When Chicagoan David Hernandez, who spent boyhood summers at a Latvian summer camp in Wisconsin, took his fiancé (now wife) Tereasa Surratt to see Camp Wandawega, they left with a parting request to the elderly priest: “If you ever decide to sell this place, call us first.” The call came five years later and the couple snatched up all 25 acres: the main lodge, a three-story hotel; two cabins; an archery range; basketball and shuffleboard courts; a garage; two piers; horseshoe pits; and all the furniture inside. Fast forward three years from purchase: The sprawling grounds look like something out of a movie—Sleepaway Camp with set design by John Derian perhaps? The camp is admittedly no-frills (Tereasa likes to call it camping indoors), but no effort was spared on creativity. Rooms are outfitted with well-worn furniture that came with the place, but the couple has worked in a beguiling mix of flea market and garage sale finds: a stack of leather suitcases in one corner, weather-worn water skis in another; Hudson Bay blankets neatly folded across beds; and vintage radios, alarm clocks, lanterns, thermoses, wellies and fishing lures as décor.
Tereasa, author of A Very Modest Cottage (which chronicles the cottage they rescued from her hometown in southern Illinois, drove to Wisconsin and rehabbed themselves), is working on her second book. This one about found collections, published by Random House. The creative ad exec couple is also in the midst of constructing a modern tree house, just outside the main lodge. A handful of local furniture designers/woodworkers designed the structure and spend work-play weekends trading manpower for enviable stays at Wandawega. Gregarious and overwhelmingly generous, David and Tereasa host a constant, rotating stream of friends and family, often organizing gigantic theme camps, like Art Camp, where Chicago creative-types descend on the verdant grounds for three days of field paintings, bird-house making, mini collages, button-making and big farmhouse dinners on the hill. But you don’t need a personal invitation anymore. Designtripper is proud to make the announcement: Rooms are now available for rent for the first time.
Elkhorn is about 90 miles from Chicago. Prices start at $200 per night for a boy scout canvas tented cabin or the one-bedroom cabin, with a two-night minimum. Rent it at wandawega.com.