After a year of searching for a space to build a weekend retreat, a North Shore couple with three sons zeroed in on an empty lot hidden from the road by a forested conservation area in Lakeside, Michigan. With miles of sandy beaches, apple orchards and plenty of year-round recreational activities, the area proved to be the perfect location for the active family. “This property is unique because it’s so pretty and private,” says the wife. “We love the area and it’s an easy drive from the city.”
To design the project, the couple reassembled the same team responsible for their main house in Highland Park, plus landscape architect Scott Byron. “Having the right team is crucial for a project like this,” says designer Stephanie Wohlner. “We all went back and forth about the design and worked closely together on the house.” adds the wife: “our primary residence is a Georgian-style brick home, but we wanted something different and more modern for this vacation retreat.”
Before the project could commence, construction manager John Harty—who worked on the house with his brother and business partner, Rich Harty—had to prepare the site for a foundation. This required digging 18 feet below ground level to get to the virgin soil. “We had to dig the soil out of a hole, fill it with sand and then impact it before anything could be done,” John Harty says. “It was amazing what we did to make the site buildable again.” Likewise, to address the drainage issues that threatened to swamp the project, Byron designed a dry creek bed lined with large-format gravel so that it would feel like a river running through the property. In turn, an ipe-wood fence covered with climbing hydrangeas provides a sense of separation from the driveway while adding color and interest. “The idea is that as time goes on, it will be a living wall separating the garage and utilitarian areas from the courtyard and front door,” Byron says.
A winding path leads through the woods and out onto a clearing where the recently completed abode now stands on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. On the lakeside of the house, Byron kept it simple, incorporating native grasses and planters for annual color. A poolside patio makes way to a covered porch and to the great room, which has three sets of sliding glass doors that frame ever-changing lake vistas. “The area around the pool is integral to the design,” says architect Stuart D. Shayman, who created a barn-like structure with a modern sensibility using white clapboard siding and a metal roof. “When you open up the doors on both sides of the house, it feels like one big space.”
Inside, this same idea is repeated, with an open living, dining and kitchen space. On the second floor, a bridge overlooking the main living areas connects to the guest suites and a bunkroom that can sleep up to eight people comfortably. “The concept for this home was for it to be a place for the homeowners to gather with friends and family,” Shayman says. “There’s enough space for everybody, whether it’s just the family or a large group of people.”
The home’s beamed tongue-and-groove ceiling, which soars to 26 feet at its peak, required great thought. These types of details, Wohlner explains, make all the difference. “We talked about doing a drywall ceiling, but I felt like it needed that layer of the beams on wood,” she says. The designer also suggested painting the ceiling gray rather than a crisp white, which was first considered. “It would have made the space feel too big and cold,” Wohlner says. “This color feels much warmer.” the rift-sawn oak floors from apex wood floors, which were pre-finished in a gray stain, were added for the same purpose. “The knotty texture and mix of grayish tones made the house feel less stark and a little more casual,” Wohlner says. “The colors seem to move and change like the water.”
When contemplating the palette, inspiration struck the designer while walking along the sea during a trip to Mexico. “I saw these rocks that were kind of blue-gray and chartreuse, and that’s where the design came from,” says Wohlner, who incorporated a casual cotton-weave rug and a comfortable navy sectional in the great room. Livening up the design are pops of color in the form of ceramic vases, pillows and a pair of matching upholstered chairs. Because Wohlner had worked with the owners in the past, she understood that creating the kind of look her clients hoped to achieve would mean incorporating a few traditional fabrics and accessories alongside more contemporary pieces. In the master bedroom, for instance, she paired a chair and other modern furnishings with more traditional-patterned fabrics. “The design has a classic sensibility yet still feels very modern,” Wohlner says.
And although the designer purposely steered away from a traditional beach aesthetic, her design does make subtle nods to it. The great room’s fireplace hearth, for example, is covered in a white ceramic tile. “It’s almost shell-like, but it also has a modern vernacular,” Wohlner says. In addition, a striped rug in the den has a beachy feel within that same modern context, while baskets and stacks of books add to that summer house aesthetic.
Shortly after their lakefront retreat was finished, the owners decided to host family and friends there for thanksgiving. “People flew in from the east coast, and we all congregated there for several days,” says the wife. “The design process is kind of like having a garden: it’s interesting the way it all comes together and so exciting when it finally bears fruit.”