Pickerel Lake Cabin Rescue

The first time Jon Sarkesian saw the abandoned 1920’s log cabin on Pickerel Lake, it had a gaping 12-by-12-foot hole in the roof with a tree growing out of it. Daylight streamed through gaps in the log walls, and 30 years of neglect had left it without plumbing, electricity, heat or floors. (See the "before" pics here).

At best, most people would have looked at the 50-by-130-foot lot as a buildable piece of land, but Sarkesian, a Royal Oak–based architect, was equally smitten with the historic structure that sat on it. “I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” he says of the cabin, empty since the 1970’s. “Suzanne, my wife, thought I was nuts, but there was something about the place that I couldn’t shake. It had a cozy, classic cottage feel that appealed to me. I really liked the Craftsman lines of the roof, the old stone fireplace and the screen porch.”

It took a year to convince Suzanne that the long-empty fishing cabin was the getaway the family of four had long been seeking. “We knew we wanted a low-key inland lake that wasn’t as developed and had an old-fashioned Up North feel,” says Jon. A year after seeing it for the first time, he talked Suzanne into a taking a second look.

In the year that had passed, the previous owner, a local real estate agent who had bought it from the original owners, had started restoration, underpinning the foundation, putting in floor framing and a temporary roof and replacing some of the rotted logs.

“Dave Watson had begun the process of bringing the cottage back from the dead, so it didn’t seem quite as overwhelming,” Jon says. “Suzanne was still hesitant, but she went along with it. We had already bought a beater in Birmingham and renovated it and survived, so we knew we could do it.”

The family of four made regular road trips up I-75, staying at the Perry Hotel or Terrace Inn until the 500-square-foot guest cabin on the property—and eventually, the main cabin—was habitable. Jon kept tabs on the contractors, who picked up where the real estate agent had left off. First step: shoring up the structure with interior columns and perimeter beams. “We essentially built a structure inside a structure so we could add a second floor,” Jon explains. The plan was to take the simple 700-square-foot cabin to a roomier 1,400 square feet, adding three bedrooms and a full bath upstairs and a 12-foot addition on the first floor to house a new foyer, compact kitchen and additional full bath. Rooms were designed to include much-needed storage, including a furnace room over the stairwell and storage underneath. “We looked at the house like a boat … every inch counted,” says Jon. Other tasks included rechinking and adding insulation between the logs, adding a new floor, framing and electrical, as well as plumbing and heating systems. A paint job and new landscaping came last.

The Sarkesians recycled as much of the original structure as possible. Existing windows were reglazed and reused, albeit with new energy-efficient wood storms. “Old materials add character,” Jon explains. Salvaged lead glass windows add light in the new kitchen, where a table original to the cabin once used for cleaning fish, a gift from a neighbor, is now a favored perch for family dinners and board games.

Almost a decade after their first visit, the Sarkesians can’t imagine life without their Pickerel Lake hideaway. Jon, Suzanne and their two children, ages 13 and 10, drive up year round, skiing in the winter and swimming, boating and fishing in the summer. “Our youngest was only a month old when we bought the cottage,” Jon remembers. “The kids have grown up here.”

A “before” photo of the cabin sits on a kitchen shelf. “We keep it there to remind us how far we’ve come,” says Suzanne, a designer, who did all of the interiors. “It’s hard to believe the journey this little cottage has been on.”

“Buying the cottage was the best thing we ever did for our family,” Jon adds. “This place has a soul … we’re at peace here.”

Click to see "before" pictures of the Sarkesian cottage.