When a Chicago investor bought a lakeshore property in Michigan’s Harbor Country, he knew building a modernist glass house that took advantage of the surrounding vistas would be the obvious next step for many people. Perched on the crest of a sand dune, a quick 90-mile jaunt from the city, the land boasts, he says, “coastline views that rival those of Northern California.” But sleek lines weren’t what he was looking for. His heart called for a weekend place that would feel like a full-time home, blending in with the charming historic cottages for which the area is known. When it became clear the original 1900 house would not withstand renovation, the homeowner set out to create his own cozy cabin—from scratch. “I wanted it to feel classic and rustic, as opposed to minimalistic,” he says. “A home that looked like it had some history, especially since it was taking the place of something that had been in the same family for four generations.”
In response to their client’s desires, architects Christopher Guido and Laurence Booth conceived an expansive Shingle-style house inspired by the hilly, wooded landscape. “We wanted to connect it to nature,” says Guido. Working with builders Scott Christopher and Drew Terwee, the architects decided to leave the shingles in their natural wood state, allowing them to gradually weather over time. They also chose a durable zinc-steel roof, which appears as one with the surrounding sky. “Our goal was for the house to look as if it has always been there,” Guido explains.
Although the client wished to avoid a glass-box effect, Guido and Booth ensured the stunning views would still get their full due. The home’s elevated position means a set of 43 steps from the driveway to the front door followed by an additional 18 steps climbing to an enclosed deck overlooking Lake Michigan (the homeowner later installed a tram because otherwise, “you wouldn’t want to forget your keys,” he jokes). Inside, floor-to-ceiling windows frame woodland views on one side and glittering lake panoramas on the other. Landscape architect Douglas Hoerr used native plantings—dune grass, white pines, sumac and sugar maples—to heighten the natural effect. “It’s all about honoring the site, and the surrounding landscape,” Hoerr observes.
To create a sense of character, the architects opted on the main level for a low beadboard ceiling, painted-wood cabinetry in the kitchen, a stone fireplace in the living room, hardwood floors throughout and a striking paneled wall spanning the ground floor to the top. “But really we wanted the views to be king, so we created a basic blank canvas that was available for furniture, rugs and art,” Guido notes—which is where designer Bruce Fox came in. “Bruce understood what I was trying to accomplish,” says the homeowner. “I wanted color and comfort. I wanted it to feel lived in.” That meant “no chrome and glass,” says Fox. “We worked hard to make things feel natural.” To that end, the designer used a plethora of earthy colors, organic shapes and tactile textures. Graphic kilims, Pendleton blankets, plenty of plaid, a rich leather chair and a mohair sofa lend the home its down-to-earth sensibility, more akin to a tree house than a beach house. A custom-made, live-edge wood dining table (“my favorite piece in the home,” remarks the owner) and headboard in the main bedroom create a further sense of harmony with nature.
But in a subtle nod to the beach setting, Fox was also sure to layer in lighter, airier pieces throughout, from a couple of sisal rugs to the serene bedroom walls painted a cool blue. “You can’t escape the beach—you look out the window and it is right there,” he says. “So while I wanted it to feel cabin-y, I also wanted it to be somewhat beachy.”
In the end, although the house, and most of its furnishings, are new, the client still got his wish for a home with a sense of history. The team was able to preserve the original fireplace and repurpose it for the guest bedroom. Not only does the worn timber mantel contribute to the rustic vibe, but it also comes with a noteworthy provenance: It was salvaged from the White House during a renovation more than a hundred years ago. The room is now forever known as “the Presidential Suite.”