This modern Old Mission Peninsula home, designed by a Traverse City architect, snuggles into its woods-and-water site as if it has been there forever. 

When they are downstate, Barb and Dave Dubensky live a quintessential Detroit lifestyle. He works in commercial property, she owns her own insurance company. They have a contemporary condo. So, when they decided to pursue their dream of a second home Up North, they wanted something very different. Something with a rural industrial vibe. They envisioned a modern riff on the barn, one of the most ancient agricultural structures of all.

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Dave, in particular, was so struck by a photo he came across of a European barn that he made it his screensaver.

Barb loved it too. But it was the property they would build on that was her particular focus. The setting that would steal her heart had a tall order: It needed to feel like her childhood summers on an unforgettable tract of shoreline that her parents owned on Pyramid Point—now one of the most inspirational and popular attractions in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The federal government purchased the land when the park was established in 1970.

The Dubenskys search for the perfect property took them from Benzie County almost to the Mackinac Bridge. Along the way, they realized another criteria for their future second home: they wanted it to feel away from it all—but still have proximity to Traverse City and its restaurants, bars and entertainment.

The moment they saw a piece on the East Grand Traverse Bay-side of Old Mission Peninsula, they knew it was the one. Only about 10 miles from downtown Traverse City, the wooded lot is nearly hidden under a tree-covered bluff. “The way the water looked through the trees gave me the same feeling I remember at Pyramid Point,” Barb says.

Phase I. Check. Phase II. Find a Traverse City architect. The couple asked around, got a name, brought their European barn photo to the firm—explained their vision more in depth and … the firm came back with a plan for; “A house,” Dave laughs. “Just a plain old house.”

They said “No, Thank You” and, fortunately not long after, got the name of Ray Kendra of Environment Architects in Traverse City. Kendra, who specializes in the many facets and subtleties of modern architecture, grasped their vision immediately.

At its heart, Kendra’s design (executed masterfully by builder David Thompson of LTD Construction) is as simple as that European barn Dave couldn’t shake from his mind. A rectangular structure clad in stone and wood, the home rises 34 feet to a peaked roof. The modern elements are seamless—stacked stone instead of fieldstone, a black steel roof and an abundance of black-framed, paned windows.

The simple genius of the home begins at the entry with its glass door framed by a wall of windows. The view line through the panes leads straight across the great room, through a matching glass wall/ door system, out to the soft aqua and blues of East Grand Traverse Bay.

Inside, a muted palette and natural materials blend with the scenery outside the windows. The floor is dove-colored, polished concrete—a tone picked up in the leathered granite countertops in the small but efficient open kitchen. A plane of smooth-fronted, silvery-brown cabinetry stretches across and up the kitchen’s back wall, housing everything from pantry items to the refrigerator. Exposed black steel beams, treated with a clear lacquer finish to show off their natural steel character, present a handsome, industrial vibe.

Open risers with white oak treads and goat fencing balustrades lead up to a white oak catwalk that connects a guest room and an office, both of which are outfitted with balconies. One of Kendra’s unmistakable touches shines up here where a generous skylight, which opens a view to the water, is mounted with drywall-wrapped trusses to create changing architectural shadows.

Another touch is as utilitarian as it is evocative of the structure’s spirit. When the Dubenskys leave the home, they pull barn doors—a set each on both the front and back of the home—across the glass walls, leaving their home secure both physically and in its designed sensibility.

Elizabeth Edwards is the managing editor of Northern Home & Cottage.

Home Resources

ARCHITECT // Ray Kendra, Environment Architects

CONTRACTOR // Dave Thompson, LTD Construction

ELECTRICAL // Consolidated Electrical Contractors

PLUMBING // Aqua-Tek Plumbing

HVAC // Grant Mechanical

PAINTING // Ideal Painting

CONCRETE, MASONRY, STONE // Craig Therrien Masonry

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski