Holy Cow: A Traverse City Farmhouse

Dietrich Floeter

What do bovines, bowling balls and bow ties have in common? They share a dining room with David Williams and Ed Galindo.

Remarkably, the couple’s charming and quirky house up the hill from Traverse City feels not the least bit crowded. Thanks to a creative addition and remodeling job, there is plenty of room for everyone–if not quite everything. Williams, a fan of mid-century modern collectibles, admits that he has lots more stuff stashed away in his barn. Still, he has space to display his favorite pieces, including a photomural of truly beefy proportions.

As much a gardener as a collector, Williams bought the house and its five hillside acres in 1990 after falling in love with its stone wall. To see this graceful, curving terrace is to understand his enchantment. A 90-foot-long spine of smooth lake stones, the wall provides an attractive backdrop for Williams’ well-tended perennials and fruit trees. Its pristine condition is a testament to the skill of the anonymous mason who built it more than six decades ago.

The stone terrace brackets a collection of outbuildings–the original owners used them as part of their poultry and meat processing business–which were equally intriguing to Williams. Right away he could see that the stone smokehouse would make a fine potting shed and that the Depression-era garage had classic lines. As for the two-level barn, well, it was a collector’s dream: empty and big. And if that weren’t enough, the Cedar Run Road property offered a scenic view of Traverse City, glimpsed through the leaves in summer but sparkling in full splendor in winter.

The house itself was a humble affair, practically unchanged since it was built in the 1930′s. It was tiny, too, although that didn’t deter Williams, who lived alone at the time. A decade later, however, when Galindo moved in, 700 square feet was clearly not enough room.

As they were mulling over remodeling ideas, Williams and Galindo invited their architect friend Ken Richmond for dinner and asked for his informal assessment of the situation. The next day Richmond delivered a watercolor illustration of a two-room addition and new front portico. It was perfect, and the project was underway.

Richmond had solved the biggest dilemma–how to connect the house to the barn. Considering that the barn is set back from the house by about thirty feet, this required some creative architecture. Richmond’s floor plan resembles an outline for a term paper, with the two new rooms and the barn set in falling indents back from the original house.

The old house was stripped and rebuilt into three main spaces: a TV room/office, a kitchen and a mudroom. The kitchen opens into one end of a new rectangular living and dining room. A large square master bedroom is attached to the far end of the rectangular room. The square room "kisses," but doesn’t open into, the side of the long barn.

Eventually, Williams and Galindo want to create, and connect to, more living space in the old barn. But for now, Galindo, the cook of the house, is happy to have elbowroom and shining stainless steel countertops in the kitchen. Williams is glad to have room for the long glass case displaying his collection of 100 vintage bow ties. Guests have plenty of space to maneuver around the dining room table–and its black bowling-ball feet. (Williams continues the bowling theme outside, where 150 bowling balls serve as edging for his garden beds.)

Best of all, the living and dining room wall is exactly and purposefully tall enough for one of Williams most prized possessions–an 8-by-12-foot photo of two Black Angus heifers posing in a pasture. He scored the mural when workers were clearing out the original Oleson’s Food Store on Front Street. A Traverse City native, Williams couldn’t resist this sentimental treasure, especially not for $50.

Williams concedes that not everyone would appreciate eating dinner under the gaze of livestock (he and Galindo don’t eat much meat). And Galindo acknowledges that the layout of the house, including a main walkway through the center of the kitchen, is a bit unorthodox. Yet everything about the house suits them just fine. "We feel so comfortable here," Galindo says.

Drawing it together For the exterior design, architect Ken Richmond chose to emphasize the angles of the structure by giving each section its own type of siding–Dutch lap on the original house, shingles on the first new room, board and batten on the next, and finally the existing lap siding on the old barn. "It looks likes four cottages pushed together," says homeowner David Williams. "It looks like it’s evolved." But on the inside, where the challenge was to de-emphasize the zigzag layout, Richmond used repeating materials to tie the rooms together. The floors in the main spaces are all red oak. The same cottage-style white trim surrounds all the windows. The windows are all the same style. Yet, as befitting a house decorated with giant cows, Richmond played around a bit, too. The windows in the dining/living room are different shapes and sizes, and the floor in the mudroom is a funky green linoleum.

Janet Lively writes and teaches in Traverse City. [email protected]

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