Building a home from the ground up is always a numbers game, rife with cost calculations for every part of the project. But one couple added a new twist to the equation when they built a second home overlooking Lake Michigan in Union Pier, a three and one-half-hour ride from their Franklin residence: “We wanted a place that we’d be able to share with our friends, so it had to be cozy, comfortable, and able to sleep at least a few families at a time,” the homeowner says.
All said, she was thinking a couple dozen guests at any given time — and that’s not including her husband and their brood of three teenagers and their friends. Of course, a laundry list of more expected wants and needs accompanied the aforementioned requisite, ranging from state-of-the-art kitchens inside and out for the husband — a serious and talented chef — to dedicated spaces for formal and informal dining, quiet contemplation, group conversation, viewing videos, drinking wine, impromptu performances, arts and crafts, and game-playing.
And there was one more unusual caveat: “We didn’t want the house to look gigantic or glitzy, but we didn’t want to compromise on size,” the homeowner says. “It had to live bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside.”
The couple’s steadfast commitment to community and low-key living, and the glorious southwest Michigan lakefront location, dictated the design and the architecture of the 9,800-square-foot home by Birmingham interior designer Jill Schumacher of Rariden Schumacher Mio Interiors and Ferndale architect Arik Green. “We’d worked with both of them before and knew them as extremely creative problem-solvers, and this was a challenging assignment,” the homeowner explains.
Despite the scope, rigor, and size of the project, both design pros met those challenges with ease. “They’re a dream team. They understood exactly what we wanted and executed it flawlessly. But more importantly, they made the process unbelievably fun,” she adds.
Green took his cues for the home’s architecture from “a New England beach house, but I made it not-too-nautical,” he explains. Fond du Lac stone and cedar shakes clad the handsome yet humble front façade, complete with a classic wrap-around porch. All signs of luxury living are out of sight behind the house, where the yard is outfitted with an outdoor kitchen and living and dining areas, and an infinity pool overlooks the beach below.
Inside, an airy and dramatic layout conceived by Green and Schumacher leaves New England in the dust. Instead of formal rooms, a range of open living spaces float off of a gigantic Fond du Lac stone wall that runs from the basement to the attic and serves as the structure’s spine. It also anchors a cantilevered staircase that spans all four levels.
Expansive living and dining spaces, a den-cum-media room, and a state-of-the-art kitchen sprawl over the home’s main level, all interconnected yet divided by adeptly placed architectural elements. Each has maximized views of the lake, and is thoughtfully appointed with features and furnishings that can handle crowds while, at the same time, offering up private spaces for relaxing and reading.
Banks of windows flank a majestic, earthy hearth in the main living area, flooding the rustic space with mood-boosting natural light. Streamlined but cushy sofas, easy chairs, and floor cushions — all extra-large to seat crowds — enhance the cozy yet contemporary ambiance, and surround a two-tier alder table that’s both handsome and hard-working. “They’re addicted to jigsaw puzzles and games, so the tabletop sees a lot of action and has storage underneath,” Schumacher says of her clients. An enormous reclaimed wood plank door on barn door track hinges can slide closed to separate the space from the contiguous den, for privacy or sound control.
Three independent yet equally striking dining spaces play to the people-heavy program: a formal dining room, and two areas close to the kitchen. In the former, another strikingly fabulous, hard-working table — also in alder — stands ready to seat 10 but easily expands to seat 14, while the kitchen eating areas — one tucked into a bay and one around an island — each hold eight. In total, that yields 30 seats, the homeowner shares.
Thanks to efficiency-oriented features ranging from those two islands and a massive Lacanche cooktop to a supersized custom pot rack and cabinets that clad every wall, every square inch of the kitchen is maximized — and much-used. “Function is critical here, especially given the number of people in and out of the space and the amount of cooking they do. We even built kitchen cabinets into the stone wall,” Schumacher says.
The same kind of function was critical to the home’s sleeping spaces — a conundrum was solved with five elegantly appointed bedroom suites: a master for the couple; four suites for guests; and a kid’s dormitory on the third floor, under the eaves and full of intriguing nooks, crannies, and colorful trappings. The dormitory is adeptly optimized for maximum efficiency, with bunks (and trundle beds), and towel bins in the group bathroom, where stalls make coed use possible.
Spaces that delight continue on the home’s lower level, where there is an arts-and-crafts studio that sports numbered seats for the kids; a home theater with a proscenium stage for performances; a wine room with cellar storage for 800 bottles; and a circular sitting room decorated with a campy Moroccan motif. It’s perfect for entertaining guests, who often number in excess of the 20 or so the family hoped to host at the project’s start. “If need be, we can sleep 27,” the homeowner laughs. “The more, the merrier.”