It’s back! The cool Northport cottage we just can’t seem to get enough of: Chetonka. And this time … we want to know how they do it. So lets revisit Leelanau County’s den of cool and find out how it got its Northern Home & Cottage style!
If this Northport cottage looks familiar, well … you might have seen it on our pages in 2006. Or perhaps you saw it in person, post-expansion, on our Home Tour in 2015. Chetonka, as the cottage has been dubbed by owners Michael “Chet” Chetcuti and partner Kyle Evans, has an enduring, magnetic appeal that just keeps us coming back for more. The home pulls us in with a timeless blend of eras and styles.
The casual look may appear effortless, but it required very nuanced curating. Adding to the appeal, the look is captivating but elusive, defying typical style definitions and labels. Kyle is the multi-talented design genius who continues to build the cottage’s distinctly Northern Michigan style. Just as the decor constantly evolves on the bluff-top site overlooking the Manitou Islands, so does the cottage itself. The couple recently added a second structure and converted the original non-winterized 1930s cottage to a summer kitchen and “mess hall,” where a stream of lucky guests enjoy Chet’s meals planned around local, seasonal food. Entertaining is Chetonka’s raison d’être, and every design decision complements a life of laid-back enjoyment of the outdoors.
These long-time cottagers are blessed with a natural sense of style, but Kyle says there are important principles that guide design decisions at Chetonka. Chief among them is blending the old and the new, and letting each influence the other. For example, when building the new cottage, the men used high-efficiency SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) but faced them with a cement-block veneer to match the walls of the old cottage. This sort of reverse-update serves as a thread of continuity and honor for the history of the place.
Color, too, plays an important role in creating cohesive spaces. Kyle achieves that with a palette of pitch-dark green, warm red and the honeyed tones of natural wood. These colors help focus the selection of vintage furniture and accessories so that pieces from all eras harmonize, creating a built-over-time effect that suits such a storied home.
But how to pull this off without creating a disjointed mess? Kyle offers this bit of advice: “You have to have some restraint, but try not to be afraid. Throw in some unexpected elements to keep it from looking too serious.”
He mentions their Warhol portraits of Marilyn Monroe, perhaps more expected in a Manhattan penthouse than in a Northport cottage, as examples of this technique. Other unexpected elements arose from Kyle’s and Chet’s shared background in the auto industry. Sconces flanking the fireplace are made from the side-view mirrors of a mid-1950s Oldsmobile. There’s also a lot of custom metalwork that was fabricated in Chet’s downstate metal stamping plant.
The rustic and industrial elements set the tone with inexpensive materials and hard-working fixtures, but touches of elegance serve as a counterpoint. Slick surfaces like glass and polished marble contrast with rough-hewn wood and rusted metal. The blend keeps the space from ascribing rigidly to any one style or archetype. In addition, Kyle strategically placed the reflective materials to subtly reflect the views for a sense of being surrounded by nature even when indoors.
Outdoors, however, is the summer gathering place of choice, where views of woods and water envelop the small compound. To enhance the experience, Kyle applied similar principles to the landscaping design. Retaining walls made from naturally rusted Cor-Ten steel give a modern contrast to organically shaped stone pavers grown over with moss. Plantings soften the transition from old elements to new.
Despite our three visits and repeated analyses, it’s not possible to turn the art of “Chetonka Style” into a checklist. It’s much more nuanced than that. Start with focus and fearlessness, add a little adventure and an open eye for the endless possibilities that can define your signature Northern Michigan style.
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