A Matte Black Cabin Strikes the Perfect Balance Between Rustic and Refined
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A Matte Black Cabin Strikes the Perfect Balance Between Rustic and Refined

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By Marissa Hermanson
In Michigan, a hillside retreat embraces the unique topography of its site with a dynamic layout that overlooks killer views.

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.

"The ceiling plane starts with giant beams as you step up on the front porch, and they run at the same level throughout the axis of the house," says Lamaster. "As you step down into the home, they accentuate the feeling of moving down the hill. We wanted to create that intimate, low feeling when you walk in."

Large slabs of slate were used throughout the home for flooring, adding a natural element.

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"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 fireplace is set within a custom blackened steel enclosure with a charred cedar backdrop.

The kitchen cabinets are dye-stained a deep shade of green. "We were trying to instill a little bit of a forest setting in a subtle way into the interior," says Lamaster.

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.

"We really wanted the materials in the house to feel very of-the-place," says Lamaster. The architects hunted down domestic stone—like the Vermont marble used for countertops.

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.

A partition wraps the stairway from the basement to the third-floor master suite. Its form was inspired by the way light filters through the trees in the forest.

The entire third floor is dedicated to the master suite, which is isolated from the rest of the house.

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.

Off the master bedroom and bath, a large deck provides expansive views of the forest.

The clay tiles in the master suite’s shower were cut and fired by hand. The natural, textured tiles vary in color, and they were fired with a high-gloss finish, giving the shower the appearance of a shimmering cave.

"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."

Sleeping berths are curtained off to provide privacy in the guest quarters.

Downstairs in the guest quarters, a Murphy bed provides another sleeping spot, and a casual TV room is outfitted with a rustic-yet-modern aesthetic.

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.

A large screened porch makes alfresco entertaining easy.

The exterior combines charred cedar siding, cedar beams, and black cement board siding. "Black may seem like an extreme choice sometimes," says Howe. "It would be hard to imagine any other color though. It sits lovely in the woods. It falls into the shadows in the summer, under the canopy, and it blends with the dark tree trunks in the winter."

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."

The giant windows make you feel as if you are standing amidst the tree canopy.

Related Reading:

A Guide to Shou Sugi Ban—and 8 Homes Featuring the Japanese Technique 

30 All-Black Exterior Modern Homes

This Modern Matte Black Cabin Is a Dreamy Weekend Retreat

Project Credits:

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

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