A Gift to Herself

The best things in life — like this homeowner’s 850-square-foot lakeside cottage — often come in small packages // Photos by Beth Singer | Styled by Erika Patterson
Turquoise trim, unique flower containers, copper accents, casual seating, and easy-care Trex composite decking create an inviting ambiance for the homeowner and her family and friends.

DDefiant? Perhaps. A visionary? Definitely. Creative? Oh, yes. When a woman like Ellen Blau sees promise in something, there’s no stopping her. In fact, when Blau saw an 850-squarefoot, 1925 cottage on the shores of Cooley Lake in White Lake Township, she was immediately drawn to its location and potential. “After an inspection, my Realtor said, ‘Don’t buy it, don’t buy it,’ ” Blau recalls. “I said, ‘No, I’m going to buy it.’ In five minutes, I knew that was it!”

She bought the petite charmer (which had been “superficially updated” in the past) in September of last year, started renovations in November, and moved in just in time to enjoy the beauty of late spring on the pretty, all-sports, 86-acre lake.

Fortunately for Blau, a friend had mentioned Dan Stanton of Farmington Hills-based DLM Renovations in the recent past, so she contacted him to see if he wanted to take on the overhaul. He agreed to the project, including overseeing all of the landscaping and all of the renovations, inside and out.

“This project was a money pit,” Blau says, “but I knew (it would be) beforehand. I also knew exactly what I wanted it to look like, and Dan understood my vision.”

PEACEFUL, EASY FEELING Homeowner Ellen Blau wanted low maintenance for the exterior of her home, so she chose to remove all of the grass on the lake side. Contractor Dan Stanton placed 20 tons of Western Sunrise decorative stone among several perennial plants, which cover much of the narrow, 30- by-120-foot lot.

The face-lift included taking down the chimney. Stanton also repaired the foundation, installed an 18-foot doorwall, removed a closet, redid a bathroom, and got rid of “weird-shaped windows,” Blau explains.

“The foundation was crumbling — it was a real mess,” she adds. “You couldn’t get machines back here, so they had to repair it by hand.” Stanton also removed most of the siding, installed flooring, and created a new fireplace and surround. A copper-colored metal roof with buckle detail was another part of the face-lift.

Revamped interior elements include an entire wall of tile in the kitchen that extends onto the fireplace wall. “We started with just the backsplash but then the more we did, the more we liked it,” Stanton says. Blau likes to cook, so she purchased quality appliances and selected quartzite counters. While cooking, she’s never too far from a variety of spices, all conveniently located above the oven in a nifty copper rack. “I love my spices out like that,” she says. “Dan came up with the idea; he took a piece of copper and bent it and, in two seconds, we had a spice rack.”

Blau decided to wallpaper the back of two glass upper cabinets, which adds a pop of color. “I thought it was so boring without it,” she says.

EVERYTHING SHE NEEDS Homeowner Ellen Blau opted to have all of the grass removed from her land. Contractor Dan Stanton installed artificial grass here. It’s a favorite spot for Blau’s grandson, Hendrix. The bottom half of the home is covered in corrugated steel, while white barn wood and a copper roof add to the charm. The outdoor shower was fashioned from an old light fixture that was in the cottage. The glass shield is from a California Closets cabinet.

Reclaimed Michigan barn wood (some sanded and some not) and cultured stone were used for the new fireplace and surround, located just off the kitchen in the family room.

The seating in the family room is blue or white. “I bought white and blue slipcovers and switch them out,” she says. “I’ve got the dog (1-year-old Sky, a labradoodle) and my grandson, Hendrix, who’s here a few days a week, so slipcovers are great. And you can’t go wrong with blue and white, with orange accents.”

The home’s pine flooring is new but it’s meant to look old, as it was distressed before it was sanded, painted, and sealed. “I wanted the look of old farmhouse floors and that’s exactly what Dan did,” Blau says.

With high ceilings in the family room, which looks out to the lake, white walls, and intriguing art and unique collections from around the country, Blau’s home is truly welcoming.

“I was tired of city life and longed for the peace and tranquility the water brings,” says Blau, who lived in Royal Oak in an industrial-style loft before moving to the lake. Before that, the retired psychologist lived in a variety of spots, including a second home in Harbor Springs, which she enjoyed for 16 years.

One of Blau’s favorite colors is orange, and that’s apparent throughout the home. Note the full wall of tile in the kitchen that extends onto the nearby fireplace wall. The kitchen’s colorful Kilim rug is 50 years old.

On the exterior, the bottom half of the home is covered in corrugated steel, while white barn wood and a copper roof add to the charm. Copper metal buckles adorn the corners of both the main home and her nearby barn/boathouse. “Dan found incredible old iron and metal pieces,” the homeowner says.

Blau decided to have all the grass removed. “I wanted it to be as maintenance-free as possible, so I added perennials that go down to the lake, as well as red rock and two Trex (composite) decks.” She planted arborvitaes on both sides of her lot; one day she says they’ll block views of the neighbors and add more privacy.

From the decks, Blau and Sky enjoy watching lake life, including swans, ducks, and geese. “Sky likes to chase them,” Blau says, laughing.

On the side of the house, Stanton created an inventive outdoor shower for rinsing sand off. “It’s got a thermostatic valve; water comes out at 140 degrees,” he says. “We used a lamp from the old cottage and put a shower head in it, then ran copper through it.” There’s also an old water pump for a foot bath. Blau loves it. “Sand goes everywhere, so it’s great,” she says.

Totems near Blau’s desk were created by artist Robert McCauley and purchased at Birmingham’s Robert Kidd Gallery in the 1980s. The painting of a woman is by artist Kelli Snively of Harbor Springs.

In the back, Stanton laid artificial grass where there once was real grass. “It’s like a park for my grandson,” Blau says. “Dan filled up other spaces with pavers.”

Stanton says the one of the biggest renovation challenges was understanding Blau’s concept of color. “I thought she was kind of crazy,” he admits. “Making orange windows work with the siding? It didn’t seem like it would go together, but as we started to get into this, everyone was commenting on how cool it all was. Now I’m proud of this project. It’s very cool.”

“There isn’t a day that goes by that the passing boaters don’t tell me how incredible this small house is. It looks amazing from the lake,” Blau adds.

Looking out to the water, she says: “I’m so happy here. On a 30- by 120-foot lot, we made the most of every space. I can grow old here in a small, unique home. Being on water is my heaven.”


Contractor, Dan Stanton, DLM Renovations, Farmington Hills. Blue quartz countertops, granite on the fireplace, and an orange granite on the cart that serves as an island, all from Granite and Marble Design, Sylvan Lake. Roof, Proud Build, Warren. Main room/kitchen wall tile, The Tile Shop, Troy. Kitchen cabinetry, ASA Builders Supply, Walled Lake. Large wallcovering (koi design), Casart Coverings, casartcoverings.com, hung by Image 360, Plymouth. Kitchen appliances, Thermador, Witbeck Home Appliance Mart, West Bloomfield Township. Reclaimed wood, Reclaimed Michigan, Waterford Township. Bronze fixtures on boathouse, RH, Troy. Kitchen Kilim rug, vintage, kilim.com. Outdoor turquoise glider, Crossley Furniture, crossleyfurniture.com.