A Northport Home Nestled into Nature

A Northern Michigan home on the edge of Leelanau County merges with the surrounding woods through tactful landscaping and focused aesthetics.  Read on to discover how the combination of simplicity and careful planning created a sanctuary near Northport. The following home profile was first featured in the April 2014 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.

North of Northport, beyond the last ice cream stop and well past the point most folks consider “convenient,” a neighborhood has been slowly growing since the mid-1960s. Cherry Home Shores comprises 280 lots, home to year-round and seasonal residents who cherish their neighborhood’s prime position on West Grand Traverse Bay. The Cherry Home Association maintains four parks on the water, a clubhouse for social gatherings and a feeling of close-knit comfort on its looping streets and walking trails.

Decades-long development has turned out a pleasing variety of architectural styles. Snug split-levels, sprawling contemporaries, shingled cottages and a sprinkling of A-frames all come together without pretense on the curve of sandy shoreline. So when a couple bought one of the off-shore lots, they turned to Leelanau architect David Hanawalt to design a house both simple and striking.

Hanawalt drew up plans for a single-story house with a daylight basement and offset walls that create welcoming alcoves on the front and back facades. The straightforward, modular design presented very few construction challenges, a help to homeowners who were acting as their own general contractors. The three-bedroom plan centers on an open great room with a wood-burning stove and generous windows that overlook the rolling site and across the street to the bay.

The homeowners wanted the house to feel a part of that natural beach landscape, to look settled-in and complete. Toward that end, they planned their construction budget to include professional landscape design and installation—something that Hanawalt says is often overlooked. “Any house building project begins with design. In starting construction, the designs begin to be realized, and spending also begins in earnest … Towards the end of the process, every homeowner experiences ‘check-writing fatigue.’ That’s why it is so important at the beginning to reserve funds for three important elements: lighting, furniture and landscaping. The simplest house with these three elements done well, can be a beautiful house.”

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The homeowners chose Erick Takayama of Grand Traverse Organic Landscapes to add the finishing touch, and he did so with inspiration from the surrounding beach landscape. He aimed to design a beautiful but low-maintenance outdoor space while overcoming the challenges of a front-yard drainfield and more than a foot of pure sand remaining from construction.

To that end, Takayama planned a front yard filled with native dune grasses carved by rambling woodchip paths. He filled in here and there with native evergreen trees and deer-resistant shrubs. Stones add structure to the open-feeling space, and everywhere there is texture. This becomes particularly important during the winter. “I find beauty in dormant plants, bark and twig color,” says Takayama.

Summertime, though, there is not much work to do. A swath of lawn in the back requires a 10-minute mow, and there is the occasional mulch top-dressing and some pruning, but little if any watering is needed. Takayama’s team installed a drip irrigation system to help establish the landscape, but now it is only used on the mature plants during particularly dry spells.

Drifts of Lake Michigan beach stones connect the landscape to the flagstone foundation. Woodchip paths transition to flagstone and concrete pavers in the back. Beyond, the woods lies untouched, shady and wild. It’s as if the home and the road are simply pauses in the flow of landscape from forest to shore. A lovely statement, certainly, about building and living in Northern Michigan.

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