Camp MINOH: Inside a Minimalist Lake Michigan Home

A talented young designer helps create a modern, minimalist and sublime Lake Michigan home for his parents. 

Camp MINOH, the name for the Heathfield family retreat, is tucked into a sublime stretch of sandy Lake Michigan shoreline north of Charlevoix. The property is peppered with birch and pine and not far away a Wyeth-esque barn, its timbers scorched by a past fire, is a reminder of the area’s rural roots. Those features helped inform Camp MINOH’s design—but only after they’d filtered through the inspired imagination of the young designer (now a licensed architect) who was integral to the design team, Andrew Heathfield.

Andrew, fresh out of University of Michigan’s architecture school, was working in Portland, Oregon, for the prestigious firm William Kaven Architecture when his parents, Dennis and Lori Heathfield, were ready to build on the property they’d owned for several years. Knowing that they would have the best of both worlds—intimate communication with their son and a shared family vision for their Northern Michigan home, coupled with the experience of William Kaven Architecture—the Heathfields hired the firm to design their home.

The Heathfields’ acknowledgement that their new home should be as much a design statement as a comfortable vacation retreat stemmed naturally, says Andrew, from living for years in Columbus, Indiana, a city known for its cutting-edge architecture, including the Harry Weese-designed home that the Heathfields lived in. Weese who designed the Washington Metro, is also credited with being the architect who shaped Chicago’s skyline. “For my parents, the home was a bit outside the box—a 1963 mid-century with a glass atrium, copper roof, parquet floors, etc.,” Andrew says.

The Heathfield’s short wish list for their home included Dennis’ desire for the home to echo the nearby charred old barn with its fieldstone foundation and the site’s birch trees. Lori was hoping for a sleek and efficient kitchen. And both parents wanted a low-maintenance home that would stand up to rugged Northern Michigan winters, as well as a view of Lake Michigan from every room. Andrew’s own muses—shared by the William Kaven design team—included the concrete-and-light inspired designs of Japanese architect Tadao Ando and the monolithic-style of Louis Kahn.

The finished home feels planted in its native dune grass and birch-tree site, while making a bold though quiet statement from the winding drive that leads to its entrance. The exterior is an elemental mix of concrete and cypress-cladding that has been charred using the ancient Japanese technique of shou sugi ban—materials that riff on the silvery-black tones of birch, the burned timber of the old barn, and that can also withstand the heavy winds off of Lake Michigan.

Polished-concrete floors and a mix of concrete and white-painted drywall in the main living area ensures nothing interrupts the lake view from the banks of floor-to-ceiling windows. Beyond the ever-changing hues from the lake, the room is warmed by a light-stained fir ceiling with exposed beams, by a blackened steel fireplace facade and rich-toned, continuous grain, black walnut cabinetry.

Andrew worked carefully with Lori to assure she ended up with the streamlined kitchen she envisioned—one that could handle family gatherings efficiently. “There’s designing a kitchen for a client, and then there’s designing a kitchen for your mom,” Andrew says with a laugh.

A window-filled hallway off the kitchen doubles as office space and as a privacy-enhancing transition to the master wing. The home’s upper level cantilevers over the first floor, a composition that creates the sensation of floating at the edge of the shoreline.

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The construction process took nearly seven years—during which time Andrew had moved to Ohio, where he owns and operates MINOH, a multidisciplinary architecture studio. The family christened their new home Camp MINOH—MINOH being an acronym for Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, all states the Heathfields have lived in. The name is a recognition of the family’s Midwest roots; the home a celebration of the region’s legacy of great design.

In 2019, William Kaven Architecture won an Honor Award from AIA Michigan for its role in the design of the project. The jury, chaired by Matthew Kreilic of Snow Kreilich Architects, said of the project: “The restrained material palette, exposed structure and sense of craft in this home creates wonderful spaces to live while the sensitivity to massing and siting create a powerful connection to the beautiful site.”

Elizabeth Edwards is managing editor of Northern Home & Cottage, [email protected] // Photos by Matthew Carbone