A Not-So-Big Northern Michigan Home Near Sleeping Bear Dunes

When Chicago-based airline stewardess Jo-Ann Tarkette winds up her globetrotting—often to Paris, sometimes
to various cities in Asia—she heads to her 1,250-square-foot hideaway tucked in the shadows of the SleepingBear Dunes National Lakeshore.

From her tree-shaded, timber-and-stone lair, Tarkette easily accesses the miles of hiking trails and secluded sandy beaches of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Great restaurants and boutique shopping are seven miles south on M-22, a designated scenic highway. Some days Tarkette prefers to stay home and entertain her crowd of Up North friends—who, like Tarkette, summered in the Frankfort area as children—from her spacious deck set in the trees. Tarkette says for its diminutive size her house entertains efficiently—and its petite footprint makes it an easy place to keep up.

The home’s attention to detail is courtesy of builder-designer Chuck Beale of Durango Homes, who meticulously situated 14 home sites (with homes ranging in size from 1,200 to 4,000 square feet) on the 12-acre, partially wooded slope he calls Sleeping Bear Woods. The four existing homes are Energy Star certified and constructed using green-built principles (as will be the others when they are built)—requiring features like high-efficiency insulation, Energy Star appliances and sustainable and reclaimed materials.

Beale turned what could have been straightjacket standards into free-spirited designs he describes as a hybrid of mountain cabin and little houses in the big woods Up North. While each home sports a different floor plan, individualized porch, varied organic color schemes and custom details like stonework and exposed rafter tails, they all manage to feel sweetly natural to the site.

Beale uses salvaged barn timbers wherever he can in the homes, as well as a load of old growth cedar and hemlock from the shores of Lake Ontario that he counts himself fortunate to have stumbled upon. Once used in a dock that was dismantled a century ago, the timbers are sturdy and handsome as ever. “You can’t duplicate that hand-peeled look,” he says.

Inside, the homes manifest the Not So Big philosophy (made famous by designer Sarah Susanka) with their attention to high-end detail in exchange for square footage. The kitchens boast granite countertops, and custom cabinetry; the doors are either hardwood, slate or stained concrete—materials that are all as sustainable as they are sophisticated.

But one detail that Tarkette especially loves is a feature whose only price is the thoughtfulness of the careful designer: “The windows are sited so that when I look out I don’t see any other houses, only trees,” she says.

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

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