For their second home in Pentwater, these homeowners were seeking a retreat from their busy lives at their main base in the Cleveland suburbs. Mathison | Mathison Architects in Grand Rapids created the perfect escape for the couple, who have three young children and wanted a modern beach house that would highlight the views and enable indoor/outdoor living in the scenic location.
“I didn’t realize until after this project that West Michigan is a unique place within the Midwest that people flock to from a lot of other Midwest states,” architect principal Ben Franceschi says. “The homeowners were pretty committed to Pentwater, and they prove that by how often they use the house.”
This particular setting felt like a great fit. “It was the closest white sand beach to Cleveland, and Pentwater has that small-town feel,” the wife says. “It’s very family-oriented and unpretentious. We get ice cream in town. It’s really sweet.
“Our goal in building the home was to have the ability to create memories and legacies with our children,” she continues. “The repetition of memories is something we cherish with the traditions that we build. We also love to travel, but this is a little spot of heaven that we’ll hopefully (be able to) pass down.”
The custom new-build can accommodate 12 to 14 guests, but the creative footprint that features three stacked volumes of different functions on a tight lot works equally well for the family of five. “They’re a remarkable couple who really have their act together, with three kids under the age of 5 (at the time),” Franceschi says. “Both work full-time and the wife had a baby during construction, but she was extremely involved with the project.
“She was responsible for some really great design decisions. In the end, it blossomed into something remarkable. They came to us really loving our work, and they wanted to maximize the lot. They were very motivated and organized.” Franceschi also credits the builder, Shawn Frisbie of Denali Custom Homes, for the successful outcome.
“Each level of the home has a very focused primary function,” architect Emily Scrimger-McNamara explains. The lower level includes an outdoor shower, a mudroom with storage, and a bunk room, while the main level features a kitchen, living and dining areas, and has an open floor plan and sliding glass doors that lead to an expansive deck with direct beach access. “The upper floor maximizes space with pretty compact bedrooms. Each has its own en suite bath, and the primary bedroom has its own upper deck. The views are spectacular and there’s a purity to that,” she adds.
Lead interior designer Lauren Normandin also worked closely with the homeowner. “She wanted to be really involved with the design. She has an appreciation for design and, collaboratively, a lot of the interior furniture decisions she did herself,” Normandin says. “She has super good taste and it was really fun to work with her. (Although there’s) a big focus on the beach, she wanted the essence to be a little more refined with a casual, relaxed feel, but (it’s) still modern and clean.”
The homeowners were deeply invested at every stage of the design process, like the concrete base that supports the building. On the exterior, robust materials, such as composite wood, were strategically placed to balance light and privacy.
Inside, the neutral palette suits the serene setting. “We kept it pretty minimal with built-in moments that keep it intuitive, not fussy,” Normandin says. Scrimger-McNamara adds: “It was very intentional where to put all the details.” Flexibility for guests was important, like the twin beds in a guest room that can be pushed together, and the bunk room for little ones.
Fluid living doubles the fun for everyone. “The deck that spans the entire width of the house takes the program inside, and repeats it with dining and living even closer to the lake,” Franceschi says. “You want to maximize your time on the water, and hang out and recreate.” He explains that the unique structure has a distinct style and attitude that sets it apart. For a pared-down description, he says, “It’s a very exquisite box.”
The timing of the project turned out well, too. “The wife had her third baby when the home was under construction, and it was very important for her to spend her maternity leave at this house. It was a nice gift to get the project wrapped up and add an extra layer of memories for them,” Normandin says.
At the family’s retreat, beauty and ease enjoy an effortless connection inside and out. “We wanted to make it easy to go in and out. We have the sound of waves and the breezes, with a huge deck,” the wife says. “In the summer, there are no screens and no TVs. We try to have our kids enjoy their childhood. They play outside on the beach for hours, or in their snowsuits in the winter. It’s a year-round escape for us. We just can’t get enough of the lake.”