From its bell tower right down to its oak floors, an iconic fieldstone schoolhouse in Suttons Bay has been saved by a former student. Discover how the schoolhouse got a hip new life in this Northern Home & Cottage feature originally published in the February 2016 issue of Northern Home & Cottage.
All photography: Todd Zawistowski & Taylor Brown
Cheryl Hutchinson’s historic house renovations have taken her throughout the United States—the West Coast, Colorado and Washington, D.C. They’ve also taken her to the Leelanau Peninsula, where she grew up. One of those projects, the renovation of The Union School in Suttons Bay, will always stay dear to her heart. That’s because Cheryl and her two brothers attended kindergarten through second grade in the school during the 1960s.
The schoolhouse was already a half-century old by then. Built in 1907, the massive structure situated on a hill above this picturesque Lake Michigan village, is constructed of fieldstones delivered to the site by area farmers. The Union School served kindergarten through high school students until 1952, when a new high school was built several blocks away. It continued as an elementary school until 1968, and then went on to be used in a variety of ways, including temporary housing for workers in cherry production and later as a single-family dwelling. A planned restoration project in 2004 didn’t come to fruition, leaving the building vacant for the next decade.
Two years ago, Cheryl and her husband, Ian Hurlock-Jones, were at their winter residence in California when an online real estate listing for the building caught their attention. “We immediately thought of renovating it and giving it a new life,” Cheryl says. The couple soon found that while the building’s thick (3-feet thick at their base) stone walls were sound, the interior was falling apart. Despite the prospect of a daunting renovation, Cheryl and Ian purchased it, with a plan to convert the two levels of the building that once contained classrooms into four spacious, two-bedroom condos. Preserving the integrity of the building’s architectural elements—its stone and woodwork, brick chimney, classic bell tower, 14-foot ceilings and expansive 9-foot-tall windows-would be paramount. Using sustainable building practices was also essential.
While Cheryl was the general contractor of the project, she credits her skilled team for solving the many issues that come with renovating a century-old structure. “The most impactful contributor on the project was the engineer, Brian Ross, of Practical Engineers Inc.,” she says. “We had to do a lot of on-the-spot changes with floor plans given hidden treasures like plumbing that was tucked in old walls. Brian was brilliant at figuring how to maintain structural needs within the building code and retain the historical beauty I didn’t want to lose.”
More credit, she says, goes to Brent Buning of Northern Lakes Services and plumber Mike Kroupa for their creation of an almost invisible and silent heating and ventilation system—a challenge she says in a 100 plus-year-old-building. Kroupa went on to incorporate high efficiency, sustainable fixtures and radiant heat. “The building is super efficient due to over-the-top insulation and highly effective systems,” Cheryl says. “Heating for the almost 6,000-square-foot building has been minor.”
Architect Andy Rink was another principal team player. Having grown up in Suttons Bay, Andy was very familiar with the building prior to Cheryl purchasing it. Sharing her vision for the old building, he crafted clean, simple floor plans, yet met all code and engineering requirements.
Matt Quigley, of Quigley Custom Carpentry, oversaw the salvaging and repurposing of the building’s original woodwork and flooring. “All the flooring we could save was planed and refinished, so we have original flooring throughout,” Cheryl says. Mason Frank Padella of Padella Building Company stepped in to refurbish the historic stonework—including exposed stone walls in the lower level bedrooms.
With the bones of the building clean and sound, Cheryl turned to Doug Martin of TileCraft to design the bathrooms and the hip, streamlined kitchens. Finally, Peggy Miller of the Suttons Bay home decor shop At Home outfitted the units with pieces that blend a rustic and modern aesthetic.
As a final touch, Cheryl worked with artist Angela Saxon to source and enlarge old photos of the school for display in the building’s foyer, along with an old pump organ and school desks. “It was a way for us to capture what the school is all about,” Cheryl says.
Finished in just a year, the four units have the trendy, eclectic feel of urban loft apartments—except that they are in a village schoolhouse.
“This was a big labor of love,” Cheryl says. “ It made a lot of people in town happy.” It also made Cheryl and Ian happy—so happy that this summer they plan to move back to Northern Michigan permanently, making one of the units their home.
MyNorth Media talked with At Home co-owner Sarah Peschel about the decor pieces they chose for the Suttons Bay renovation and its interior design.
Read the interview here on MyNorth.com.
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