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Architecture Design Home Tour

Water’s Edge

A cottage in Michigan by Tom Stringer offers the perfect lakeside getaway

Norcross Guest House

The shingled, two-bedroom cottage sits nestled among mature trees, at the water’s edge.

Ah, the lake life! Running dives off the pier, hot dogs sizzling over an open fire, dozing off to a light rain pattering on the roof. These are the things memories are made of. And they always override the windows that operated (just barely) on sash cords and the screen door that never quite closed (this way, mosquitos!). Many of us still return happily to cottages that time has not only kissed but hugged a little too tightly. Visitors to this guest house in Michigan, on the other hand, enjoy every comfort while knowing exactly where they are—the lake.

Norcross Guest House

A lantern-style chandelier from Currey & Co. adds a rustic touch in the living room, while a rug from Dash & Albert, through Designer’s Linen Source, grounds the space with crisp stripes. Floor and table lamps from Arteriors. Floor-to-ceiling window treatments from Brunschwig & Fils.

A project of Indianapolis-based architectural designer Gary Nance and veteran Chicago interior designer Tom Stringer the shingle-clad cottage is a satisfyingly simple affair: a central living area flanked on each side with an en suite bedroom. “The idea is that this should just meld with the landscape,” says Stringer. “Although it is part of a large property, this is about family, not about making statements.”

“We needed something that felt it had history and although i think it’s nice to have a unifying idea, a couple of things from a different period or style can give a room a nice jolt.”
—Tom Stringer

The owners lived in the guest house while the plan for the main house was generated. “That was great for them,” observes Stringer, “because they could enjoy the property and begin building memories. And for us, the cottage served as a kind of sample. We looked at the language of form and the materials we used there and determined how they could be applied to the main residence, what details worked, and which needed to be refined.”

Norcross Guest House

Left: Family pieces—including a small barley-twist table and wing chair—are right at home in this new cottage.
Right: There’s a touch of industrial Chi in the kitchen, thanks to the workmanlike pendants that hang over the island, and the stools from Arteriors. A mirror by CAI Designs and lamp by Currey & Co. adorn the entry.

When it came to kitting out the cottage, Stringer drew from his client’s existing inventory and complemented those pieces with new product, such as a contemporary version of a cannonball bed and bobbin chairs that pair companionably with a vintage barley-twist table in the living room. “We pulled some chairs and an old sideboard they had and set it up as a bar,” relates Stringer. “I always think it’s nice when you build new to bring something along, so it doesn’t just feel like an entirely new set of clothes, so to speak.”

Norcross Guest House

The house has two guest bedrooms, one with two double beds, and the other with a queen-sized bed, shown here. A textured carpet from Watson Smith is the base for a bench from Noir, through CAI Designs, covered in fabric from
Jim Thompson, through Holly Hunt. The bed is covered in fabric from Holland & Sherry, and the drapery fabric is from Thibault. A floor lamp from Visual Comfort illuminates the seating area.

No, it does not. Although obviously tailored with a sure hand and keen eye, it possesses a kind of authenticity not always easy to achieve. And while Stringer was scrupulous in creating a relaxed, place-appropriate look, he wasn’t afraid to color outside the lines, incorporating two, French neoclassical beds in his decor. A surprising choice for a little cottage in Michigan, these pieces nonetheless help capture that sense of a space that has evolved over time, one in which things are retrieved from here and there to serve a purpose, like mismatched chairs around kitchen table. “We needed something that felt it had history and although I think it’s nice to have a unifying idea, “says Stringer, “a couple of things from a different period or style can give a room a nice jolt.”

Norcross Guest House

An ample covered porch offers a direct view of the water.

From its board-and-batten walls to the stone fireplace, this guest house is just what a cottage should be. Unpretentious, relaxed—with not a smidge of sticky nostalgia. It will no doubt generate many good memories. Even if the mosquitos do get in.