Higgins Lake boaters setting a landmark for a mid-water rendezvous have taken to saying, “We’ll meet you at the California House.” They’re talking about Dave and Karen Jordan’s two-year-old getaway that aligns with a popular Northern Michigan sandbar near the center of the 9,600-acre Roscommon County lake. With its modernist style the house does have a Palm Springs–circa-1960 look, but the couple’s architect son, Jeff Jordan, of Jeff Jordan Architects in New Jersey, was wholly inspired by the woodsy lot on one of Northern Michigan’s most beloved lakes.
At only 75 feet, the site’s width was a challenge. Yet, Jeff wanted to create plenty of space for the extended family (sometimes as many as 25 people) without overwhelming neighboring houses or dominating the lakefront. Despite his parents’ leanings toward a traditional cottage, Jeff began sketching and building models of a sleek, raised single-story structure broken into four masses with long sight lines down the middle and offset volumes that maximize natural light.
A daylight basement doubles the living quarters, creating a 5,000-square-foot house that appears much smaller and maintains generous setbacks from neighbors. The layout accommodates a crowd, but Jeff’s use of zones within the large structure means it’s just as comfortable when Dave and Karen drive up from Okemos for a quick break from their busy software business. The main level sits a few feet above grade, housing a great room with open kitchen, master suite, guest suite, study/home theater, and laundry. Downstairs is devoted to guests with four bedrooms, two baths, and an extra-large flex space with kitchenette. Windows bring in light and views from the lake and small “courtyard” areas.
To better connect the raised house with the site’s gentle slope toward the lake, Jeff designed decks, planting beds and wide stairs that descend gradually to a lawn and sandy beach. The stepped design of the decking eliminates the need for railings, so the miles-long vista projects uninterrupted through a wall of glass, all the way to the back entrance from the two-car garage. Karen says the moment she walks in, the lake view is calming: “This is peace.”
Because the focal point of nearly every room is Higgins Lake and its central points and peninsulas, Jeff says, “The house should be quiet, visually.” To achieve the natural, subdued interior, he chose materials like cedar, oak, maple, granite, and exposed strand lumber. Shapes are simple, and spaces are minimally furnished. The cedar rain screen (see sidebar) that encloses the house stretches indoors onto the great-room walls, blurring lines between indoors and out.
Summer lake breezes are welcomed indoors through the clerestory ventilation system in the main living space, enhanced by two oversized ceiling fans. Other features that contribute to the home’s high energy efficiency include optimization of natural light and heat through window placement and the use of deep eaves, a remotely operable heating system, on-demand water heaters, and closed-cell foam insulation. General contractor Bob Zuzula of Bay City says that during the enclosed phase of construction, heating the house cost significantly less than heating a typical house during construction.
Invisible efficiencies and thoughtful architecture are what give this house such a carefree spirit. No matter the weather or the number of guests, Dave and Karen know that here on the water, relaxation is a given.