Self-Renovation in Charlevoix

To anyone else, the piles of discarded beer cans and other flotsam covering the floors of the old caretaker’s cottage on Nowland Lake would have looked liked a disgusting mess. To Bob Riesenberger, it looked like money.

Redeeming the deposits on all those cans, he figured, “would make my first mortgage payment.” He’s joking, of course. But Bob was able to see potential in the cottage, a teardown by all accounts, that others would have missed. Rather than bring in a bulldozer, he rebuilt the cottage from the ground up, keeping the same foundation. In the process, he created a home comfortable enough for a full-time residence and discovered a new career.

Bob and wife Carol bought the place about eight years ago when they were still working at jobs downstate. Bob had finished fixing up their little cabin in an old resort on Nowland Lake near Charlevoix and was looking for a new project. He learned that the resort property owners association was selling the old caretaker’s cottage up the hill from the lake.

To convince Carol that the cottage was a wise investment, Bob made sure she didn’t go inside. The most recent tenants had been a pair of young men, prodigious hunters as well as beer drinkers, who apparently butchered their game at home. Bob figured that Carol would not appreciate the deer parts scattered amidst the empties any more than she’d take to the chipmunks and squirrels living in the attic.

For months, Bob drove up on weekends to strip the cottage bare. Then he and Carol redesigned the layout. A stairwell to the Michigan basement wasted valuable space, so Bob closed it off, adding access through an outside door. The old bathroom was replaced and a second added. A laundry was installed in the large pantry, the second bedroom expanded, and the kitchen and living area opened into one large room.

Bob, who had remodeled the couple’s Birmingham home as a hobby, did most of the work himself. He added custom touches, such as the curtain rods and crown molding made from slender birch logs, some with twigs left on. A built-in corner desk is his handiwork, along with a cabinet for the television and audio equipment.

For Carol, a gourmet cook, Bob designed an oversized island with concrete countertop tinted to look like soapstone. He says the countertop is big enough for Ping-Pong, but she says it’s perfect. “I have more counter space up here than I did downstate,” Carol says.