A New Style for the North

Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and Northern Home & Cottage art director Diane Kolak has style. Our readers are greeted with her clean, captivating layouts each month. Our staff is too, of course – but we’re also treated to her inscrutable eye for classic, enduring fashion. Give Kolak an afternoon on eBay and she’ll come out looking like Coco Chanel (there was that 1940′s apricot lace-over-faille suit she picked up for $65). Her recent trip to a Traverse City thrift store yielded a Pauline Trigere Ultrasuede coat for $6.99.

Naturally, our staff was fascinated when she began designing a home for herself and her husband, Paul. Last summer we, along with hundreds of other people, saw the result on the Home Builders Association of the Grand Traverse Area’s Parade of Homes. By the end of the weeklong tour, Kolak’s house had garnered five awards – among them, first place for the Parade Home Judge’s Choice. Her house was still being talked about at this year’s Parade.

The buzz was warranted. In a forested hollow at the end of a dirt road in Benzie County, Kolak had explored a new vernacular for the North – a hint of farmhouse, a dash of Up North cabin country, an abundance of green materials and products, all pulled together with hip modernist lines. She calls the home’s style rustic modern.

The home’s pitched rooflines, wraparound porch and separate garage echo the traditional farmhouses of Diane’s Upper Peninsula childhood and Paul’s roots in Leelanau County. Her choice of barn red (fiber cement) siding for the garage, end gable and dormer reinforces the farmhouse aesthetic. The rest of the exterior palette – chocolate brown, charcoal blue and tan – is a modern take on Up North cabin colors.

Enter Kolak’s home and you almost feel like you’ve walked back outside – your sight line is drawn through handsome glass sliding doors across the back of the living room to a generous screened-in porch that looks out onto the maple and beech woods behind. Like all true Up North cabin porches, the Kolaks’ has an old-fashioned screen door that closes with a bang, and a roughed-in porch ceiling (high-grade plywood in this case) lined with exposed beams. Unlike most cabin porches, a row of the slate-colored porcelain tiles on the porch floor spills over into the living room to "marry the exterior and interior spaces," Kolak explains. There’s that touch, and the porch’s two midcentury modern oak chairs: the kind of chairs that most folks got rid of – and shouldn’t have – in the 1980′s. Kolak snapped them up at Wilson Antiques in Traverse City for a song, just before the rest of us remembered how much we liked 1950′s modern furniture.

The panoramic view of nature framed by the porch is by design, of course, and there is very little in the living room’s taupe, plum and alabaster palette to interrupt it. The pale ochre bamboo floor is equally soothing, and even the television disappears into a niche in the wall, covered by a chocolate lacquer slider made to resemble a barn door. This harmony is evident throughout the entire ground floor, where, as Kolak points out, "there are no dead ends." The living room flows into the dining room, which moves into the kitchen, which doglegs into the utility space, which opens back onto the foyer and into the living room again.

The upshot, explains Kolak, is that the flow makes the rooms in this 2,300-square-foot house feel spacious. For all its openness, however, the floor plan succeeds in also feeling intimate. That is because it revolves around a central staircase to the upstairs – where a loft/workspace and two bedrooms are located – that works to break up the space.

If the living room and porch reflect Kolak’s relaxed side, the kitchen speaks to her penchant for efficiency and her eye for detail. At 12 by 14 feet, the room is not large, but with its flowing workspace and generous pantry it cooks as well as a restaurant kitchen. Stock HomeCrest cabinets in the company’s Sorrel finish look like fine Scandinavian modern design thanks to the addition of sleek stainless steel pulls. An apron-front farmhouse sink roots the kitchen in Midwestern tradition.

Kolak credits the way her new home turned out to Paul’s thoughtful support, to their contractors, Steinorth Fine Homes, who saw her vision from the start and ran with it, and to years of poring over home publications. But with all said and done, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the blueprint for the new rustic modern house cradled in Benzie Country’s rolling woodlands is Kolak’s signature blend of timeless form-follows-function style.

Elizabeth Edwards is managing editor of Northern Home & Cottage. [email protected]

Note: This article was first published in September 2007 and was updated for the web February 2008.

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