A place in the woods

Architect: Eric De Witt, Lucid Architecture, Zeeland Builder: Tony Zahn, Zahn Builders, Inc., Holland
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Log Cabin in the Woods
hree distinctive, castle-like turrets rise from the roofline and provide for interesting structural space above the home’s entry porch, four-season area and dining room, shared builder Eric Render. Islands for cooking as well as for eating are topped by granite. - Photography By David Speckman

Michigan’s abundant water in different forms inspires an array of unique residential retreats. And often wooded property is the canvas upon which architects, builders and designers help homeowners craft a sense of place in sync with personal taste. 

“We get to build houses for people who are looking for a very casual lifestyle,” said Mark Johnson, owner/principal of Mark Johnson and Associates in Pleasant Ridge. “So rooms with a lot of exposures, a lot of glass, a lot of wraparound and screened-in porches become very much a part of the waterfront vernacular.” 

Cabin ExteriorBut if your setting is near a storied river or within hidden-away wetlands, other distinctive architectural approaches can pave the perfect pathway home.


Along the river
Architect: Rocky Mountain Log Homes
Builder: Eric Render, Render Construction, Lewiston

For the ultimate fly-fishing experience in Michigan, experts recommend the stretch of the Au Sable River’s main branch east of Grayling, revered as “The Holy Water” for its constant flow of clear, cold, wadeable spring-fed water and thriving Blue Ribbon trout.

two-level vacation and retirement log homeBased in Lewiston, builder Eric Render is a fly fisherman himself, so it was a windfall when he was asked to build a custom log home for a lifelong enthusiast right on this sacred stretch of riverbank. He even built a matching log boathouse for the homeowner’s unique wooden river boat. The whole project could be called a tribute to the beauty of wood.

Render is the northern Michigan distributor for Rocky Mountain Log Homes of Hamilton, Montana. He complemented the western wood logs with interior paneling of Michigan white cedar and hardwood plank flooring of Michigan hickory. Some of his Michigan materials came from nearby WoodHaven Log & Lumber in Mio.

Building on a riverbank does have unique challenges, Render admitted. “You put a shovel in the ground, and the hole immediately fills up with water. We used a very extensive engineered drainage system, and the diverted groundwater is utilized in the pool and waterfall landscape features on the riverfront side.”

Yet, noted the builder, who spent a year working here on-site, it’s hard not to be inspired by this setting. “It’s very quiet and peaceful,” he said. “The river itself is almost hypnotizing.”

Log Cabin Kitchen Rendering
The kitchen’s cedar wood paneling is from locally-harvested trees, and Render and the homeowner created its custom design pattern together.

Next to wetlands
Architect: Eric De Witt, Lucid Architecture, Zeeland
Builder: Tony Zahn, Zahn Builders, Inc., Holland

De Witts’ contemporary, soaring roofline
While the De Witts’ contemporary, soaring roofline mimics lofty trees on the expansive, wooded site, a large roof overhang to the south completely shades the living room, warding off summer heat. Glass living room windows were custom-detailed to just touch the house’s tongue-in-groove cedar siding, giving family members inside a sense of being outdoors.

“We never planned on raising our family in town,” shared Eric De Witt, owner/principal of Lucid Architecture, who designed his family’s modern residence next to Pigeon Creek wetlands on 50 acres in western Michigan. “Being huge lovers of the outdoors, we really enjoy the wetlands, ferns, trees and wildlife near our home.”

Lucid owl in a treeBut while the award-winning architect and his wife wanted a natural, elegant home that connected to the outdoors, it also needed to meet their family’s day-to-day needs. 

“Wetlands can be great to look at, but are not typically played in like a lake,” De Witt said. “The design needed to respond to that: Sleeping spaces were placed on the wetlands side to take advantage of the great views, but the living spaces were placed on the ‘dry side’ of the house to let them open out onto the site. Our girls’ bedrooms upstairs seem so enclosed in the tree-tops, it almost feels like you are in a tree house.”

Lucid Interior Living room
The home’s focal point living room was designed as a transparent box with a 24-foot-wide slider door extending usable space out onto a floating cedar deck. A double-sided fireplace was built from concrete block colored to echo the bark of beech trees growing nearby. Also custom-designed by De Witt, stainless steel cable deck railings were built by a nearby sheet metal shop.

Lucid interiorThe tall and slender structure was originally influenced by the site’s century-old raised railroad grade from logging industry days. “The main portion of the house is a long narrow box, much like a rail car,” noted the architect. “The roof form was inspired by many of the old corn cribs that are still around the adjacent farmlands. Inspiration for many of the materials and colors used was also pulled from the colors and textures of the site.”

Lucid interior bedroom
“We chose not to do much color on the inside of the house because with all of the large windows, we get four different seasons of art every year,” shared architect Eric De Witt. “The only thing I miss is we don’t get much for sunsets because the treetops are so thick to the west.”

On the Lake
Architect: Mark Johnson and Associates, Pleasant Ridge
Builder: Dean Crandall Builders, Bellaire
Interior Designer: Kathleen McGovern Studio of Interior Design, Grosse Pointe Park

Torch Lake Interior
The kitchen is reminiscent of an old hunting camp, because the homeowners often fry up perch dinners or smelt for friends. All kitchen cabinetry was crafted by carpenters in Bellaire, where a furniture maker crafted the big island table as well.

On a forested bluff overlooking Antrim County’s scenic Torch Lake — Michigan’s longest inland stretch of blue — one house wasn’t living up to what it could be.

“The owners wanted a modern ‘cabin in the woods’ for casual living and entertaining, but the previous house was an underwhelming series of small rooms,” said architect Mark Johnson. “We created a big open dining room and kitchen and added a two-story octagon to serve as a family room. That was the basic program.”

Torch Lake PatioBut there’s nothing “basic” now about this secluded hideaway, clad in Michigan-made pine board and batten paneling. While maintaining the structure’s bones, Johnson wrapped the foundation at all corners with multi-sided rooms to frame Torch’s heralded blue views. Undeniably, the octagon-shaped gathering space is the home’s most memorable feature.

Architect Mark Johnson and interior designer Kathleen McGovern tabbed the octagon-shaped addition “Linger Longer.”

Torch Lake Outdoor Patio
The bottom level of this space is open on five sides to maximize lake views, while a fireplace and comfortable furniture invite everything from wine to s’mores.

“We call it the ‘Inglenook,’” Johnson noted. “It’s where they go for the sunset. On the top level it’s a beautiful perch, because you’re a story above the ground with panoramic views on seven sides through big, tall French windows with the fireplace on the eighth wall.”

Torch Lake Wood Work
The fieldstone used in the new floor-to-ceiling fireplace was also used on the home’s exterior and as a range backsplash in the kitchen. McGovern chose rustic iron as material of choice for the custom light fixtures to complement the space’s stone and wood.

Love of nature as well as their very large dogs inspired the homeowners’ woodsy-hued color palette, shared designer Kathleen McGovern. “They wanted materials from floors to fabric that they never had to worry about,” she said. “Everything we chose was already distressed or would be okay if it became distressed from their casual living.”

Torch Lake Wood Work

 “The rich palette of the woods was a natural inspiration for breakfast room furnishings,”
McGovern said. “Because the home is in such an extraordinary setting, I wanted the eye to travel beyond to the outdoors.”

Freelance writer Cindy Crain Newman resides in Midland.

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