A former designer for Ralph Lauren channels the spirit of a 1910 bungalow in a top-to-bottom Northern Michigan home restoration that balances vintage style with modern glam.

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

When the owners of an old vacant bungalow tucked into their large Northern Michigan property went searching for the right person to restore it, they found her in Erica Harrison, principal at the Detroit-based interior design firm Hudson & Sterling. For more than a decade, before she launched the company in 2016, Harrison worked as a concept designer for Ralph Lauren. “I was basically his storyteller,” she explains. “I would create a world that he would walk into, where his imagination could create a design—of Chamonix in 1920, or it might be the Sedona of the 1940s or Santa Fe, 1910. I would create the aesthetic, the mood and the feeling of the time period using lighting, furniture, clothing, books and even the plaster on the walls to create the concept.”

At Hudson & Sterling, Harrison bases her work on the skills and vision she honed at Ralph Lauren, scouring antique stores and modern design houses that specialize in authentically vintage home elements to find just the right pieces. “We create spaces that have a conversation and tell a story,” she says, adding that her firm excels at “creating a space that feels new but also like it’s been there for a long time.”

Photo by Nick Johnson

Photo by Nick Johnson

Harrison’s design philosophy is well tailored to the bungalow homeowners, who wanted to celebrate the heritage and aesthetic of the building and “not rip everything down and turn it into a white box,” she says. At the same time, Harrison’s new clients wanted the Caretaker’s Bungalow (so named because it once housed the estate’s caretaker and his family) to be outfitted with modern comforts.

Built in 1910, the 3,500-square-foot cabin had been vacant for the past 35 years. By the time Harrison—who eventually became not only the designer but also the general contractor—went to work, the roof was caved in and the structure had been invaded by animals and insects. Adding insult to injury, sometime around the 1960s the walls had been painted “crazy colors” and the floors were covered in a hodgepodge of shag rugs and tacky linoleum.

Photo by Nick Johnson

The table is from Restoration Hardware and the French bistro chairs are from Cafe Tables. “I wanted the table and chairs to ground the kitchen, but not be super heavy,” Harrison says. “The bistro chairs felt light and welcoming—like the heart of a home.” The chandelier over the table is Italian mid-century Murano handblown glass by Seguso from Chairish. The retro refrigerator is iio and the Nostalgie 30-inch dual fuel liquid propane freestanding range in antique white with brass trim is from ILVE. The handmade Moroccan tiles on the floor are by My Moroccan Tile.

Job one for the former Ralph Lauren employee was calling an exterminator. Fixing the roof came next. After that, Harrison oversaw new wiring throughout the home and the bracing of the floor so that it could hold the weight of new appliances.

One of the goals of the renovation was to use only wood from the time of the bungalow’s construction. To that end, Harrison searched the homeowners’ property for period wood, pulling it from an old barn and from what she describes as rundown little huts. While she had most of the wood stained a rich, dark shade, typical of the early 1900s, Harrison opted to paint the kitchen—both walls and ceiling—white to give it a light, airy feeling. “I love color and I love texture and I love warmth and wood,” she says. “But there has to be a little bit of a departure from that in order to give some lightness.”

Photo by Nick Johnson

In the bedrooms, Harrison mixed bedding from The Company Store and Pendleton with pillows in fabrics from House of Hackney, Schumacher and Rose Tarlow.

Like the entire bungalow, the kitchen is a blend of old and new. Sanded and repainted, the original hutch is now ready for another century. Harrison had the original sink restored but left a circle of rust near the drain for authenticity. The brass drain plug and faucet, however, are new. The floor, laid with hand-made Moroccan tiles, has the weathered but ornate look Harrison was looking for. “There’s a smokiness to them,” she says.

During a photo shoot, Harrison realized that the space behind the stove felt empty, so she moved one of the antique paintings she’d collected for another room to fill the space. “It fits so perfectly above the stove,” she says. “It provides this beautiful warmth and almost a conversation.”

Photo by Nick Johnson

Photo by Nick Johnson

Authentically old woodwork welcomes guests in the foyer, as does the Piaf single sconce from Visual Comfort & Co. and the antique Oushak rug.

Of all the rooms she’s ever designed, the bungalow’s living room is Harrison’s favorite. “The living room makes you want to play a game, to sit down and have a glass of wine, or some tea,” she says. Many of the furnishings are antique finds—among them a gilded early last-century mirror for the fireplace mantel, assorted early 19th-century artwork and a wicker couch “with horrible weird cushions.” Harrison sanded down the couch to bring out the grain and made new cushions for it. She also repainted the original red brick fireplace blue: “Blue makes it look modern but like it still has some heritage, too,” she says.

While the restoration, which also included two bathrooms, four bedrooms and a laundry room, ended up being a far bigger project than Harrison ever imagined, its wrap was bittersweet for the designer who had become so invested in its story. “I was happy it was done,” she says. “But I actually felt really sad when I left it.”

Photo by Nick Johnson

Painted blue years ago, the original pedestal bathtub was sandblasted back to its former glory. The sink is by Waterworks, the chandelier from Lumens and the light over the sink from Circa. The tile is Fireclay and the rug is from LoLoi Rugs. The artwork is from Chairish.

1910 Cottage Building Resources

Interior Design, General Contracting & Product Sourcing | Hudson & Sterling
Windows | Andersen Windows & Doors
Paint | Sherwin-Williams, Gaylord Benjamin Moore, Meyer Ace, Gaylord
Antiques | Assorted Northern Michigan shops, Chairish
Soft Furniture & Pillows | Hudson Sterling
Fabrics | Pindler, Schumacher, House of Hackney, Pierre Frey, Robert Kime, John Derian, Ralph Lauren
Rugs | Crowther Imports LoLoi Rugs
Appliances | iio, ILVE
Tile | My Moroccan, Tile Fireclay Tile

Photo(s) by Nick Johnson