A dark, stuffy home on the Lake Michigan shore got a makeover that brought in sunshine and water views.

By Annie S. Butterworth
April 30, 2008
Matthew Gilson and James Yochum; styling by David Anger

Lynn and Barrett Murphy thought they had the perfect waterfront escape. Just steps from Lake Michigan, the house had the right amount of space for their family and guests. But this Depression-era vacation cottage's look and style was, well, depressing.

Rather than fostering relaxing family fun, the drab exterior, design flaws, and water-damaged rooms dulled the glamour of the home's lakeside locale. Finally, after 12 years of dealing with the house's problems, the Murphys reluctantly considered tearing it down. But before they called in the wreckers, they telephoned architect Kathryn Quinn to explore other options. "She knew our vision for the home and wanted to save it as much as we did," Lynn says. "That made it easy to turn the project completely over to her."

Kathryn offered good news: The house didn't have to be destroyed. She began working with Lynn and Barrett to identify problem areas. "The kitchen was cramped and had no eating area. There was no room to accommodate outdoor gear and clothing, and the children had no place to de-sand coming in from the lake," Kathryn says. "There was a lot to do."

Before she could conquer the details, she needed to design a new roofline to open up the second story. The home's low gables created slanted walls that divided the master bedroom into oddly shaped sections and made it nearly impossible for the Murphys to move around without bumping their heads. Kathryn introduced new dormers and a spacious sitting room with access to a new roof deck. She also added larger windows in the girls' bedroom to take advantage of lake views.

Downstairs, Lynn and Barrett wanted to keep the patina of the original paneled walls and ceiling in the living room. In the kitchen, Kathryn opened up the space by bumping out an exterior wall to extend the room and create an eating nook for casual family meals.

Kathryn redesigned the home's entries, transforming a second family room near the front door into a mudroom and storage area, and building a second mudroom-complete with outdoor shower-onto the back of the house. "The rear mudroom and outdoor shower were designed with the children in mind," Kathryn says. The new setup not only maximizes the home's space, but also limits the amount of sand and water that gets tracked inside.

Just off the downstairs guest-room-turned-family-room, Kathryn added the Murphys' favorite new feature: a glassed-in porch. "We wanted to be able to sit outside and watch the sunset but also have extra living space, and this room does that," Lynn says. "When it rains, it feels like we can still be outside." The wall-to-wall storm windows yield a panoramic view of Lake Michigan. "We don't even use a TV. The view acts as our entertainment," Lynn says.

With their historic home brought up to date, the Murphys can truly say they have the perfect getaway-no qualifications necessary. Best of all, the additions didn't drastically change the size of the house. "Kathryn found a way to use spaces in smarter ways," Lynn says. "The house is basically the same size, but we feel like we have more room."

Raze or remodel?
Knowing when to renovate and when to start from scratch can be a tough call. Architect Kathryn Quinn shares her tips on when to hold and when to fold.

Assess the structure. "First, decide whether or not the home has good bones," Kathryn says. Are the floors, roof, and walls structurally sound? Are the ceilings appropriate to the scale of the house? If so, it may be worth saving.

Evaluate the location. If your existing home doesn't take advantage of views, natural light, and outdoor spaces, consider whether it's possible to add windows or move the building to a new location on the property. Many communities have setback restrictions to prevent new construction along the water, so you may need to remodel to save your waterfront site.

Discuss your designs. Historic homes and 21st-century living don't always go hand in hand. Before you introduce a new, modern floor plan into an older house, confirm with an architect that its structural system is flexible enough to accommodate the changes. The existing home may not support soaring ceilings or a second story.

Consider the history. "Too often the teardown is the easy way out," Kathryn says. "A blank slate is infinitely easier to address, and sometimes less expensive, but one loses so much potential that can be found in the renovation process-the connection to and preservation of history, the patina that can't be reproduced, the richness of detail of earlier building traditions, and the opportunity to save natural resources." She recommends looking to improve areas of the home that aren't being utilized and fixing architectural glitches instead.