Self-Renovation in Charlevoix

They downsized big time, however, when they moved to the 1,100-square-foot cottage permanently three years ago. Yet the Riesenbergers, whose two grown sons live outside Michigan, say the place is just right for them and is especially cozy in winter when the wood stove heats the entire house. Besides, with its open floor plan, the cottage can accommodate a crowd. One winter evening, the Riesenbergers hit maximum capacity when 22 friends gathered in the great room. In summer, with the French doors open and the wraparound deck in full use, they host even larger parties that spill into their yard and pergola.

Enthusiastic entertainers, the Riesenbergers enjoy the camaraderie at their little resort. The folks there are friendly and tolerant, too. For example, even though the association covenant requires the lakeside cottages to be painted the same yellow and green, the property owners gave the Riesenbergers carte blanche on exterior color.

Aiming to spice up the neighborhood, the Riesenbergers painted their cottage a bright purple and green. They quickly reconsidered when they saw that their cottage bore an unpleasant resemblance to Barney the dinosaur or, as the neighbors more tactfully said, an Easter basket. Now with the siding repainted a deeper shade of purple and the trim a pleasing lavender, the cottage gets only compliments, Carol says.

That’s the good thing about doing the work yourself, adds Bob. “You can change things and improve things as you go.”

Bob’s work on the cottage impressed so many visitors that he was soon asked to help on other people’s remodeling projects. “I discovered that I liked it and that I was good at it,” he says.

When the jobs kept on coming, Bob eventually decided to sell his downstate business and move Up North to become an independent contractor specializing in bath, kitchen and mid-sized renovations. As it turns out, the cottage that Bob rebuilt, rebuilt him, a happy ending for all concerned.

Janet Lively writes and teaches in Traverse City.

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