Built for the Boughs Outside Traverse City

From the second story of her Spider Lake cottage, Marilyn Boland can reach out and touch a pine bough. The two-bedroom cottage is squeezed among the tall pines and oaks on this lakefront lot, tree trunks as little as five feet from the foundation. Marilyn and her husband, Kevin, built their cottage with the narrowest allowable dimension to save the greatest number of trees. From wall-to-wall, it measures only 20 feet wide. But at 40 feet long and with a finished attic above the second floor, the home reaches to the treetops.

For the Bolands, who live and work in suburban Detroit, the cottage combines their love of the woods with their appreciation of design. It’s also their getaway, a place to pursue bluegills rather than push a lawn mower, so they left the forest floor undisturbed except for a few naturalized perennials and a fire pit with upended logs for seating. "From the lake, you can hardly see the house," Marilyn says.

The couple became intimately familiar with their one acre of forest during a decade of trips to what was then a vacant woodlot. Camping in a tiny trailer, they made fires and went fishing, saved money and planned to build. From the start, they knew they wanted to build something rustic and initially thought about a traditional timber frame cabin. As they continued to collect ideas, however, they were drawn to a more contemporary style.

Then they made a pivotal decision: hiring Ferndale-based architect Marco Silveri, whom Kevin, a sales rep for Weather Shield Windows, had met some years earlier on a commercial job. Silveri presented them with three options, including the narrow, tree-friendly model that they chose and which Silveri describes as "a direct response to the form of the surrounding pines – nestling the cottage in among its tall neighbors, so to speak."

Marilyn loves the way Silveri maximized the view of the lake. Lined up galley style, the kitchen, dining room and living room all peek at the water through the trees. So do the bedrooms and peaceful sleeping porch on the second floor.

On the ground floor, two full walls of French doors and windows – they’re extra tall and narrow "to accentuate the verticality of the surrounding woods," Silveri says – contribute to the feeling of being part of the forest. Yet because these windows open onto a covered deck and a screened porch, which stretches the footprint to the required 28 feet, the cottage feels both open and snug.

The massive fireplace that separates the living and dining rooms is faced with colorful stones, many as wide as a keeper bass, as Marilyn puts it. "Each rock has a personality all to itself," she says. The stones come from Michigan, as do the grindstone steps leading up to the main entryway. The trim and the paneling are knotty pine, and the flooring is heartwood pine and fir, all native materials in keeping with the forest theme.

Still, the design is a far cry from the traditional Up North antlers-and-plaid look. The built-in buffet is sleek cherry, and three tiny halogen lights in cranberry glass shades hang over the countertop in the thoroughly contemporary kitchen.

It all adds up to a beloved retreat. "We come up all the time," Marilyn says with a smile. As low-flying geese honk a greeting and the sun glistens off the water, it’s easy to see why.

Janet Lively writes and teaches in Traverse [email protected]

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

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