Mimi Read: How did the homeowners discover this lovely nest of old-fashioned vacation houses?
Watson: These clients were raised in this northern-Michigan community, and their parents still live in the area. It’s a late-19th-century enclave of white clapboard houses in a mix of Edwardian, Victorian, Carpenter Gothic, and Shingle styles. The homes are very Midwestern — fresh, summery, no-nonsense — and have been added onto over the years.
And the homeowners?
Watson: They’re a couple in their early fifties. Between them, they have five children, who have lots of friends. They live in Missouri year-round and had a nostalgic vision of owning a vacation home far away from cell phones and the digital world. They pictured a house with puzzles on the card table and a screen door that would slap shut with that aural echo of the past.
But this house is newer, right?
Watson: They tried but couldn’t find just the right old house. Then they discovered this 15-year-old Shingle Style house right on Lake Michigan, which is a body of water as clean, clear, and beautifully blue-green as you could possibly want. Every room in this house has an amazing view. You feel like you’re on the upper deck of a ship.
Your decorating here looks a bit Swedish to me — soft and lyrical.
Watson: It feels like northern Europe in this part of Michigan, where forests of pine and white birch reach all the way down to the water. It makes sense because a lot of Europeans from Scandinavia and Germany built houses when they arrived here decades ago. We wanted to reinforce those cultural roots but also make this home quintessentially American. Initially, it had darker rooms and, believe it or not, a Swiss Alps ski-lodge feeling. To make it more breezy and lighthearted, Louis XV limestone mantels were replaced with less-heavy Victorian Eastlake-style ones. We added beadboard paneling to almost every room. Dark-wood floors were swapped for white-pine ones.
How else do you make a very large house feel friendly?
Reid: You use a lot of handmade things that show love and care, along with tactile fabrics and surfaces. The dining room’s wallpaper reminds me of my girlhood in the Lake District of England. It’s an updated Morris & Co. print. The hand-blocked pattern is warm, while the ivory background keeps it airy. I’m obsessed with it!
That jolt of butter yellow gives the room a big lift, too.
Reid: On one side of the room, you see the blue of Lake Michigan, and the other side overlooks the green of the garden and forest beyond. Yellow is just so cheerful and fantastic with blue and green. The curtains are a small gold check. We didn’t want them lined and heavy, so they’re basically sheers stretched across that great expanse. The chairbacks have intense warmth and look great with the antique limed-oak table. Like a lot of the gray-washed antiques in this house, the table is evocative of driftwood that might have been picked up on the beach outside.
The living room’s seating groups look so natural and inevitable. All the patterns mix easily and gently.
Watson: We like to arrange furniture so that it looks like it’s conversing. The club chairs in the foreground have waterfall skirts for a slipcovered feeling. They’re done in a traditional floral with a large repeat. The slipper chairs in the background have a paisley print, which seems slightly more exotic. It’s as if Great Aunt Barbara really loved floral chintz, but Mom loves paisley, and so you live with both. Then there is Cousin Betsy, who always preferred plaids, so we chose that pattern for the rattan chairs. And along comes Dad, who just wants a really comfortable chenille sofa, so that’s another layer of texture. The hand-hooked rug in a leafy pattern adds even more coziness. Once you put it all together, it feels like several generations of family have built the room.
You two make awfully pretty houses together. You’re not about edge; you’re about comfort and sophistication. It’s so nurturing.
Reid: You could walk into this room in 10 years, and it’s still going to be beautiful. You will continue to want to sit down on that sofa, have a gin and tonic at the end of the day, and look out at that magnificent view. It’s not a cutting-edge home with loud, bright colors, no, but there’s something to be said for timelessness rather than immediacy. With all the things going on in the world, it seems important to create an escape that feels heartfelt — a place that makes you believe everything is going to be OK.
“Yellow is the color of light and fire—it emanates warmth,” Watson says. “It’s especially cheery in a breakfast room when you’re waking up for the day; at that hour, the sky is a little bluer, the shadows a little crisper. In this waterfront home, we stuck to fabrics in the golden butter range as opposed to a more acidic lemon, which doesn’t play as well with other yellows. The patterns are of different scales and textures, with the smallest, the embroidered chair fabric, up close where you can enjoy it; the wallpaper is a mid-size print; and the braided rug is the largest. I think of them as foreground, middle ground, and background. It pulls everything together and keeps the room from looking like a circus tent!”
See more photos of this gorgeous home:
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4. Meadow Sweet wallpaper in gold/slate, Morris & Co. for Style Library.
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This story originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of CQ.