During the summer of 2009, photographer Todd Zawistowksi shot a spectacular church-to-home renovation in downtown Harbor Springs for this story. Then in November, an early-morning fire that expanded with astonishing speed burned the home to the ground.
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The Austin-based technology entrepreneur who bought the old church-turned-house on Harbor Springs’ Third Street in 2005 loved its location—just off Main Street within walking distance of a cup of coffee or a great dinner, close to the marina where he keeps his boat, a bike ride away from silky beaches and leafy trails. The 8,500-square-foot building, built as a Presbyterian church in 1881 then added onto in the early 20th century by prominent Harbor Springs architect Earl H. Mead, had more than ample room for him and his three daughters when they spent time in the town that has become their second home.
But the biggest fan of the old church itself may have been the new homeowner’s close childhood friend, Grand Rapids builder Rob Cumming. Though the church had been remodeled into a home in the 1990s, its architectural integrity, from the beautiful inlaid paneling in what was once the nave, all the way up to the soaring 80-foot-high steeple, was intact.
“The original bones of the church were just spectacular,” says Cumming. “The corner boards on the exterior siding were all hand-milled, and the mullions in the arched windows were hand-done and have inches thick.”
Working as a design team, Cumming, the homeowner and his assistant, Justin Clark, launched a two-year, multi-million dollar remodel that took the building down to its original plaster walls and vaulted ceilings on the inside, then outfitted it with hand-cut stone fireplaces, custom doors, top-end appliances and the owner’s own furniture, rugs and art—a luxe and global mix of decor elements.
The exterior, under Cumming’s watchful eye, was buffed and polished: new coats of dove-gray stain on the original cedar siding, and a painstaking, glossy white paint job on the original and extensive 20-inch-deep trim that had been elegantly fashioned of frieze board and crown molding.
For nearly two years the owner and his three daughters spent magic days, weeks and months in their Harbor Springs retreat. The fire, says the owner, was devastating. While nothing is certain, he intends to rebuild—and Cumming is already on the job, meeting with architects familiar with Earl H. Mead’s meticulous and inspired early 20th century designs. If all goes well, hammers will ring again from the burned-over lot on Third Street in Harbor Springs.
Lissa Edwards is managing editor of Northern Home & Cottage.