An architect, an interior designer and a pair of homeowners invent a fresh vernacular for a Lake Michigan beach house.

Featured in the June 2010 issue of Northern Home & Cottage. Read the latest issue.

Architect Ray Kendra’s Leelanau County clients were adventurous as they planned their Lake Michigan beach house. They insisted their cottage be “green” and were enthusiastic about modern design. Yet the hard-core industrial look left them cold. What they really wanted was “comfortable, vernacular-type forms,” says Kendra, who is with Environment Architects (formerly CWS Architects). “They wanted to come back from a hike or a swim to a traditional, cottage form.”

Well, sort of. The clients loved Kendra’s solution, a mash-up of old-style barn and vintage beach house with plenty of modern details. With a fireplace that sits in a solid wall of concrete and a funky roofline, the cottage isn’t exactly traditional. But it just felt right.

Well, almost. Kendra’s interior was modern white-on-white, still too stark for the couple, who planned the Lake Michigan beach house as a getaway for their family. So they brought in Empire-based designer Kristi Brubaker and let her have her way with color. Now the rooms pop with lime, red, plum, and burnt orange.

The overall mix of modern and traditional styles—clean and edgy, but cozy—marks a “new regional vernacular,” Kendra says.  The cottage has “refined character yet it’s loose,” he says.

“If you come back in 50 years, people will still like it.” —Ray Kendra

Functional Design

Most of all, the cottage is functional. The clients’ top priority was accommodating their whole family in a home where “nobody’s stuck in the bad bedroom,” Kendra says. So he designed plenty of egalitarian sleeping space—four bedrooms, no master suite. All the bedrooms have built-in furniture, including daybeds, bunks and dressers. The upstairs bedroom features a slither-sized loft, accessible by a custom metal ladder, where kids can roll out sleeping bags. There’s extra sleeping space in the futon-fitted office that closes off with a barn door, and more in the basement family room where Japanese-style screens add privacy.

All told, the cottage sleeps up to 16 people in beds or futons. But because the bedrooms are “efficiently and functionally sized” (read: not too big), it still feels comfortable when the couple comes up alone.

These clients, more concerned with storage for kayaks than garage space for cars, also wanted the home to have an indoor/outdoor feel. Kendra designed a number of outdoor spaces for them, from the second-floor deck with a fireplace to a below-grade patio.

And he went heavy on the windows. Of course, the cottage has a wall of lakeside windows to maximize the view of the Manitou Islands. But Kendra put windows everywhere, creating a “constant connection between inside and outside.” Even the hallway between the garage and the living room has a wall of windows looking out to a garden.

Building Green

The windows are high efficiency because the clients were strongly committed to building green. The cottage also boasts geothermal heating and cooling, low-flow fixtures, locally sourced materials, a gravel driveway, sustainable landscaping and so many other green features that CWS and builder Burkholder Construction have submitted documentation for platinum certification through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes program administered by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The clients had initially planned to remodel the existing cottage, but when that didn’t work, were determined to limit disturbance to the site. One of the clients’ greenest moves was hiring Odom Re-Use Co. to carefully deconstruct the existing cottage on the property. Most of the lumber was hauled away for other projects, and some went into the new home, including old redwood that Burkholder craftsmen reused as shelving and decking.

The new structure uses the original footprint. Perennials from the pre-existing garden and wildflowers were donated to the Leelanau Conservancy for its annual plant sale. Although some trees had to be removed—many milled for use—landscape architect Anita Silverman kept as many as possible. She incorporated salvaged flagstone and old limestone fence posts into her design and planted low-maintenance native and deer-resistant species, including a swath of wildflowers over the septic field.

The result is a Lake Michigan beach house that visitors say “feels like it’s always been there.” High praise for a home that aims, mostly, to blend in.

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