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.”
But 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.
Based 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.”
Next to wetlands
Architect: Eric De Witt, Lucid Architecture, Zeeland
Builder: Tony Zahn, Zahn Builders, Inc., Holland
“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.”
But 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.”
The 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.”
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
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.”
But 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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.