The Johnson’s once believed that Northern Michigan was just for vacationing. Then they got to know the community around their summer cottage. Here’s how that Old Mission Peninsula cottage became their forever Northern Michigan home.

This article first appeared in Traverse Northern Michigan. Find this story and more when you explore our digital issue library. Want Traverse delivered to your door or inbox monthly? View our print subscription and digital subscription options.

Neal and Stephanie Johnson have lived in some magnificent cities—Chicago, Seattle and Washington DC, among them. Vacations, however, were spent in Northern Michigan, where Neal grew up. Eight years ago, the couple purchased a 1960s ranch on West Grand Traverse Bay at the base of Old Mission Peninsula. As they lived and worked in DC then, it was for summer and holidays only—and possibly, one day, they would retire there.

And then the couple met their neighbors who actually lived Up North year-round. That changed everything. “When we were up here, they embraced us—Stephanie and me, and also our daughter and even our dog,” Neal says.

Beautiful white house

Photo by Erin Attwood

The back side of the home plays up its connection to the water with a walkout patio, upstairs terrace and glass railings to keep the view of the bay open.

“The more time we spent here and got to know the people, we realized this is an amazing place to live,” Stephanie adds. “And so, we put things in motion to figure out how we could get up here before our daughter started high school.”

Part of the plan to make their Northern Michigan move included replacing the small, outdated ranch with a home that would accommodate their needs—from now through their retirement years. As the Johnsons had become accustomed to doing, they took the advice of some trusted neighbors and called Dean Adams of Bay Area Contracting. Beyond Adams’ reputation as a contractor, his firm is affiliated with architect Ken Williams of Design Classics as well as the BAC Design Group, a company that guides clients through design decisions throughout the building process. “Interior design is not my strength, so to have the design piece coupled into the building process was very attractive to me,” Stephanie says.

Northern Michigan living room

Photo by Erin Attwood

White kitchen

Photo by Erin Attwood

In the kitchen, mid-century modern bar chairs and pendants blend with traditional cabinetry.

Blue tile kitchen

Photo by Erin Attwood

Rhein and Adams suggested the built-in dining nook in the walkout. The Johnsons say it is perfect for working remotely and a hangout place for their daughter and her friends.

From the first point of contact to the finished home, the collaboration between all the parties involved was full of ease. “Dean and Marty are the type of people who you don’t even need a contract with,” Neal says. “You know that they are always going to do the right thing.”

For Marty Rhein, senior designer at BAC Design Group, that “right thing” begins with listening to what his clients want. In this case, Neal wanted a wood-burning fireplace in the great room and Stephanie wanted a modern farmhouse that was more modern than farmhouse. Neal got his wish and more, with wood-burning fireplaces in the living room and on the covered lakeside terrace. Stephanie’s vision was realized in a blend of traditional and modern that begins at the home’s exterior with its gables and white clapboard siding that echo the last-century farmhouses dotting the peninsula. The interior, however, is clean-lined, open and light-filled—the antithesis of dark, cramped, old farmhouses. Touches like a steel railing system for the staircase and modern lighting and furnishings amplify the feel.

Table decor

Photo by Erin Attwood

A wood-burning fireplace keeps the upstairs deck comfortable into the fall. The deck ceiling is clad in metal to withstand the wind and humidity off the lake.

Little storage area in hallway

Photo by Erin Attwood

A well-thought-out mudroom is essential to living in harmony with Northern Michigan winters. Here, designer Marty Rhein added in plenty of coat hooks, a bench for putting on and taking off shoes and boots and storage for hats and gloves.

But as appreciative as they were for Rhein’s incorporation of their ideas, they were especially grateful for the way Rhein and Adams used their expertise to make the house a superbly livable North home. “They really knew how to handle a waterfront property and its access to the beach,” Neal says, citing a space they designed into the walkout level to store paddles, kayaks, SUPs and other water equipment. “You just put it in there for the winter, shut the door and get it out in the spring—no carting it back and forth from the garage.”

With one year under their belts as full-time residents, the Johnsons couldn’t be happier. Even the winter, which Stephanie admits she was anxious about, didn’t faze them. “I’m not a huge fan of cold weather, to be honest,” she says. “But in this house, you never feel cooped up because it’s so open—you are constantly looking at the water and the trees—it’s almost like you’re outside, except that you’re warm and cozy.”

Beautiful white home

Photo by Erin Attwood

With its traditional gables and siding, the Johnsons’ home fits graciously into Old Mission Peninsula’s farmhouse vernacular.

Mudroom with decor

Photo by Erin Attwood

The bathroom in the beachside walkout has plenty of storage for beach towels and bags, while the fun, nautical tile keeps the room from feeling simply utilitarian.

Pretty chair in hallway

Photo by Erin Attwood

The blend of modern and farmhouse styles in the home is exemplified by a modern steel staircase railing and the barn door to the office.

Old Mission Peninsula Home Building Resources

Contractor | Bay Area Contracting
Design | BAC Design Group
Architect | Ken Williams
Floors | Bay View Flooring & Design Center
Windows | Old Mission Windows
Appliances | Max’s Service
Countertops & Tile | Stratus Marble & Granite
Plumbing | Kohler, ETNA Supply
Fireplaces | Source Julien
Garage Doors | Precise Door Co.

Beautiful white bathroom

Photo by Erin Attwood

Photo(s) by Erin Attwood