooking a lake in middle TN, and I am trying to achieve this same kind of fun/ timeless decorating at our house too. I grew up around all the wonderful lake camps in Maine, and hope to bring this relaxed feeling to our home on a half a shoestring budget. Thank you so much for sharing!

  12. says

    LOVELOVELOVE this! Camp Wandawega is a dream come true – it would be fabulous to find an opportunity like this here in NW Pennsylvania. I especially enjoy that everything about Wandawega is a Labor of Love – there are no commercial restraints/ridiculous expenses. Right down to the fabulous chair re-dos and the “Modest Little Cottage.”

  13. says

    Oh My Gosh Layla, I am getting so many great ideas for our lakehouse by reading about Camp Wandawega! Thank you Thank you!

    The offer to come help me, still stands! If you want a lake project of your own! ~Dana

  14. Amy says

    Awesome post! Have seen the book and live 45 minutes away in an area called “Lake Country”. WI is beautiful and the lakes are everywhere. This is awesome though. Would love to meet them and visit there!! Thanks for this great post:)

  15. says

    OMG I’m dying. Not only is she beyond talented – I love everything she has done and I could stay here forever.

  16. says

    I missed this the first time around (thanks for the reminder and I hope you’re having a great trip!). What a great story and amazing transformation. Wow! A dream come true and they did an outstanding job! It’s gorgeous and looks like a wonderful, relaxing place to retreat!

  17. says

    What a great story and what a great place! I love it, and the little cabin reminds me of a little cabin we have on our property. This post has given me some ideas to do with mine. I really love the idea of using colorful fishing lures as a decor item. Perfect.

  18. says

    I have been obsessed with Camp Wandawega for quite some time now even though I’ve never been there. I definitely plan to visit this upcoming summer. This post was lovely, thank you for sharing!