As they turn down the driveway of this country home in Sawyer, Michigan, guests are treated to a warm embrace from the landscape itself. "The prairie grasses are two arms that are extended out to welcome you into this new space," says homeowner Dan Frank.
Farmhouse Retreat is a recasting of an existing farmhouse and barn as a vacation home for Frank, a Chicago-based educator and psychologist, and his partner and painter Chana Zelig. The couple conceived the retreat as not just a place of leisure, but also of creativity—all with a low carbon footprint.
Working with Chicago firm von Weise Associates and founder Chip von Weise, the couple agreed that the fundamental principle of the project would be to reuse as much as possible. The almost two-acre plot was once home to a bungalow home, a tractor barn, and small structures like a chicken coop—all which had fallen out of repair during the 17 years the property lay abandoned. Frank, whose family in the area had tipped him off to the listing, was interested in preserving the lineage and integrity of the site.
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Integrating new construction with the existing structures, the property finds spatial balance among the separate buildings. The home is anchored with the tractor barn serving as the kitchen in the main house. From there the farmhouse, or bungalow, was converted to a painting studio and sleeping loft, with minimal interventions.
With soaring ceilings, the kitchen acts as the heart of the home, with light let in from the coupled skylights. During construction, the roof was craned off, and the existing roof structure was insulated using six structural insulating panels. "We then took the other elements of the program—the screen porch, the living room, the fireplace, the front entry hall, the master suite, and the two guest bedrooms—and played with how to attach those in various ways," says von Weise.
Adjacent to the lofty kitchen is the screened porch, which has a view of the sloping land and native prairie grasses that grow to be five or six feet high. "The idea was that you could be on the screened porch and look out over the land, or you can be down in the land and have the grasses reach around and really embrace you, so that you are in the landscape," explains von Weise.
This feeling is repeated in the staircase that leads to the second floor. "As you move up through the staircase you’re meant to look back towards the woods, and [as you ascend], look at the front courtyard," says von Weise.
Honoring the history of the region, deferent to the landscape, and mindful of local resources, the home is a thoughtful homage to the region.
Architect: von Weise Associates, Chip von Weise
Builder: Artisan Design Builders, Caleb Planck
Structural Engineer: Goodfriend Magruder Structure, Bob Magruder
Landscape Design Company: Green Mansions, Inc., Gunner Piotter
Lighting Design: Filament 33, Inc., Marianne Maloney
Other: Windsor Windows & Doors
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