It hadn’t taken long for the new owners of a three-bedroom, circa 1970s condo in Harbor Springs’ Marina Village to decide to buy it. The small but efficient unit had an enviable view of the marina and was walkable to downtown. But the interior? It had seen better days, says designer Carrie Blanck of Tres Belle Interiors in Harbor Springs. “It had open stairs and was very dated,” Blanck remembers. And while there’s retro cool 1970s, there’s also the “kinda bad ’70s,” category that the condo unfortunately fell into, she adds.

Despite the clear need for an update, the homeowners knew the condo, with its fabulous setting, offered a rare opportunity. “We were fortunate enough to have a close friend call us and tell us this gem was going to be available,” the wife remembers. “We flew up immediately to see it from St. Louis. My husband loves boats and his criteria was to find an affordable place on the water with a small yard. We loved the location, the side yard, the view, on the water, being close to town, and having a garage.”

The family had long ties to the area, but had never really considered a condo. “We spent many summers renting an exceptional cottage that our family felt was like a second home, so a condo was a big departure from how we were used to experiencing Michigan summers,” says the wife. “A cottage vs. condo was a big decision, until we saw the potential in this space.”

The wife, who has remodeling experience, had a clear set of priorities when she contacted Blanck and architect Mark Lipchik. Those included maximizing limited space to accommodate the family of four, who travel from St. Louis to spend summers and as much offseason time as they can in Northern Michigan.

“I wanted the iPad Mini, which is our nickname for the condo, to be fun, happy, current, and relaxed,” says the wife. “Carrie and I knew right off the bat we would have to treat this project differently, since this is not a traditional cottage. So since our space was very limited we came up with everything being built-in, like a boat, so the theme of a boathouse came naturally.”

Renovations began at the front door, where the team removed an undersized coat closet (unnecessary, Blanck points out, for a fair-weather family) to make way for a small built-in bench. In the 28-by-16-foot living room/dining area/kitchen, they replaced the kitchen’s original cabinets, counters and backsplash, removed the living room’s underused angled fireplace (again, unnecessary in summer) that blocked views and added a four-season wet bar with space for a built-in television.

Storage was a priority facilitated by built-ins under the stairway and in the compact upstairs bedrooms and baths. “When space is tight, built-ins can certainly help,” explains Lipchik. “Maximizing the square footage and making the living space feel larger were the two challenges of the space. The rhythm and placement of the ceiling beams throughout the main living space helps visually tie together the various built-in components,” he says.

Blanck borrowed the living area’s blue, green and natural-material palette from the marina view outside the sliding glass doors. Bright, comfortable furniture upholstered in vibrant shades of blue stands out against grass cloth wallpaper and whitewashed wood floor and ceiling. A rope pendant lamp and rattan dining chairs add nautical air.

In each of the unique bedrooms, Blanck channeled the best of 1970s style with bold colors and patterns in the wallpaper, draperies, linens, floor coverings and lights. In the master bedroom, for example, the room is built around a hot pink and aqua palette. “I just played around,” Blanck says. “The homeowner is adventurous and not afraid to go for it. And luckily her husband doesn’t have a problem with pink.”

Finished now, iPad Mini is so wonderfully whimsical and livable that the family is hoping to spend more time there than ever. As the homeowners agree: there is nothing like the beautiful backlight of Harbor Springs at sunset.

The custom headboard has a nail trim. To save space in the small bedrooms, pendant lights hang over bedside tables in lieu of table lamps.

Natural elements including grass cloth wallpaper and a rope drum-shade chandelier make the living room feel nautical without being kitschy.

Silva & Son Landscaping updated the grounds.

More Northern Home & Cottage Ideas:

Family Traditions at Walloon Lake Home

Roofing Firm Inhabitect Goes Green—Literally

The Happily Ever After Cottage on Mullett Lake

Sustainable Leelanau County Home Breaks the Mold on Energy Efficiency

Mortgages: It’s a Better Time Than You Think to Buy a Northern Michigan Home

Photo(s) by Dave Speckman