I was last to the party,” muses interior designer Frank Ponterio, in reference to his work on a Lake Michigan vacation home located on a secluded piece of wooded land. Architect Nicholas White and landscape architect Douglas Hoerr were already deep into the programming by the time Ponterio was brought on. But like every decision made by the team, this one was purposeful: The outdoors had to be considered first. “At the end of the day, this home is meant to be a beach house,” Ponterio explains. “There are always kids of all ages running around in wetsuits, tracking sand everywhere.”
The clients chose White and Hoerr for the project, as well as general contractor Jeffrey Ford, in part because of their passion for the beauty of the locale. The land had never been touched and they made every effort to place the architecture on the site so that it looked as if nothing had been done. Working together, they dropped the main house down on the property and nestled it into the woods. “We had enough land that we could push the home down to a lower tier so they can walk right out onto the beach,” White says. “Instead of overlooking the water, the views are across the lake.”
“We wanted to champion the context of northern Michigan and make sure it was all at one with the site,” adds Hoerr. That included everything from the terraces to the infinity pool to the property’s pond. In turn, the landscape informed much of the design of the traditional Shingle-style house. The chosen location came with the challenge of the darkness that comes with being surrounded by woods. White and Ford combatted this with ample clerestory and large banks of windows that let in as much natural light as possible. The local vernacular also played an important role. Shingle-style is as prevalent in this area of Michigan as it is in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, so even though the home is new construction it blends seamlessly with houses that have been in the region for generations. “It fits the vibe of the area,” says White, who notes that his clients didn’t want anything too modern or Victorian.
Ponterio came on once the site had been cleared, the foundation poured and a loose floor plan in place, and although he was “late to the party,” he immediately took a leading role in the interior architecture. “The clients wanted somebody who could interpret what they wanted in a family home,” says the interior designer. “From a creativity standpoint, they were looking for new ideas and to stretch the boundaries beyond what was thought to be possible.”
Inspired by the family’s love of boating and the beach, Ponterio used beadboard and shiplap throughout, working with master craftsmen—“Jeff’s team was chock-full of them,” he remarks—to achieve his vision. The library, where the husband spends a great deal of his time, is a showcase of Ponterio’s concept, with teak and holly floors and a concave ceiling reminiscent of the underside of a ship’s hull. Another nod to the lakeside location occurs in the circular formal dining area, where a handpainted DeGournay mural of one of the homeowners’ favorite lookout points pairs with mohair dining chairs that pick up on the watery hues. Even the children’s areas tell a story of sailing, such as in the boys’ blue and white bunk room complete with a ship’s wheel designed to look like a boat’s helm. It’s a space that celebrates the joy sparked by a child’s imagination.
And joy might just be the overarching theme of the entire home. It was designed for guests—“lots of guests,” says Ponterio. “Sometimes there’s two, sometimes four, sometimes 40.” From the screened porch, which is the setting for casual, everyday gatherings, to the great room, where even a rainy day is enjoyable thanks to its enormous stone fireplace, the house is filled with comfort. The open concept that merges the great room with the kitchen makes hosting easy, as do the dual islands that serve well the clients’ passion for cooking. And one must not forget the sleeping porch, which spurs fond memories of summer camp. As Ponterio points out, even though it’s a big house, it lives like a cottage. “There are large spaces, but intimate areas within them allow you to interact a bit more,” he notes. In other words, it’s the perfect place for a party.