Design of the Crooked Lake home began to unfold, with Ryan La Haie as the Brennan’s new architect. A project of this significance, both in size and in sentiment to the homeowners, depended greatly on the team involved. La Haie, Christine DiMaria, the Brennan’s interior designer and longtime friend, and Jim Roberts, the homebuilder, all played key roles.
The Brennans knew they wanted a modern prairie style, but they didn’t want it to feel as though they were living in a glass box. They also wanted it to be large enough to accommodate their growing family—with eager anticipation of a future home filled with children and grandchildren—but not look as large as it would ultimately feel. La Haie took extensive time to learn what they needed for the family to live in the home, balancing modern aspects with warm comfort and without an inch of wasted space. When he finally revealed the plans, the Brennans were in disbelief. “This is really our house?,” they asked—with pleasant surprise.
And, so, progress hummed along. But, it was about mid-morning on a mild April day, not long into the construction, when Jeff Brennan got the call. Jim Roberts had passed away unexpectedly. After already changing architects and facing other significant obstacles with the property, there was a sense of unraveling for the Brennans, alongside their shock and sorrow. Facing a very real setback, La Haie felt an even stronger determination to keep the Brennan’s dream alive—and honor Roberts’ wishes for the property as well.
La Haie and DiMaria had both worked with Jeff Cnossen on a number of projects, and knew he would be a natural fit and allow construction of the home to continue with very little disruption to the schedule. “He does a phenomenal job and understands budgets really well,” La Haie said. “And he also was a good personality match with the Brennans; they clicked right away.”
With a reconstructed team in place, order started to be restored. “We became very close and were able to support one another, and that really became a special part of the project,” La Haie said. “Things went as well as they did—factoring in the tragic events—in part because the three of us have worked together so many times that we can almost finish each other’s sentences.”
“If I could do every house with Ryan and Jeff, I would,” DiMaria added. “When a client sits down with us and sees our interaction and how well we collaborate—like a well-oiled machine—it really makes it fun and takes the stress out of it for them.”
La Haie continued to stay by the Brennans’ side through it all, alleviating many of the burdens of the project and making himself available day and night—vacations and holidays included—to address every little detail and challenge. He orchestrated a seamless experience, treating the home as if it were his own.
Back on track, important elements came into being. The meandering, almost whimsical driveway approach that Annette had her heart set on. The dramatic, cantilevered overhang—inspired by the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meyer May House in Grand Rapids—that awaits at the end of the drive, defying both gravity and expectation. The two-story, three-sided fireplace that serves as an anchor for the open kitchen and living areas to envelop. And the glass. So much glass—that only with thoughtful design brings the outdoors and the panoramic lake views in, without giving the Brennans any sense of exposure or vulnerability.
Of course, there’s plenty more. Next, in Chapter Three, we’ll delve deeper into the home’s distinctive design features, as well as the collaboration between 42° North – Architecture + Design, Cnossen Construction, and Kirshman Kitchen Design Studio. We’ll also explore interior design elements, spotlighting the work of Christine DiMaria, who has been a presence since the beginning. Look for it in BLUE’s upcoming SUMMER Issue 2022.
Great Lake Story is a continuing series chronicling exceptional waterfront homes and those who design, build, and own them. Michigan BLUE invites you to learn more about the team crafting the Brennan’s new residence on Crooked Lake at mibluemag.com.