From her home in a gracious, four-story brownstone in downtown Petoskey’s historic Gaslight District, Bonnie Charles can walk to her daughter’s trendy café, Dripworks, to McLean & Eakin Booksellers for the best bestsellers—and just about anywhere else in this small Lake Michigan city. Bonnie’s daily route has the cool, urban walkability vibe of a New York City neighborhood, but she likes it better because, well, it’s Petoskey. Take a look inside!
This home is featured in the December 2015 issue of Northern Home & Cottage.
While Bonnie’s home looks like it has been here since the young Ernest Hemingway hung out in this town, her place is actually only several years old. When Bonnie and her late husband, Dr. Robert Charles, first saw the narrow vacant lot that the brownstone would eventually grace, she wasn’t particularly thinking architecture. She just wanted to get back to her beloved downtown, where she was raised. Although she and Robert had lived only miles away, it just didn’t feel right to Bonnie when you had to drive to get there.
It didn’t take long for the couple to realize, however, that the lot was perfect for a New York–style brownstone. Architect Jessica Moore understood the couple’s vision and drafted it into reality, working closely with Northern Michigan designer Laura Gray of Plum Tree Interiors. Taking her cues from the towerlike half-hexagon facades of some of the most elaborate historic brownstones, Jessica designed twin, connected three-story (plus a garden level that houses a small apartment) hexagonal towers. The period feeling is echoed in wrought iron balconies, arched French doors, brick and limestone exterior materials and porch columns. The bracket motif on the parapets, Jessica says, are nods to Petoskey’s Victorian-era storefronts, while the two authentic gaslights on the exterior of the residence are tangible connections to the city’s period street lighting—for which the Gaslight District was named.
What is historic on the exterior is cutting-edge building technology under the skin. The Charles residence is constructed using poured cement insulated forms, meaning that it is built to last the ages, extremely energy efficient and very quiet to live in—despite the fact that it sits in a busy downtown.
Tragically, Bob died during the construction process, and it was left to Bonnie to oversee the completion, particularly of the interior. She credits the expression of her own warm and enchanted vision of her new home to Laura’s skillful and inspired project management.
The interior narrative begins with a serenely elegant sky blue–and-mocha palette that sets the stage for Farrow and Ball handcrafted damask wallpapers, crystal chandeliers and custom tile work and window coverings. While she chose luxurious elements, Bonnie also wanted her home comfortable and approachable—a sensibility that seemed difficult to achieve given the rooms’ high ceilings. Through a subtly elaborate use of archways, deep moldings, and ceiling coffers lined with roped lighting, Laura succeeded in bringing intimacy to the spaces. Bonnie’s idea for a keeping room—an old-fashioned term for a cozy nook in the kitchen—translated into a pair of deep and cushy chairs with ottomans near a small gas fireplace faced with a lovely pattern embossed on marble. The addition of a banquette in lieu of a banquet table also cozies up the room, as does an Old World–style dark-stained and scraped hickory floor.
The view from the brownstone is as invitingly enchanted as its décor. Outside the windows, Little Traverse Bay winks in the distance, sunsets dance off the neighboring rooftops and the streetscape moves from the hustle and bustle of summer to a glow of holiday lights across the city streets that call to mind a scene out of Dickens. When the formal French doors open and you walk inside, it’s as though all of that streetscape is crystalized with Bonnie’s memories of living her entire life in or near this beautiful downtown. As architect Jessica Moore describes, entering the home “is like cracking open a geode to find the little jewel inside.”