Stuff of Dreams

A Birmingham couple and their designer see beyond peeling paint and overgrown landscaping to create a northern paradise


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The sprawling, two-story, 6,000-square-foot manse in Bay Harbor’s Preserve, situated on a wooded lot among dazzling views of turquoise water, was built in 1997 as someone’s dream home on Little Traverse Bay.

But the dream didn’t last. The house was sold and became another owner’s dream. After a while that dream, too, was shattered. The economy collapsed, the property went back on the market, and the house languished in disrepair for two years until a Birmingham couple saw beyond the peeling yellow paint and the saplings growing out of the deck. 

“I think people were really scared off, it needed so much work,” recalls the homeowner, who says the entire exterior was ravaged by the wind, sand, and water that pound against waterfront properties each winter. “But the lot was so spectacular, with a rolling backyard that went down to the water. The interior had been maintained fine. It had great bones.”

The couple, who had fallen in love with the area during vacations when their now-grown daughters were young, had owned a Bay Harbor condo since 1999. They knew this special spot could eventually fulfill their dreams. They assembled a team of local experts —Glennwood Custom Builders, architect Jill Rowley, landscape architect Maureen Parker, and landscaper John Hoffman & Sons. The couple also brought up their designer, Jimmy Angell of James Douglas Interiors, who had worked on their home in Birmingham.

“Jimmy came in on it pretty much from the beginning,” says the homeowner, whose family’s contract textile business serves the health care, hospitality, office, and educational industries. “He’s so creative. I love everything he does, always repurposing his treasures. He’s so professional, and respectful of his clients’ opinions.”

Angell calls the project — now at two years and counting — “one of the most incredible partnerships I’ve experienced in my career. (The homeowners) definitely have their opinions, but they have never stifled my creativity. It’s definitely up there with my top three projects.” (The home won several honors in various categories in the 2014 Detroit Home Design Awards.)

The renovation has been major, inside and out, starting with stripping the exterior down to its frame and clothing it with insulating house wrap, cedar shingles hand-dipped in stain to reduce warping, and low-maintenance Azek trim. Energy-efficient Kolbe windows and geothermal heating and cooling came next. Inside, walls were moved to enhance the flow of the kitchen, great room, and views of the bay; wood floors were added; five fireplace facades were changed, including the massive floor-to-ceiling fieldstone in the great room; and a couple of those fireplaces were converted to energy-efficient ceramic gas-log systems.

Angell saw the house in its original condition. “It was very traditional, very colorful — not my clients’ taste,” he says. “The lighting was strange and overdone, the layout was very disjointed. It was beautiful property but unmaintained. Not a happy story.”

Angell drew up plans that called for blowing out the entry to the kitchen, changing the hexagonal island, and removing the upper cabinets so the bay was visible. That led to reconfiguring the hearth room and great room beyond, and removing a fireplace in the lower level that adjoined one of the two master suites. Over the garage, Angell created a loft called the Sisters Suite that looks out at the treetops, like a treehouse. Two queen beds silhouette a wall covered in birch tree paper by Cole & Son.

Angell worked his magic throughout, using soothing neutral shades of sand and driftwood, clean lines, and modern textures — transforming two broken dreams into a legacy the new owners hope to enjoy for generations. How could they not? From the glow of the carriage light that illuminates the covered entryway’s bluestone walkway to the NuVo sound system that sets the ambience in every room, this place is a visual definition of the word “mellow.”

After the four-hour-plus drive up I-75 to this spot just beyond Charlevoix, the homeowners say it takes about two seconds to unwind. “It’s just dreamy,” says the wife. “So relaxing.”

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