For one day every summer, when South Florida–based designer Dana Small stands with her feet in the sand outside the quaint, vintage cottage on Lake Michigan that she shares with her family, she sees fireworks—literally. Though this, of course, is not surprising, considering it’s where the clan gathers to celebrate Independence Day each year. And that sense of wonder and awe pervades Small’s consciousness for the duration of her stay. “It’s the perfect backdrop for our all-American, hot-dogs-and-lemonade Fourth of July,” she says, with a sweeping gesture to the gorgeous cobalt blue water and the bevy of flags dotting the sand leading to the home. “But it’s much more than that.”
The cottage is the scene of some of the family’s happiest memories, which is why, as soon as school lets out for Small’s children, twins Tate and Matilda, the whole family immediately makes a beeline for the beach house. The countdown to the big Fourth of July celebration begins the moment they open the cottage’s doors and are greeted by the playful tableau of red, white, and blue that defines the interiors.
The palette is a nod to summer’s main event, but also to the picturesque lakeside setting (practically a Norman Rockwell painting), which inspired Small to pull elements of the lively nautical landscape into the design.
Get the Look: In Tate’s room, the headboard and pillows are custom. The buoys are from Brass Anchor (231/869-4200).
When the Small's restored their cottage, tumbledown cabinetry, door frames, and window mullions were replaced with new versions crafted from hearty oak; walls were clad in classic beaded board; and floors were lined with mildew-resistant, sand-tolerant vinyl. Keeping things low-maintenance was a must, because the family returns to Florida for the winter. “You never know what you’re going to get when you let yourself back in for the first time each summer,” says Small. “So we tried to choose materials that would withstand the elements year-round.”
To add a dose of pretty to the practical, Small weaved in textiles emblazoned with iconic seafaring motifs—beach umbrellas, lighthouses, sailboats—which adorn daughter Matilda’s room and also show up on the banquette in the narrow dining nook. “It’s like a real boat galley,” says Small. “Squeezing around the table is part of the experience!” The butcher-block surface serves as additional counter space for the kitchen; it’s where she prepares, among other party fare, her scrumptious Independence Day parfaits layered with berries, whipped cream, and homemade shortcake.
Get the Look: The walls are painted Benjamin Moore’s Blue Hydrangea. The custom table is by Bruno Olechowicz (616/836-5624).
Other maritime references include a collection of weathered driftwood frames, a lineup of vintage wooden buoys in son Tate’s room, and a pair of once-neglected rattan chairs, which were a surprise score left behind by the home’s previous owners that has endured over the decades.
Smooth, decorated lake stones commemorating each summer the family has spent at the beach can also be found scattered around the cottage; the twins have been using the rocks as canvases since they were old enough to finger paint. “It has turned into a real family tradition,” says Small.
The family’s favorite traditions, however, only truly begin after Small has decked out the home’s exterior in patriotic red, white, and blue bunting, stocked the portable bar cart with pitchers full of sweet tea and lemonade, and fired up the grill. Then the guests begin to arrive: Grown-ups roost on the sun-soaked deck for checkers and conversation, white Tate, Matilda, and a crew of beachcombing friends scramble to cheer on the local star-spangled parade, build sand castles, and refuel on hot dogs and popcorn.
“Life here is a refreshing antidote to the daily grind,” says Small, who brings out a tray full of s’mores provisions at sundown and then gathers everyone on the beach to roast marshmallows and watch fireworks bloom over the water. “When we’re at the lake, we like to keep it old-school.”