A Chicago couple tapped local architects Gregory Howe and Pam Lamaster of Searl Lamaster Howe Architects to build their second home—a rustic yet refined retreat in Jones, Michigan.
The six-acre wooded property borders a state park, and the site’s unique topography provides a dynamic layout for the house. The property slopes down into a valley towards a stream and marshlands, and the house is tucked into the hillside, divided among different levels. This tiered layout connects the house to its natural surroundings—as do the large, thoughtfully placed windows that offer up panoramic views.
"In the summer, the house is enveloped with greenery," says Howe. "It really is private, and the scale is intimate because you often can’t see that far through the foliage. In the winter, you can see all the way across the valley to the lake. It’s interesting to see the house through the seasons."
The house spans five levels, each separated by 18 inches, creating a gradual descent. The house was built for entertaining and hosting guests, however the steps create a sense of privacy.
The tiered layout also help to maximize views, while creating soft boundaries between the living room, dining area, and kitchen. "You are connected, but your view isn’t impeded looking out the window," adds Lamaster.
The 2,400-square-foot cabin can accommodate up to 13 people with a dedicated guest room and a third-floor master suite. The guest quarters are tucked into the hill on the lower level of the house. Two sets of bunk beds are curtained off, and there is also a Murphy bed that pops out of the wall, and a sofa for people to crash on.
"There’s hardly any unfinished space," says Howe. "There’s no basement, and the mechanical room is tiny. There isn’t a square inch of space that isn’t utilized—and that was important to the client. They didn’t want anything bigger than they needed."
Rustic elements that take cues from the house’s natural surroundings are balanced with clean, contemporary design elements. "We wanted to bring the outside in," says Lamaster—so they focused on organic materials like the cedar beams that span the house.
The cedar over the fireplace has a toasted, low-maintenance finish. "It’s a kind of shou sugi ban char. We really pushed the clients to do this toasted finish on the cedar over the fireplace to incorporate visual relief from the knotty wood," says Howe. The firm also used charred wood for the exterior siding, where the material’s weather-resistant properties shine.
The Chicago couple have a modern lifestyle back in the city, so the architects drew inspiration from their contemporary urban home for the style of the vacation dwelling.
"They really wanted this to feel more like a retreat," says Lamaster. "It couldn’t be full-on rustic lodge. That’s not them. They have a modern lifestyle, so they wanted a nice balance between the two."
Architect of Record: Searl Lamaster Howe
Builder/Contractor: Estkowski Construction, Jake Estkowski
Structural Engineer: Robert Darvas and Associates, Erik Majcher
Landscape Design: Jason Ballew
Lighting Design: Searl Lamaster Howe, Greg Howe and Pam Lamaster
Cabinetry Design: Searl Lamaster Howe
Cabinetry Fabrication/Installation: Carson Woodwork, Mike Carson