Northern Michigan Resorts: If you live in Traverse City, why would you buy a vacation home just 40 miles away at Crystal Mountain Resort? The Thomas family explains.

"There’s so much for everyone to do—for kids of all ages,” says Lori Thomas, who with her husband, Steve, owns a quarter-share in a cottage at Crystal Mountain Resort, a four-season resort in Benzie County that offers golf, skiing, spa, pools, onsite restaurants and more. The Thomases began vacationing at Crystal when their children were just 6 and 8. In those years, the couple made good use of all of Crystal’s abundant children’s activities, from day camp to the waterslide.

With the kids grown now—Jessica is 18, and Nick is 21—the family spends time kayaking down the nearby Betsie River, or poking around Benzie County’s small towns and back roads. “We’ve always loved Frankfort and Arcadia,” Lori says, “but last summer we discovered Onekama and we fell in love with that too.”

When the family comes back from recreating, it is to Sweet Water, a charming bungalow-style home in a pond-side development called the Cottages at Waters Edge. From its red-clapboard exterior to its generous knotty pine interior trim, Sweet Water is anything but cookie-cutter resort architecture. Architect Bob Haldeman says that from the get-go his assignment from Crystal Mountain Resort owners Chris and Jim MacInnes was to make the Cottages at Waters Edge echo the Northern Michigan vernacular. For inspiration Haldeman, working with interior designer Mary Witte of R.O.I. Design in Grand Rapids, toured historic cottages in the area and studied the written description of cabins and cottages in early 20th-century Michigan literature—the work of Bruce Catton and Ernest Hemingway included. In the end, the team developed three basic cottage styles to use in the project: bungalow, cabin and farmhouse. Once the units were built, Witte scoured local antiques stores for furniture and decor items that played out the design themes.

As nicely appointed as they are, the Cottages at Waters Edge are made for heavy use. At 1,700 square feet, the cottage sleeps 10. Laminate wood floors hold up well to ski boots and to wet feet in from the pool that is just steps away from the cottage. Solid surface counters can take the abuse of careless cooks—when the Thomases aren’t using Sweetwater, Crystal Mountain manages it as a rental. While leaving Sweet Water after a week of playing at Crystal is hard, Lori says that the rental arrangement couldn’t be easier. “We just lock the door and go. They do everything else.”

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski