Northern Nests

It took a decade for Lou DesRosiers to find the perfect site for his Up North home.

A Pleasant Peninsula

By mark kurlyandchik 

It took a decade for Lou DesRosiers to find the perfect site for his Up North home.

That’s because the third-generation architect knew exactly what he was looking for: a quiet, west-facing spot on the Leelanau Peninsula, no more than 25 feet above Lake Michigan’s waters, with a view of islands. He also wanted the property to have shade-providing trees and easy access to a permanent, sandy-bottomed beach.

Fortunately, DesRosiers was equipped with the patience to wait for what he wanted. Today, the theme of the “warm contemporary” home he built on that perfect site in 2008 reflects the visionary quality possessed by the president of DesRosiers Architects.

“The entire concept is about view,” he says. “Every room in the house has a view — a magnificent view. It’s about appreciating nature and everything that’s around you.”

What that translates into is a 5,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, five-bath home on Good Harbor Bay that feels more like a pavilion — an entirely intentional effect — than a traditional residence. “The glass is just there to protect you from the elements,” DesRosiers says. “Otherwise, you’re just under a big roof. The whole idea is to feel that you’re one and the same with nature.”

Born and raised in Michigan, DesRosiers’ affection for the region stems from early family vacations to the area. “When we visited the Leelanau Peninsula, we fell in love with it,” he says. “Rightfully so, because in 2011, viewers of Good Morning America voted it the most beautiful place in the United States.”

A portion of Good Harbor Bay is actually part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. From DesRosiers’ great room, which is lined with panels of glass as large as 7 feet by 10 feet, one can see North and South Manitoulin islands (also part of the park), as well as the North Manitou Shoal Light (affectionately dubbed “The Crib”). The area between DesRosiers’ 135 feet of lake frontage and the islands is called the Manitou Passage; generally it’s a busy section of water, used by both freighters and sailboats participating in the Chicago to Mackinac race. “You never get bored,” DesRosiers says as he contemplates the upcoming race. “If you’re just looking at wide-open ocean — or any body of water — and it’s just a horizon, you see a blue line and that’s all you ever see. (That’s not the case here.)”

By eschewing mullions for butt joints, the glass panels throughout the home are designed to provide as unobstructed a view as possible. Taking this conviction to panoramic vistas a step further, DesRosiers — who also designed the two homes on either side of his property — invented something called “viewlines,” an agreement with the neighbors that says nobody can plant a tree that will compromise the others’ view, “so that each person, in their home, can look at 180 degrees of lake, unobstructed.”

A second but equally important theme in the home is one of respect for nature. “I try to use indigenous, warm materials,” DesRosiers says. “The roof is a cement-tile roof, stained a sort of mossy green color, which fits in nice with nature. All the wood that’s exposed on the exterior of the house is natural cedar.” The stone walls are from nearby Fond du Lac, Wis., chosen because “that particular stone matched the color on the beach almost exactly.”

Although DesRosiers and his family enjoy a variety of aquatic activities on the azure-hued water during the summer, the home is not just a seasonal getaway — it has become their permanent home. The architect and his wife keep a low-maintenance condo near his Bloomfield Hills office, but much of their time these days is spent Up North.

“The most exciting part of living here is when the big storms come across the lake, all year round,” DesRosiers says. “You can see them for 30 miles, coming toward you. And there you are, separated from nature by one-inch insulated, bronze-tinted glass.”



A Son’s Love of Nature, Family, and Modern Design


When your child shows a huge interest in Legos and Lincoln Logs, you might think there’s a future designer or architect in the family. As a youngster, Dave and Karen Jordan’s son, Jeff, constantly played with Legos and similar building toys, so they weren’t surprised when he received both bachelor of science and master’s degrees in architecture. But little did the Jordans guess that their creative son would also design their northern Michigan dream home.

After years of visiting other people’s getaways, two years ago the Jordans were able to call a lakeside cottage their very own. Located on Higgins Lake and facing west (for great sunsets), the contemporary, 5,500-square-foot cedar-sided retreat is the new hot spot for family gatherings that sometimes include as many as 30 guests — many of whom stay overnight.

“You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but the home has six bedrooms,” Jeff says of the sprawling cottage he started designing for his parents about three years ago, after the original home on the lot was torn down. With four and a half bathrooms, a spacious kitchen, and roomy gathering spaces, the getaway accommodates all of the family’s needs.

“Like many people who aren’t used to a more modern, contemporary-style home, my parents weren’t sure about my design suggestions initially,” Jeff recalls. “But I can be persuasive.”

Dave Jordan admits that a modern bent wasn’t what he first envisioned. “We’ve never owned a contemporary home,” he says, “but as plans evolved, we fell in love with the openness. It’s great when everyone’s here (the couple has five grandchildren), but it’s also comfortable when there’s just the two of us.”

With 21 miles of shoreline and deep, clear water, Higgins Lake, near Roscommon, boasts beauty all around — which is exactly why the Jordans wanted to make the most of the water views. Their site is particularly accommodating; water levels are relatively shallow a long way out into the lake, making the location great for swimming, especially for the little ones.

“Even when we’re all inside, we feel like we’re outside,” Jeff says, “and that’s mostly because of the way the layout allows for a connection with the outdoors.” A lot of windows, a wrap-around deck, seamless transitions from inside to out, and more contribute to the special connectivity to nature.

As suitable as the design is, the architect did face some challenges. “The lake lots are narrow, long, and deep,” says Jeff, who obtained his undergraduate degree from U-M and his master’s from the University of California at Berkeley. “The house had to be comfortable for two but accommodating for 30, so we stretched the design lengthwise and tucked the bedrooms halfway below ground,” Jeff explains. “It’s very functional; there are lots of places to stick people.”

Jeff worked with R.L. Zuzula Builders of Bay City, whose detail work and craftsmanship are excellent, he says.

As for the modern sensibility, the architect refers to his work as warm-modern. “A lot of people think modern architecture is imposing and cold. This home is open, bright, and airy, and the use of wood makes it quite approachable.”

One of his biggest goals was to blend the home with its surroundings. “My parents didn’t want a massive, imposing house on a lake,” he says, so it was necessary to “control the volume, to not have it big and bulky.”

This summer Jeff and his family, including three young boys, will head to Higgins Lake from their home out East. Jeff will put Jeff Jordan Architects (his company) out of mind for several days for yet another memory-making vacation.

There will be swimming, boating, and toasting to awesome sunsets. The kids will skip and run along the beach, and dart between towering pines. They’ll duck in and out of an outdoor shower, splash a bit in a hot tub on the two-tiered deck, and grab lunch at the kitchen island before heading to the dock for a pontoon ride — elements of home that intertwine with nature, and are all part of the design, Jeff says.

“The kids love it, we love it,” Dave adds. “The home really is spectacular.”