A pair of art collectors went looking for a home with a connection to nature and found it hiding behind an unlikely color palette. Take a look inside the Harbor Springs remodel, and get ideas for your own Northern Home & Cottage projects.

This story was originally published in the February 2016 issue of Northern Home & Cottage.

All photography by Dave Speckman

Just a few years ago, selling a house in Northern Michigan wasn’t easy. Anything detracting from a home’s appeal became a stumbling block for buyers who had plenty of options. So it was with a 12-year-old house in the woodsy Birchwood neighborhood, north of Harbor Springs. The large, stone-and-clapboard contemporary had plenty going for it: thoughtful architecture, solid construction, perfect setting and a popular countryside neighborhood.

However, one simple but powerful feature repelled potential buyers: color. The owner, a summer resident, had painted the walls in a rainbow of hues more suited to Miami than Michigan. A chartreuse and cherry red foyer gave way to a buttery yellow great room and a vibrant purple kitchen. With stark white trim and sparse furnishings, the home felt cold and disconnected from its forest surroundings.

It was unlikely, then, that a couple seeking a cozy, rustic home to showcase their large collection of Native American art would see potential here. But the new owners, Northerners drawn back to Michigan’s change of seasons after living in Palm Desert, California, are impassioned decorators. The sluggish real estate market gave them and their broker, Sue Schwaderer of Coldwell Banker, ample time—four years, in fact—to study the house and imagine how they could make it their own, and to consult with local contractor Adelaine Construction.

In 2013, equipped with a clear vision for renovation and a budget bolstered by the home’s bargain price, the couple finally bought the colorful house. Instead of moving in completely, they prepared to ride out the inconvenience of a major remodeling project in the home’s daylight basement. They credit Adelaine for making the process smooth and efficient.

But this project was about much more than mere logistics. Having a contractor who shared their vision was critical to the couple, both of whom are adept at designing their own interiors to fit their art and their lifestyle. Their large Native American art collection, 40 years in the making, is well curated and represents many American tribes, particularly those of the Pacific Northwest.

Taking inspiration from their art, the homeowners envisioned a drastic turnabout from the home’s original jewel-box appearance. Adelaine’s team executed the mostly-cosmetic remodel on a grand scale, starting with the board-by-board installation of a knotty pine ceiling at a height of about 20 feet. Existing cabinetry and trim were refinished. A paint palette of tan and deep taupe with wide swaths of golden grasscloth wallpaper complemented the art’s natural materials, and new stone veneer made the towering fireplace an ideal backdrop for a life-sized deep-relief sculpture of a ram on a mountainside.

On the exterior, a full paint job and a new Trex deck with glass rail tied the house to its natural setting and to its new, warm interior. Surprisingly, many of the home’s more expensive original fixtures and materials fit right into the new decor plan: Brazilian cherry flooring, stone and ceramic tile, granite tops and some hardware remain unchanged.

When the five-month project was finished, the construction team helped the art collectors hang paintings and place three-dimensional pieces, understanding that the job wasn’t complete until the art was in place. Colorful geometric blankets drape over a railing, ceremonial masks add dimension to large walls, and many paintings and photographs lend a gallery atmosphere to spacious rooms. Because of careful design decisions, the home now appears as if it were custom-designed for this remarkable collection.

The owners celebrated their renovated home with an open house for 55 guests, including the Adelaine team. The homeowners say, “Once you start working with Adelaine, they’re your friends for life.”

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Photo(s) by Dave Speckman