Perfectly situated along a bend in the Thornapple River sits a magnificent home that is a sight to behold from any angle. Western red cedar lends warmth to the exterior of the 6,300-square-foot dwelling while expansive glass creates a constant connection to nature. Completed in 2018, this unique property was a detail-oriented undertaking driven by the homeowners, Andy and Christina (last name withheld by request), that includes a separation between its public and private spaces.
Their previous house, designed by the late Norman Carver, a renowned Kalamazoo- based architect, would be the catalyst for this exquisite new build. “Every detail was intentional (in the Carver home), and there was such precision. We were really excited to have that experience ourselves,” Andy said.
An article about the custom abode of local architect Evan Mathison and his sustainable practices captured Andy’s attention. Mathison earned his master’s degree in architecture in 2006 from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.
“I like for there to be a reason for everything, and I love details,” Andy said. Finding the perfect waterfront site in Ada sealed the deal.
THE BIG REVEAL
A significant consideration for the couple who have two children was integrating the modern three-story façade into the traditional neighborhood setting. Maintaining its footprint on the lot required building upward to provide the living spaces requested by Mathison’s clients.
“There was a lot of volume that we were trying to work into the square footage,” explained Mathison, co-founder and principal with his father Tom of Mathison | Mathison Architects in Grand Rapids that also did the interiors and the organic landscape design.
The house feels a little lower to the ground with its strong horizontal lines, layered roofs and clerestory windows that bring natural light to the front while providing privacy from the road. With its commercial-style construction, the high-performance, energy-efficient home has sustainable features like concrete floors, radiant heat, triple pane windows and doors, and integrated shades with sensors.
Sizable skylights for ventilation also have sensors for heat and rain. In addition, the house has an insulated envelope with framed walls that are independent of the steel frame like a double layer of skin with an insulated jacket. The builder was Tony Zahn with Zahn Builders in Holland.
“This is a home that you have to discover,” Mathison said. “You have to move through it to see how transparent it is. It feels kind of reserved from the street, but then it completely opens up in all directions.”
In response to his clients’ request to entertain large groups in a separate area, a social living room and dining room were born. On the private side of the house, a more intimate family room that shares the double-sided fireplace with the public side joins the kitchen where doing without upper cabinets created a unique opportunity.
“We were able to take that to a new level with a backsplash of a view through windows from counter to ceiling height,” said Ben Franceschi, architect and project manager.
One half of the house features two levels with the master suite above the public spaces. The other has three floors that include a kids area, home offices and a wellness center with a sauna, spa and exercise room. Glass bridges with clear glass railings and frosted glass floors cross the core of the house. “We wanted them to be as transparent as possible,” Mathison said.
The back of the home opens to a spectacular riverscape where the panoramic views expand to an estimated 270 degrees from the third floor. Mathison said the view is “even more expansive than a regular riverfront property” because of the wedge-shaped lot.
PLEASE BE SEATED
The neutral interiors have an equally soothing effect. Filled with modern furnishings that have soft edges and classic finishes, the living spaces are meant to evoke comfort and warmth. Local manufacturers like Herman Miller add a timeless touch to the well-curated rooms, while low-profile pieces keep the focus on the light and the views, said Jennifer Lindberg, who did the interior design.
With a pair of deluxe Italian sofas, the social living room is flexible enough for entertaining and intimate enough for family members. A roomy sectional from Roche Bobois in the family room and Herman Miller stools at the kitchen island are among the iconic selections in the tranquil environment. As fans of mid-century modern, the homeowners jokingly refer to their aesthetic as “this century modern.”
Vertical wood slats provide a continuous architectural detail throughout the house. Wood ceilings envelop the rooms like a warm hug from above while layers of lighting combine recessed lights with unique fixtures.
“We have the look and feel of being connected to the outside. That was important to us, but at the same time, the house feels really secure and solid.”
Other notable mentions include a spacious basement with a wine cellar, home theater, play space and music room. The home has three outdoor terraces that include a roof deck. An expansive covered porch with a retractable screen serves as a substantial outdoor room overlooking the pool and views of the river. That’s where the family enjoys al fresco meals, even when it rains.
The homeowners said they love the openness of the interiors. “We didn’t want to feel too insulated from the outside, and even more so, we didn’t want our kids to feel sheltered from the outside,” Andy said. “We have the look and feel of being connected to the outside. That was important to us, but at the same time, the house feels really secure and solid.”
Off the living room sits the speakeasy, a great place for guests or quiet time for the couple to play cards. “It’s a very intimate space that feels disconnected from everything,” Andy said. A dramatic ceiling swoops down over the seating areas while the blue velvet curtain and tone-on-tone wallpaper evoke a cozy feel that wraps around you like a blanket.
On the third floor, the wellness room seems limitless with its floor to ceiling window, a place to practice yoga and feel like the floor continues out to the water. Out back, the kids love playing in the pool and going out on the pontoon boat. With a handful of families in the neighborhood with children the same age, spontaneous gatherings are a given. “It’s really nice to have that sense of community,” Andy noted.
“Friends and family love spending time there, and it’s great for the four of us. We’re pretty easygoing folks. We like to kick back and use the space.”
Jeanine Matlow is a Detroit-based freelance writer who enjoys writing about homes and home décor.