An Indiana couple channels the relaxed, simple lifestyle of Bear Lake into a new lakefront cottage.

This home is featured in the June 2015 issue of Northern Home & Cottage, a bi-monthly home publication included in all subscriptions to Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Subscribe. 

Given that it was only a ranch-style home, the old house on the shore of Bear Lake didn’t have much going for it—except some beloved local history. The doctor in this small Manistee County town also named Bear Lake, had lived in the home since the 1950s. If the doctor’s old black crank phone, tucked away in the basement, could talk, imagine the life and death dramas it could tell.

Shrouded in the village’s narrative, the house was virtually part of the shoreline of this lovely rural lake when an Indiana couple purchased it several years ago. By then, the couple had visited Bear Lake enough to be acquainted with the home’s significance. They were also fond of the beautiful lake and its relaxed, unpretentious lifestyle.

Although they knew the house would need some drastic renovation, the couple was determined to proceed with care, salvaging as much of the home as possible. To that end, they turned to Grand Rapids builder Doug McKee of Daeco Builders, a company with experience in renovating historic homes. After a thorough inspection though, McKee determined that the home’s very solid foundation was all that should be saved.

Rather than be disappointed, the couple took that as their cue to build a home on the old foundation that stayed within the footprint of the doc’s house—their new home wouldn’t eat up any additional shoreline. Additionally, they would stick to a single story to honor the former home’s unassuming profile. The one potential problem: the family of five needed four bedrooms and space for entertaining extended family and friends. The old footprint could prove too confining.

Enter Jeff Visser of J. Visser Designs—a boutique design firm that specializes in the very careful planning of waterfront homes. Designers at J. Visser begin the planning process by asking questions as grand as, “How will the new structure interplay with the shoreline?” And as mundane as, “How can visiting grandbabies have a quiet place to sleep when the home is filled with family and guests?” But priority one, Jeff explains, is tracking the path of the sun across the site to determine how to orient the home to capture as much natural light as possible.

In the case of the Bear Lake cottage, the upshot of the careful design process is a home that finesses light and space at every angle, while answering all of the lifestyle needs the couple asked for. A generous covered terrace off the great room adds valuable living space, for example, while a cupola that rises above the same room bathes it in a bounty of light from above—light that bounces off walls faced with white clapboard hung horizontally to amplify a spacious feeling.

The basic floor plan revolves around a great room and kitchen set between the master bedroom wing and a wing that houses three modest but ample bedrooms, as well as a cozy den that is just big enough for a game table and television. In an understated but insightful move, Jeff designed a pocket door on the bedroom hallway—ensuring quiet for early-to-bed or late-to-rise sleepers.

The small, efficient and beautifully appointed kitchen conceals a pantry that is roomy enough for storage, prep and housing kitchen appliances. The mud/laundry room (always one of the most important spaces in a lake home) threads between the master wing and the dining area. This über-efficient room opens out to the yard and beach and also provides access to a fully finished basement where outdoor toys and furniture are stored.

This precisely designed living space is enclosed in a lovely, gracefully detailed shingle-style exterior. It’s the kind of timeless cottage style that could have been built yesterday—or a hundred years ago. The home will age well. The doctor would be pleased.

Home Resources
  • Designer: J. Visser, Grand Rapids, 616.954.2509
  • Builder and Cabinetry: Daeco Builders Inc., Ada,  616.682.2422
  • Interior Design: Beth McKee Designs, Grand Rapids, 616.485.9955
  • Furnishings: Betsy Bay Furniture, Frankfort, 231.352.4202
  • Tile: Tileworks, Grand Rapids, 616.292.5807.
  • Granite: Great Lakes Granite Works, Comstock Park, 616.785.3088
  • Corian: Counter Point, Greenville, 616.754.1180
  • Lumber: Bear Lake Ace Hardware and Supply, Bear Lake, 231.864.3036
  • Windows: Pella Windows & Doors,
  • Mahogany Doors: R & J Raven Corporation, Grand Rapids, 616.245.5684
  • Hickory Flooring: Launstein Flooring, Mason, 888.339.4639
  • Appliances: Max’s Service Inc., Traverse City, 231.947.6830
  • Painting: Distinct Finish LLC, Hudsonville,  616.292.7309

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Photo(s) by William Herbert