Way up north near the Tunnel of Trees, the air is fresh, the landscape is pristine, and Lake Michigan is the color of the Caribbean.
For California transplants Rob and Vee Mossburg, who had a dream of starting a home-building business, it’s exactly the type of location they were looking for.
For Tina and Michael Sappington, the area was their idea of an earthly Eden.
The dreams of the two couples merged on a spot located a few hundred feet above the Lake Michigan shoreline, where the Mossburgs fell in love with what they saw and envisioned an enclave of four homes on a quarter-mile stretch. With no easement for access, however, the magical spot required astute engineering by someone who knew how to build into the sandy, stony topography. Having lived where houses routinely are constructed on hillsides, the couple knew what needed to be done. It was the first land purchase for their firm, The Cottage Company in Harbor Springs, and it turned out to be an engineering marvel.
Rob, a third-generation builder, says the first challenge they faced involved creating huge iron pilings and cables that could be drilled into the hill, and an access road had to be artfully constructed. Next, an intricate retaining wall had to be built. Rob says he used individual boulders mined and trucked in from Canada, and then placed them by hand to secure the bluff.
“Even what is traditionally a more mundane part of the job, like locating wells and septic fields, took on added complexity because they had to be buried on the inland side of the hill,” Rob says. A huge underground water tank, in case of fires, was another necessity.
The infrastructure took several years and more than $1 million to build, and then it took the Mossburgs another five or six years to complete the development’s four individual homes.
Once the land was ready for structures, Rob and Vee built a 1,200-square-foot home they called the Treehouse. Upon its completion, the couple lived in the Treehouse and began constructing the second home in the development. They named the second home the Beach House, and it’s where they eventually intended to live. As things turned out, however, after all of the magnificent finishes were completed — from the coffered ceiling of the great room to the wide-plank walnut floors — Rob sold the house to the Sappingtons, who had fallen under the spell of the dwelling. And who wouldn’t? Masterfully built on the side of a bluff, every room in the Beach House has a view of the azure water. It’s a one-of-a-kind, five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath, six-fireplace, 6,000-square-foot home on three acres, and it has a 312-foot expanse of sandy beach.
Although Vee admits she was initially disappointed, she rolled with Rob’s news, acknowledging that’s the way things go in the world of home-building. And as a designer, she still had an opportunity to help the Sappingtons furnish the main level of the Beach House.
“(The Beach House) gives you the feeling that you’re on the East Coast, but with fresh water,” says Tina Sappington, a resident of Bloomfield Hills. “And it’s just 15 minutes from (Harbor Springs), the most charming downtown in the world.”
Tina, who loves to cook, really appreciates the layout of the kitchen, dining room, and family room Rob designed. “It’s a great open living space, not separated by walls — it’s one giant room,” she says.
The stunning home is where the Sappington family gathers during winter holidays and lives throughout the warm months. When thunder echoes across the lake, they stoke a fire in the boulder fireplace on the covered porch, which spans the entire length of the main floor, and watch the storms roll in. On sun-dappled days, they take the curvy stone staircase down the bluff and swim, hike the beach, or paddle in a kayak. Bonfires on the beach and pig roasts with friends and family are part of the enjoyment.
“It has the charm of seclusion — as much as you like — but it’s near to everything,” Tina says. “We can get to
the U.P. in half an hour. Every summer, we’ve toured the U.P.; (we’ve been to) Tahquamenon Falls and the Pictured Rocks.”
In winter, when the landscape is covered with piles of white, they snowmobile on the 100 open acres across the road. A heated driveway and remote-controlled wooden gate are some of the practical luxuries they appreciate.
Among the other notable extravagances: The only drywall in the house is in the upper bedrooms; the rest is tongue-and-groove beadboard and panels. The master bedroom has a two-story ceiling, and a staircase inside a huge closet leads to a dormer that houses another enormous closet for extra storage. There’s a suite over the two-and-a-half-car garage, and a room called the loggia separates the master suite from the rest of the house.
The full-walkout lower level features a full-length covered porch, a theater, a kitchenette, and another bedroom — perfect for all of the family’s guests. There are three laundry rooms, one per level. And for Michael Sappington, there’s a floating staircase that leads to the many-windowed widow’s peak, which serves as his third-level office and a perch where he can see for miles with a telescope, or gaze at the heavens on starry nights.
Call it Eden, or paradise found; one thing’s for certain: Sweet dreams are made of this.