My wife and I and our two sons have been renting cottages in Northern Michigan for 18 years, one precious week a year. As native Michiganders, both my wife and I have even older and deeper memories of going Up North on family trips during our childhoods. My four brothers and sisters and their spouses and children all love the area as much as our family does, and we meet there as an extended family over the Fourth of July every year.

A child of the 1950’s, I was lucky enough to grow up in a truly Danish Modern home (my mother was the daughter of Danish immigrants to Detroit) completed in 1956, one year after I was born. Jacobsen, Knoll, Noguchi, Risom, Herman Miller, George Nelson, and Eames were all there in our flat-roofed idyll. The house and my memories of it are probably the reasons I went into architecture in the first place. Unfortunately we moved when I was 21, and I thought I’d never get to relive that environment.

Until now.

When we finally had the opportunity to buy lake property of our own in Northern Michigan, we jumped at the chance, even though the house that came with the gorgeous land on an inland lake was a plain 1970’s ranch. At least the floor plan was simple, with some decent sized spaces. We converted an unnecessary attached two-car garage to a master bedroom suite and covered every square inch of interior wall surface with pine, the mother of all cottage material palettes. Installed horizontally it has a more contemporary look than the typical cottage installation, which is vertical. But more importantly, the Scandinavians love wood interiors, as well as wood furniture, and we wanted the cottage to be an homage to Scandinavian design as well as to Up North cottage traditions.

Even though there are subtle color, texture and grain distinctions between all the wood furniture and the pine walls and ceilings, it all hangs together pretty well as a wood-driven esthetic. In addition to the pine paneling we opened up some walls and threw in a reeded-glass door mounted with barn door hardware. A deck that wraps around a big maple, a big bay window in our bedroom, a paint job and a dry-stack stone retaining wall were critical exterior additions.

We kept the cottage’s original footprint, and we focused on using materials, and contractors, that were local. We were able to save more than 90 percent of the interior walls, construction, and systems, thereby maximizing the sustainability of the building. Our contractor, Darryl McNiff , of Platte River Construction, was a real pleasure to work with, as were all his subs. Since we finished our work, Darryl built a small one-room addition that I designed for my other brother’s cottage—three brothers, three Up North cottages.

Furnishing the cottage was easy, mainly due to some pieces I’ve inherited from my childhood home over the years. My dad’s Jens Risom desk and credenza found a home in my new study. My mom’s George Nelson makeup counter bench has been re-covered in Ray Eames’s Dot Pattern. Two Noguchi rocking stools from home share the living room with an original Eames coffee table we bought from friends. My brother and sister-in-law inherited the original Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs from home (which are in their cottage down the road from us), so we bought reproductions. And the original 1956 architect’s renderings of my family’s old house have been framed—and make all of my brothers and sisters happy and nostalgic when they come over for one of our frequent family barbecues.

I’m sure the armchair psychologists will have a field day with my attempted recapture of my childhood environment, but whatever …We love it.

Keith Campbell, based in Chicago, is a vice-president of the global architectural fi rm RTKL. Campbell’s recent work includes The Roosevelt Collection, a mixed-use project in Chicago, and Sands Bethworks, a master plan for the abandoned Bethlehem Steel Works in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

To see this feature with photographs, get the June 2010 issue of Northern Home & Cottage, part of June 2010 Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.

This Home’s Resources


Keith Campbell, Chicago,


Platte River Construction, Lake Ann, 231-357 2370


Platte River Construction. Lake Ann, 231-357 2370


Platte River Construction, Lake Ann, 231-357 2370


Krystal Services 810-441-9882


Ultimate Plumbing, Grawn, 231-276-6290


Cannon Mechanical, Traverse City, 231-218-9122


Honor Building Supply, Honor, 231-325-4551,


Lincoln Windows,




Austin’s Masonry, Traverse City, 231-943-0344


Gallery 31, Honor, 231-325-2522,

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski