Look inside a rustic, surprise-ridden Harbor Springs home with Northern Home & Cottage editor Lissa Edwards.

This home is featured in the February 2014 issue of Northern Home & Cottage, a bi-monthly home publication included in all subscriptions to Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Subscribe. 

Trees as furniture, a boulder for a mantel and a Spartan basketball court off the rec room. The Darntons prove it’s fun to let your imagination roam.

The heavy, handcrafted pine front door with its thick, Medieval-style wrought-iron hinges is a striking clue about the statement that Dick and Karen Darnton’s home makes: rustic, unexpected, a little magical. In all but the hottest season, a fire licks and crackles from the cairnlike fireplace that Dick designed and built from carefully chosen boulders. The headstone, a behemoth placed in lieu of a traditional mantel, is an unusual hunk of limestone, tumbled smooth as it was by glaciers eons ago. There’s a colossal pudding stone in the fireplace facade, too, as well as several boulders taken right off this 10 acres on a bluff above Little Traverse Bay, outside of Harbor Springs.

The fascinations continue. Timbers salvaged from the renovation of historic Holy Childhood Church help hold up the home. The beams had been hewn for over a century when the Darntons brought them to the site. Add that pedigree to the timbers’ hundreds of growth rings, and you can imagine the pre-Columbian story these trees might tell.

The flooring in the great room and kitchen is a random medley of hardwood species that Dick culled from building sites. A reading nook fashioned from a hollowed, split log all but calls for you, a book and a cup of coffee. The twig, sapling and wood slab staircase (made from Upper Peninsula deer camp trees) curls its way to the upstairs.

“Whenever we walk in the woods we come back with ideas,” Karen says.


“We have a big chainsaw mill that we take right in the woods with us,” Dick says. If the couple finds a unique tree, they can make some lumber on the spot.

What may read like a do-it-yourself Middle Earth fantasy is, in reality, an ordered, thought-out plan that stems from this couple’s long experience in the build and design world. Dick has been at the helm of Darnton Builders for 30 years. Before she joined the family company several years ago, Karen worked as a kitchen designer and in a home accessories boutique. It’s a yin and yang partnership that culminates in homes with a wonderful balance of creativity and function. Needless to say, when the Darntons went to build this house, a home where they would raise their two sons (now in their 20s) and entertain their large extended family, they knew what they wanted.

For Dick, the design had to be as practical as it was beautiful. For example, he wanted a log home, but by building a hybrid (using half logs applied to the exterior of a stick built frame) he ended up with same look for less money and gained more insulation. And that fireplace? The firebox is a high-efficiency Rumford design that puts out as much heat as a woodstove.

Karen’s wish list began with her walk-in pantry, wedged between the kitchen and the door to the garage. The placement is perfect for an easy grocery drop and just as perfect for storing china and serving dishes. Small touches including a double-hung window that looks out into the forest, a white-enameled tin ceiling, white beadboard walls and boxwood green shelving bring rustic elegance to the small space.

Karen played out this unexpected luxury theme again in the master bathroom, where a chandelier hangs over a clawfoot tub the couple salvaged from a summer cottage restoration. Karen went on to set off the tub vignette with white curtains hung behind antique corbels mounted on the walls and ceiling. There are also windows that look out at the forest where deer browse.

Over the years, the Darntons have used the home to prove to their clients that their dreams can become reality. Or, how their clients’ kids’ dreams can come true. Case in point: When, years ago, the boys asked Dick for an MSU Spartan-embossed basketball court off their rec room, he revved up his backhoe.

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Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski