The Real Deal

Burgess Lake residence delivers down-to-earth details. // Photography courtesy Ashley Avila and Visbeen Architects
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The driveway leads to the main house and a guest apartment over the garage.

What led this Greenville couple to their waterfront refuge was close friends asking if they would consider building a cottage together and taking turns staying there. That weekend, the husband read about a lot for sale on Burgess Lake in Greenville, north of Grand Rapids. As his wife Jorie — who requested her last name be withheld — explained, they took a drive and it was love at first sight, “I walked onto the lot and said, ‘I want to live here, but I’m not sharing.’ The lake was that striking.

That lot would become the site of their one-and-only home. With four grown children, it was time to downsize, and in the summer of 2014, they began building with Ada-based Douglas Sumner Builder, Inc. They moved in about a year later.

A comfortable and open living room gets ample natural light.

What the custom structure lacks in stature, it more than makes up for in charm. Just ask Wayne Visbeen, AIA, principal of Visbeen Architects, Inc. in Grand Rapids and Chicago. Though his prominent projects span the globe, this one gets consistent praise and it’s easy to see why. “It’s a rather modest home, but it’s very quaint and charming,” Visbeen said about the lakefront cottage he designed for the couple.

Visbeen described their dwelling as a classic home with crisp lines, an updated shingle-style ranch with a lower level walkout that still is bent toward traditional. “The house is very accessible. Everything they need is really on the main level,” he noted.

Because the deck needed reinforcement, a slatted wall of cedar was added for aesthetics. The retaining walls on either side of the house are made from concrete block.

In addition to the 3,600-square-foot main house is a roughly 800-square-foot guest apartment above the garage that the homeowners wanted to be separate for their adult son who has Asperger’s syndrome. Personalizing it for the way he lives resulted in a minimal yet masculine space that sports handsome gray cabinetry and built-ins for books, DVDs and video games.

Out and About

Though built on a fairly flat area, a steep grade down to the lake required some ingenuity when siting the home. Close to 60 steps with intermittent stone paths lead to the dock from the outdoor patio, while a raised deck offers scenic views of the lake and a covered walkway provides the perfect spot for a grill. “I’ve always preferred to be elevated from the lake with a lot of trees,” Jorie said.

The couple enjoys hosting small dinner parties on the upper deck before heading to the pergola-covered patio for coffee and dessert by the wood-burning fireplace. They also like spending time outside on their own, admiring their picture-perfect site on Burgess Lake, which is known for its color. “It can be green or Caribbean blue depending on the weather,” she explained. “It’s very clean, and it has fish. My husband loves to fish.”

Take Your Temperature

A vintage sewing table from an old farm, a hand me-down from their daughter, supports a vessel sink in the powder room.

While Visbeen works with a variety of climates and clients; Jorie and her husband chose a geothermal system to heat and cool the main house since natural gas was not available. Environmentally friendly and cost-effective, geothermal can be a wise choice in Michigan, Visbeen said.

A geothermal system operates by tapping the stable temperatures that are found underground, using a piping system filled with water that circulates between the ground, home and a heat pump. Where electric or propane options are more expensive in the long run, geothermal has a higher cost upfront with savings in the end.

“Our home is cozy in the winter and the cooling is really efficient,” said Jorie, who also chose manmade dry creek beds with buried drainage tubes to disperse rain from the roof instead of high-maintenance gutters.

As Time Goes By

The couple’s home includes aging-in-place features, anticipating possible changes ahead. For instance, the husband’s study can become an infirmary or a second bedroom with two sets of double doors in the hallway, one that allows the study and the master suite to be closed off from the great room and another between the two.

For Visbeen, looking ahead remains a priority. “I don’t design a home for today; I design it for tomorrow, whether that means aging in place or selling, it should transition,” he said.

The airy master bedroom is enshrouded by tree canopy.

Personal Touches

Another clever concept, for a double barn door in the entry, came from Jorie, who said Visbeen made the change that day even though the original plans were complete, and it meant taking space from the front porch. When the barn door is closed, it separates the main floor from the lower level both visually and acoustically.

One of Visbeen’s favorite features is the flow of the stairwell with its interior siding and built-in library. “The stairwell is indicative of the charm of the home,” he said. “It has an understated beauty with alternating boards and random plank sizes.”

The lower level space includes a reading area and pool table, while an exercise area is hidden
behind a sliding barn door.

There, an American flag the husband, a PGA professional, received after a decade of playing a 24-hour marathon of golf each year and raising $500,000 for a local homeless shelter is on display. The books on the nearby built-ins include those that belonged to the wife’s father and a few of her favorites, too.

Going Down

On the lower level, the stained concrete flooring that was pre-scored before the walls were in place almost looks like tile, Visbeen said. “There are a lot of charming details like the bookcase that gives a personal transition. It’s utilitarian, but it’s casually elegant.”

Two welcoming guest rooms lead to the main areas, where a sliding barn door conceived by Visbeen can hide the exercise room or allow it to be open to the air and light when in use. Jorie explained that she wanted the area to be open but “didn’t want to look at all that equipment.”

A Place for Everything

A room in the guest suite.

Jorie, whose background includes buying and merchandising, incorporated all but a few pieces of furniture from their former residence into their new surroundings. “I kept everything I own because I love it,” she said. “My favorite season is fall, and I look at my home and it’s a fall house. It’s cozy; that must be my personality coming out.”

The timeless environment also echoes her signature style. “I like to wear jeans and a black cashmere V-neck,” she added. Classic details include the engineered hickory floors that ground the main level where the mantel in the great room extends beyond the stone fireplace to the custom cabinetry, and the stained wood ceiling warms the space.

Substantial windows that face the lake satisfy her husband who did not want a lot of panes to obstruct the views, while Jorie chose white walls to brighten the interiors. “I wanted the backdrop of the house to be the trees and the lake, not the color of the house,” she said.

Natural Talent

Visbeen credited his client with her vision for the kitchen. “It’s really clean white-on-white with subway tile that goes all the way up to the crown molding and the wood ceiling has a simplistic beauty about it. With the contrast of the dark wood floors, there’s almost a British West Indies flavor,” he said.

The open white-on-white kitchen is accented comfortably with dark wood floors, dark stools and light fixtures.

He clearly admires her style, too: “It’s not easy to pull together a home with existing materials and so much charm. She has a great sense of accessorizing and she did such a great job of integrating her furniture into the new home.”

Perhaps this project gets so many accolades because of its authenticity. “Their home is so relatable. It isn’t a design showroom; these are real people with real furniture,” Visbeen said. “Every room has such personality with relatively traditional elements put together in a way that just feels right. It’s charmingly eclectic.”


Jeanine Matlow is a Detroit-based freelance writer who specializes in writing about homes and home décor. She is a regular contributor to BLUE.

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