A love story about a log cabin, and how it led to years of dreaming and planning for the ultimate log home in Northport.
This home is featured in the December 2014 issue of Northern Home & Cottage, a bimonthly publication included in all subscriptions to Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Subscribe to life Up North.
“That’s where I first fell in love with log homes,” Phil Swy says as he points to a framed photograph that hangs in an airy hallway of the Lake Michigan log home he built with his wife, Denise, in 2008. The photo is of a small log cabin on a cherry farm near Northport. The year was 1974, and he came north from his hometown in southern Michigan to visit a college fraternity buddy.
Denise refers to a second photo a few steps farther along the hallway. This one is of a log cabin rental near Northport Point. “We’d spend a couple of weeks a year there for about eight years,” she remembers.
And finally, a third photo, this one of the couple’s first very own log cabin, built in 1997 and still standing on their property. For years the “giant one-room cabin,” as Phil describes it, played host to countless summer trips and winter getaways for their family of four and their guests. “Our kids used to bring their friends—it was so much fun,” Denise says, recalling a time when 14 kids slept on twin beds they’d set up inside the cabin.
The Swys still use the beloved old cabin as a guesthouse—but their home now is this 3,800-square-foot log masterpiece fashioned with Michigan red pine logs handcrafted by the Traverse City–based Maple Island Log Homes. Designing and building the home was a 17-months-long process—and the culmination of many years of mapping out their eventual move to year-round living in Leelanau County from downstate, where they’d raised two sons and operated a furniture manufacturing business.
Maple Island designed the floor plan tailoring it to the Swys’ lifestyle and their unique piece of Lake Michigan shoreline.
Working with the design, the crew at Maple Island went on to select, scribe and notch each log that would be used in the home, afterward transporting them to the home site. Included in Maple Island’s meticulous detail work on the logs was a knowledge of what adjustments to make to accommodate settling—a term that refers to the logs shrinking as they dry over time. “Maple Island basically wrote the book on how to accommodate for settling in log homes,” Dave says.
Once the Maple Island crew had raised the home’s log superstructure, Dennis Coburn’s team took over, communicating closely with the Swys on the process. Each Friday, the Swys and the builders even enjoyed a potluck-style lunch onsite together. “We called it Friday Feast,” Denise says. “We had a ball. It felt like a family. We’d eat, have a nice lunch, and then they went back to work. It was the best experience.”
That excellent rapport with a skilled crew meant that the Swys’ vision for their home could be fine-tuned during the construction process. The addition of an extra 18 inches to the ceilings’ height was one outcome of this collaboration. “High ceilings, particularly in the great room and master bedroom, aren’t typical of log homes, Coburn says. “It really makes the home feel so spacious, and it accommodates the higher windows. You immediately grasp this, and the spectacular view of the water, when you walk under the log archway to the foyer and then on to the great room.”
Which brings this story to the Swys’ favorite spot in this home that they had dreamed about and planned for 30 years: two chairs set beside floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake Michigan. It’s where they drink their coffee in the morning, read and relax during the day, have a drink at night. As Phil says understatedly, “It’s a good place to start and end each day.”
Northport Log Home Resources
Handcrafted Log Super Structure: Maple Island Log Homes, Traverse City, 231.821.2151
Contractor: Dennis Coburn, Coburn Construction, Traverse City, 231.943.0330
Kitchen Designer: Bay Cabinetry, Traverse City, 231.946.6882
Appliances: Max’s Service & Appliance, Traverse City, 231.947.6830, maxsservice.com
Windows: Pella, Traverse City, 800.968.2400
Copper Fountain: North Shore Ironworks, Traverse City, 231.392.1050
Plumbing: Precision Plumbing, Traverse City, 231.577.6394
Electric: Rennhack Electric, Interlochen, 231.276.6008