Cabin Life, Chapter Two

A pair of little boys bursts from the car after the four-hour trip from Ann Arbor. The cottage! At last! But as eager as they are to swim and fish and play with cousins, the brothers must first perform a serious duty: they will vanquish an evil spirit.

No one remembers how the rock mortared into the wall of the stone garage, the one with pockmarks resembling a grumpy face, came to be called Gregorio. But Skip Campbell, who made up the story of the evil rock spirit responsible for minor calamities at the cottage, recalls the ritual. He’d hold up his young sons, and if they were brave enough (they always were) they’d give the stone face a smart kick to keep Gregorio out of mischief.

"Over time we have become quite fond of (Gregorio)," Skip says. "I doubt if the developmental psychologists would approve of this practice, but it has become a part of the cottage experience nonetheless."

Memories like these infused Skip and Barb Campbell’s old log cottage on the south shore of Platte Lake. Though past its prime when they bought it in the 80′s, the cottage served the Campbells well as a summer getaway and family gathering place. Its generous screened porch became almost sacred as the site of lazy summer dinners with Skip’s siblings who have their own places nearby.

But a few years back, after their boys left home, Barb and Skip decided it was time to address the deteriorating condition of the cottage. They explored restoring the almost 100-year-old structure but were forced to concede to the tipsy foundation.

"When we thought about tearing it down, it almost broke our hearts," Barb says. "It was such a part of who we are."

Luckily, they knew an architect who was nearly as sentimental about the cottage as they were. Skip’s brother Keith Campbell, a commercial architect in Chicago, worked with them to design a new place reminiscent of the old, but winterized and with better plumbing.

They salvaged what they could – a door, some windows, several pieces of furniture – but were most concerned with preserving the cottage’s orientation and scale. The original was sited parallel to the lake, set a good way back from the water behind a low-key lawn and scattered clumps of birch. The new cottage uses a similar footprint but this time has a foundation anchored by deep-driven caissons. The lawn remains the same.

Like the original, the new cottage has a living room at one end, two small bedrooms on the other, and a kitchen in between. Keith appended a small entryway, a tiny office/laundry room, a second bathroom and a loft. The new cottage is larger, but not by much.

Keeping the cottage small was of philosophical and practical importance to the Campbells, especially Barb, a recently retired nurse practitioner, who says she does not (NOT!) come Up North to keep house. Golfing, biking, hiking and skiing are much more to her liking. She’s recently taken up kayaking and, when she’s out on the lake, is pleased to observe how well their cottage blends into the shoreline.

"Everybody wanted to make sure the new cottage felt very authentic and was not a foreign expression on the lake," Keith says. "The colors, the form, the use of stone, the general architectural details are all very loyal to Northern Michigan."

Inside, the cottage "speaks for itself," Barb says; it would be warm and wonderful even if she had never done a bit of decorating. The walls, the floors and the ceiling are all golden pine, accented by the salmon-hued stone of the fireplace and the green Motawi tile in the kitchen. Narrow, full-length windows maximize the view, while eyebrow windows add extra light.

As is, the cottage can comfortably accommodate their sons and a few guests. But because it may some day get more crowded, Barb and Skip had work done on the old garage. With new framing, a new second story, and the original stone walls extended and tuck-pointed, the garage can eventually be converted into a guest house.

Gregorio, of course, was carefully preserved. He lurks on the wall, grouchily waiting to take his licks from the next generation.

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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