Northern Michigan Living: Classic Cottage on Torch Lake Re-Done

Northern Michigan Living: Seasonal neighborhoods have unique personalities, often determined by the character of the older cottages. So when a treasured old summer home changes hands, hints of trepidation spread down the shore. Some neighbors wonder whether they're about to watch a favorite landmark be demolished or turned into a muddled mess.

It’s a common scene Up North—and rare that a remodel with a 1,000-square-foot addition turns out so well that neighbors barely notice a difference. On West Twin Lake in Lewiston, southeast of Gaylord, a builder and architect took a client’s vision for his distinctive 1940s stone cottage and made the results look timeless, effortless, and natural.

Builder Eric Render of Render Construction in Lewiston and Gaylord architect Bradley J. Butcher, AIA, of Wilcox Professional Services, solved spatial and structural problems to improve function while maintaining the quaint character of the vintage cottage. From the parklike approach it’s clear that the team not only preserved the historic character, but also improved upon it. With an expanded footprint and second story, the cottage looks every bit original.

“Our client has a good sense of design,” says Butcher. “He had specific ideas and a good sense of what would work for the cottage.”

What works is a new great room with a wall of gently arched windows facing the lake, a new screened porch and covered entry, and a second-story master suite with office space and its own sunrise-facing roof deck. The bedroom overlooks the great room with a clear sightline through the upper windows to the lake. Butcher designed the room with a half-wall to anchor the bed facing a Juliet balcony with glazed pocket doors.

Besides the new additions, almost every existing space in the cottage was updated. The central space holds a rustic cherry-and-granite kitchen and a generous open dining area. Small bedrooms on each side stayed small, and one kept its original cedar closet. A gold-tiled bathroom, circa 1960, was left untouched except for a new vanity. Design features like that speak to the continuous history of the place, not just its beginnings.

Over the decades, the cottage underwent three expansions. The biggest challenge for Render and his team was coordinating the different foundations, each with its own quirky construction style. The easy part of the job—surprisingly—was replicating the stone on the exterior. “They used local stone to begin with, so finding a match was easy.” Render relied on the keen eye of his brother and mason, Adam Render, to pull off the seamless look between old and new sections of the house, using careful placement and a mortaring technique tested to perfection on the back of the new carriage house with guest quarters.

The old and new harmonize beautifully under tall pines on the 9-acre site, one of the largest on West Twin Lake. Butcher enhanced the picturesque quality of the place with details like his signature “piano arches,” cedar-shake gable ends that flare to meet the thick stone walls, and shingles the color of tree bark. On lake properties, the architect pays as much attention to the entry side as he does the lakeside. “An inviting approach is important,” he says.

Of course, the family spends most of their time on the lakeside with its grassy, expansive lawn and water view. Render’s team constructed a cedar deck that spans the width of the cottage and fits jigsaw-style against each unique stone. It’s those special details that demonstrate the care this team brought to the preservation—and improvement—of one of Twin Lake’s most cherished cottages.

This article was first featured in the June 2012 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine. Click here to order your copy today!

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