Near the top of Scottie Lansill’s list of life goals was turning an old, forgotten house into beautiful home. Heather Johnson Durocher recounts a lakeside Harbor Springs home renovation that became a labor of love—and a check off the proverbial list. The following essay was originally featured in the February 2014 edition of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
Like many people, Scottie Lansill has a bucket list of things she’d love to see and do in her lifetime. And in the past couple of years, the Harbor Springs resident has ticked off several of those list items, from hiring a personal trainer and enrolling in comedy classes, to traveling to Poland and Italy, jumping from a plane, giving back to her community, taking riding lessons with her horse, even signing on for an East Coast beauty pageant.
Lansill also has fulfilled her wish of buying a historic house and fixing it up. In July 2012, after more than a year of renovations, Lansill’s 19th-century bluff house was finished, and she and her partner, Joe, moved in.
“I love the history of these old houses,” says Lansill, whose 1,700-square-foot two-story overlooks the village of Harbor Springs and Little Traverse Bay. She knew the area well, having spent summers at her family’s waterfront cottage in the Wequetonsing neighborhood of Harbor Springs. She’d also purchased another house in the area after relocating from California several years ago.
But it was an expected and storied inheritance from a distant relative that allowed Lansill to make her bucket list items—including the home renovation dream—realities sooner rather than later. In 2011, she was among 12 heirs of Saginaw lumber baron Wellington R. Burt to split over $100 million of Burt’s fortunes, 92 years after his death. Burt included an unusual clause in his will that prevented family from accessing much of the estate until 21 years after his last grandchild died.
“I don’t ever take it for granted,” says Lansill, one of Burt’s great-great-grandchildren, of her good fortune, which she says came after years of hard work, including a job with FedEx. “I know what it’s like to struggle. I wake up every morning and thank God … I think it’s very interesting. I love being part of history. I always worried it would change me, but I check in with my friends and they tell me I haven’t.”
Lansill took the three-bedroom, three-bathroom West Bluff Drive house—a summer home that had been owned by the same family for the past century—and created a year-round residence that reflected its original intention, but with an updated look and feel.
Some things remain, such as the dining room chandelier and porch furniture that Lansill, an abstract painter, simply refurbished to her own taste. The home’s upper level includes two guest bedrooms and a tiled bathroom that Lansill barely touched because she liked the traditional look and old-school uniqueness, including a built-in magazine rack next to the toilet.
Still the renovations, overseen by general contractor Birchwood Construction, were intense and included removing walls, constructing a kitchen where a bedroom had been, adding a master bedroom off the kitchen and replacing windows, molding and trim and the roof.
The finished product takes full advantage of its storybook Harbor Springs setting. The removal of a wall in the great room, for example, opened up the view through an attached windowed front porch and onto sweeping views of the harbor below. “I wanted to see the lake at all times,” Lansill says.
Lansill incorporated her favorite colors of lime-green and pink throughout the home. “It’s simple and fresh without being ostentatious,” she says. “It’s a cottage, not a mansion.” Even so, touches including built-in bookshelves, a gas fireplace and cove lighting in the dining area maintain a cozy, year-round living feel.
“I wanted it to look as Michigan as possible,” she says. “I just love it here. I love Michigan people, I love Michigan weather. In Michigan, people say, ‘Do your own thing,’ and ‘Be your own person.’ Michigan—it’s in my heart and soul.”
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