Charming Lake Cottage Tour
"My style is rooted in optimism — exuberant color and quirky sensibilities, and the more personal, the better," says Wendy Wurtzburger. With her husband, Christopher Bentley, Wurtzburger summers in a 1949 wood cottage in the Les Cheneaux region of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and there's no question that she has an eye for the sublime. The former head buyer/copresident of Anthropologie has sifted through flea markets and art shows the world over to seek out those rare gems, the wildly original finds that stir her creativity.
Get the look: The cottage is painted Bluestone by Cabot.
At Home on Lake Huron
Yet perhaps her most coveted discovery to date is the remote and rugged, blooming and beautiful landscape along Lake Huron, where her husband first brought her up to visit 28 years ago.
"Locals say if you bring a girl up here and she doesn't like it, you have to go ahead and break up with her," jokes Bentley, who introduced Wurtzburger to the area after they had been dating for six months. "If she doesn't like it "up north," as we call it—where the sun goes down at 11 at the end of June, and you can jump into your boat to go for cocktails—we say it's time to find a new girlfriend."
They both laugh, knowing there was no need for that. Wurtzburger was smitten. "I grew up spending summers at a camp in northern Wisconsin, sailing, canoeing, and just enjoying the woods and the water," she says. "When he introduced me to this place, to the beautiful Upper Peninsula, I loved it. I've always felt completely at home here."
Wildflowers by the Water
The couple's ranch-style cottage was passed down to them from Bentley's mother just a few years ago. It was built by a wildflower enthusiast who in her later years had planted great swaths of lilies, peonies, lilacs, and ferns just outside the back door. "Most have gone feral and naturalized since, mixing in with Michigan wildflowers," says Bentley. He points out blooming lupines, goldenrod, flowering marjoram, Queen Anne's lace, and crown vetch. Today, the artfully undisciplined garden stretches down to Islington Bay. "The meadow starts out the season very purple and blue, and changes throughout the summer—the flowers turn more yellow and golden as the season goes on," Wurtzburger adds. "It's such a thrilling show."
The Dining Room
It was this kaleidoscopic parade of nature that prompted, at least in part, the idea of renovating the midcentury lake house. "We wanted to open up the house to its natural setting and have more access to fresh air, which is a big part of why we come up here," says Bentley. With the help of Wurtzburger's college roommate-turned-interior architect, Mary Finn Wood, the couple set out to better connect the cottage to the outdoors and, in doing so, to take it back to its natural elements—wood, stucco, glass, and rock.
To bring in more sunlight, the team installed larger windows along the front of the house and lined the water side with French doors, creating both a visual and practical connection among the deck, bedrooms, and newly created great room. By joining the once-petite living and dining rooms, they created an open, 25- by 35-foot lake-facing living area. Lighter finishes throughout—such as pale gray painted floors and ivory beadboard ceilings—reflect sunlight and brighten the rooms.
They also painted the natural stone fireplace white, and both the front and back doors to the cottage bright yellow. "I just couldn't resist the optimism the color conveyed," says Wurtzburger with a laugh before adding, "You know, a colleague told me that a yellow front door means there will be intelligent and lively conversation inside. And I just loved that."
The sunny kitchen doors are painted Viking Yellow by Benjamin Moore.
In the kitchen, new wood cabinetry, stained to mimic the weathered patina of their dock, stretches along the width of the room, and large casement windows bring in plenty of fresh lake air. A large antler chandelier hangs above the island. "Chris is always picking up antlers at the markets we visit, and they are kind of a "thing" here locally,'" Wurtzburger says. "We especially like them mixed with the more modern elements of our cottage, like the linear cabinetry hardware and metal counter stools."
The Living Room
For all of the sculpture and drawings, artifacts and textiles that she seeks out and collects, you might say this is her art form: the mixing of styles and provenance, the curating of curiosities into rooms as personal and original as the artwork inside them. "When Chris first brought me up here, I remember loving how the history, the collections in every cottage were different," says Wurtzburger. "There was a time-warp quality to them—the feeling you get from staying in a room full of historic photos, the varied mem-orabilia, even the simplicity of playing a game of cards by the lake in front of the fire. This was all wonderfully familiar to me." Here, above her own fireplace is an unusual fish painting Christopher's parents picked up in an Oregon gallery—"It reminds us of the indigenous, loose-hand art that we see around Ontario," says Wurtzburger. Beyond the hearth, a cozy assemblage of shaggy Moroccan rugs, delightfully weathered antiques, and framed photography mingles with found objects.
An animated gallery wall in the living room features pieces by artist friends and relatives, including a floral oil by noted Tennessee painter Marjorie Liebman, who is owner Wendy Wurtzburger's late aunt. The coffee table top is an antique boat hatch.
On the opposite side of the room is a wall of wooden bookshelves where Bentley displays his collection of bird decoys (he's been collecting them since he was a boy), local and Southern pottery, and a persimmon floral painting.
Owner Christopher Bentley has been collecting duck decoys since childhood; the painting is a local flea market find.
The Master Bedroom
In the master bedroom, hanging behind a curvy wrought-iron bed, is a collection of framed botanicals passed down from the original owner of the house—the nature-loving gardener who planted the meadow—surrounding a vivid blue seascape painting that the couple found in the attic. On the bed, among colorful textiles that mimic the look of tie-dyed fabrics, is a graphic white duvet cover from Wurtzburger's own line, Roar + Rabbit, launched this spring for West Elm. "I feel like I can be extremely creative here because I am so at peace at the lake," she says. "I really love mixing art and nature, and there's so much to stir the imagination here."
The Guest Bedroom
The Lake Landscape
Indeed, the watery landscape is ripe with inspiration. "Everything feels a bit simpler, and yet there's so much to discover—the interesting history, the local art, the fascinating people," says Wurtzburger. "Chris and I feel wonderful mental clarity here. It's our favorite part of the world."