The Leelanau County farmhouse that Californians Atticus Tysen and James Hunter renovated lies just outside the village of Cedar, down a narrow road that winds past a serene country landscape. Once home to Stanley and Irene Walters and their large family, the Leelanau farmhouse was a community gathering place, the kind of house where you’d stop in for lemonade after church. Now, it’s a peaceful retreat for Tysen, a computer executive, and Hunter, an interior designer who has family ties to the area and a longstanding love of Northern Michigan.
Encouraged by friends to consider buying the 110-acre property and its sturdy farmhouse, Tysen and Hunter took a look and quickly decided to place an offer. On the flight from Traverse City home to San Francisco, Hunter was already drawing plans for the renovation. As it turned out, those plans evolved, or perhaps devolved, into a restyling that changed little about the structure and layout of the home. "The house told me what it wanted," Hunter says. And once it did, he teamed with Chaz Stallman of Stallman Builders in Traverse City to make it happen.
Stallman brought years of experience to the project, yet it was his first undertaking as an independent contractor. The house provided its share of challenges, but between the Traverse City contractor’s construction expertise, Hunter’s design savvy and insight from an architectural engineer, they solved one problem after another without compromise.
The result is a welcoming structure with beautiful flow and proportions, plenty of original character, and rooms that are both personal and respectful of the home’s rich Leelanau County history. Hunter barely changed the layout, and Stallman replicated original architectural details like eave brackets and the newel post, which had been too short to meet code.
All along, Hunter aimed to preserve features that most would have replaced: the unusual fired-clay brick exterior, for example. His fixes for the decrepit and sunless Michigan basement included sandblasting the rough stone walls, digging out and finishing the floor and installing French doors that open onto an outdoor patio. What once was creepy now houses a media room, bar, bedroom and bathroom.
Hunter employed a limited palette of materials throughout the home to maintain continuity. The designer also added many more windows to the house, creating views of the Leelanau County countryside around every turn that work to deepen the structure’s connection to the Leelanau landscape. Upstairs, new dormers help accommodate three small bedrooms, a bathroom, a cozy office, and a sunny sitting area with a balcony perfect for stargazing.
Hunter and Tysen visit frequently, often with many relatives and friends. Just like the previous generations who have enjoyed this home, they enter the kitchen through the same doorway and soak up the views of the forest, the pond and rolling hills. They settle into one of many comfortable spaces, indoors or out. The house really did tell its new owners what it wanted: to keep on being a Leelanau County gathering place.