Total Transformation

Major renovation takes Ludington-area vacation home to new heights // Photography by Bill Lindhout
For the home’s redesign, architect Ben Franceschi was able to apply solid design principles to the original footprint. Located on serene Hamlin Lake near Ludington, it’s a lovely retreat.

It seems the stars were aligned for a remote location near Ludington to accommodate a sophisticated structure that reaches out to the environment in all directions. That’s where architect Ben Franceschi, with Mathison|Mathison Architects in Grand Rapids, turned a modest cabin on Hamlin Lake into a modern cottage retreat.

With any architectural design, Fran-ceschi says the connection to the outdoors gets expanded even more fully when it’s located on a waterfront site. For this renovation, he says he values the fact that his team was able to apply solid design principles to the original footprint. “It wasn’t just about imagining a new home, but transforming the existing one,” he says.

In the process, his client got a more adaptable floor plan. “He wanted the flexibility to maximize this 1,200-square-foot space so that it would work when he (goes to the cabin) alone and (when) the whole family comes.”

The family room and kitchen feature clean, simple lines and furnishings. A white-washed pine ceiling lightens the spacious living area.

An expansive lot serves as a scenic backdrop for the smaller footprint. “Based on the size and the rugged territory, the challenge was how to reuse what we had and take this self-built hunting cabin that kind of looks at the lake and completely transform it without changing the form or the environment,” Franceschi says. “It was a lot of fun to keep the foundation and demolish the house, and to make it whatever we wanted it to be.”

Keeping the bones of the house led to creative solutions. “It’s definitely modern and playful, with some windows in areas that are unexpected. It breaks down your definition of what you think it will be,” Franceschi adds. Practical considerations include rot-resistant materials on the exterior, like the concrete panels, fiber cement chimney, and asphalt shingle roof. The new deck combines a tropical hardwood floor with a corrugated steel canopy.

Inside, a whitewashed pine ceiling lightens the spacious living area, which leads to an open loft. “It was really important to pull the light from the lake all the way up there,” he says. “The master bedroom on the main level has windows that look out in all directions, and a glass door to the outdoor shower makes the house feel bigger and gives it more depth.”

Homeowners Greg and Carlin Bylsma love the getaway. Greg fondly recalls spending time at his grandparents’ cottage Up North, and he couldn’t be happier with his new habitat. About 10 years ago, he began searching for a lakefront property with a spot for a dock on the west side of the state. He came upon a cabin for sale on Hamlin Lake that was perfectly suited for the previous owner. After initially buying the home and just half the land, he and Carlin eventually purchased the entire 25 acres. When he later began contemplating renovations and his plans to expand didn’t pan out, the question became how to make the house live larger on its current foundation.

Maximizing the living areas and achieving minimal wasted space meant finding sensible solutions like a stackable washer/dryer, and adding refrigerator drawers to the kitchen island, where an attached dining table stretches the existing footprint — as does a new location for the fireplace. Adding an expansive deck with an outdoor fireplace also extends the living area.

“When you’re on the lake, you can look up to the cottage that once had two sliders and no other windows. Just adding windows and the deck makes it look bigger. Now it looks just as good from the lake, too,” says Bylsma, who enjoys boating and fishing in the summer and hunting in the fall.

Herman Miller furnishings in this bedroom echo the home’s contemporary design. Agreeable Gray wall paint complements the outdoor scenery.

The couple often hosts family and friends, including their three grown children, at the remodeled cottage. Furniture from the likes of Herman Miller and Design Within Reach give the interiors an urban edge. “We can sleep eight people,” Greg says. “I didn’t expect the ideas we had to have as much impact as they did, like opening up the loft so you can look out the windows to the lake. The space we created was way more than we would have anticipated.”

As he explains, they got the total package. “When people want a cottage, being on a lake is important, but they also want to have land,” Greg says. “The fact that the two exist on this piece of property means we were able to make it something special, and so rare. We got the best lakefront, property, and modern design. It’s an unexpected treasure popping out of nowhere.”

An aerial view provides a unique perspective. The deck offers fantastic views of Mother Nature’s splendor.


Mathison|Mathison Architects, Grand Rapids,

Bedframe – Nelson Bed, Herman Miller, Grand Rapids
Chair, Yellow – Herman Miller, Grand Rapids
Flooring – Masland, Beaucoup Black Ice, Standale Home Studio, Grand Rapids
Table, Bedside – Herman Miller, Grand Rapids
Wall Paint – Sherwin-Williams, Agreeable Gray

Chair, Blue – Herman Miller, Grand Rapids
Chair, Cow – Eames Plywood Chairs, Herman Miller, Grand Rapids
Chair, Leather – Herman Miller, Grand Rapids
Chair, with Ottoman – Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman, Herman Miller, Grand Rapids
Door, Sliding – Pinnacle, Windsor Windows & Doors
Flooring – Teka Hardwood, Studio Collection, Sawn White Oak and Almond Stain
Handrail – Feeney Cable Rail, Conceal Series
Sofa – Tuck Sofa, DWR
Stool, Walnut – Eames, Herman Miller, Grand Rapids
Stove, Wood-Burning – Morso Wood Stove, Model 6140
Table, Coffee – Eames, Herman Miller
Table, Wire Frame – Nelson Table, Herman Miller
Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Super White
Wall Treatment, Wood Stove – Custom Blacked Stainless Steel, Great Lakes Stainless, Traverse City

Cabinetry – Custom, Designcraft, Grand Rapids
Chairs, Dining – Nerd Chair Dining Chairs, DWR by Muuto
Countertops – Absolute Black Granite, Top of the World Granite, Walker
Dishwasher – Fisher & Paykel, 24-inch Single DishDrawer
Flooring – Teka Hardwood, Studio Collection, Sawn White Oak and Almond Stain
Freezer – SubZero, 30-inch Drawer
Hood – Wolf, 36-inch Wall Mount Chimney Wood, Stainless Steel
Microwave – Wolf, 24-inch Transitional Microwave Drawer, Stainless Steel
Refrigerator – SubZero, 30-inch Drawer
Shelves, Floating – Custom, Designcraft, Grand Rapids
Stove – Wolf, 36-inch Transitional Induction Range, Stainless Steel
Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Super White

Awning – Custom, Inspired Home Builders, Hart
Chairs, Adirondack – Deck Loll, DWR
Deck – Kayu Decking, Red Balau
Doors – Pinnacle, Windsor Windows & Doors; Inspired Home Builders, Hart
Fireplace, Outdoor – Isokern Magnun Fireplace, Positive Chimney & Fireplace, Cadillac
Siding – Cement Panels, Cembrit Patina
Windows – Pinnacle, Windsor Windows & Doors; Inspired Home Builders, Hart

Builder – Inspired Home Builders, LLC, Hart

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