A Modernist Lakeside House Designed For a Big Family

midcentury inspired lake house in Michigan

Roscommon is a low-key village located in the state of Michigan, equipped with nature attractions such as hiking, bird watching and snowshoeing among other outdoor activities. The Higgins Lake House by Jeff Jordan Architects is a hidden gem, tucked away by the lakeside. 

The beautiful, spacious cottage is a cosy getaway, designed to host a large family plus many friends – there is enough room for twenty people to spend the night. 

With a spacious quarters meant for cooking, eating and relaxing, the unique lake house is the ideal getaway for a large family and friends. We caught up with the architects of the house to learn more about the details of the project.

midcentury inspired lake house in Michigan - exterior front

Which part/s of a new project excite(s) you the most? 

We love getting to know our clients and their needs as well as beginning to understand the nuances of the project’s location, whether it be an undeveloped site or an existing building.

What are the emerging trends in residential architecture that will shape our way of living in the next ten years? 

Residential architecture somehow seems to exist in the past and future simultaneously.  In some ways, our homes have evolved very little over the centuries as they serve our most fundamental needs. 

Whether it is how we listen to music in our homes or where the energy comes from to turn on the lights, the relatively diminutive scale of a house and the associated low cost of implementing changes makes a home the ideal place to experiment.

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Can you tell us a bit about the story of this house/project and its owners? 

This house was actually designed and built for my parents who are now retired. They had been searching for a getaway on a lake somewhere in northern Michigan. 

They found a wonderful, west-facing lot on the famously clear and beautiful Higgins Lake, but it had a wreck of a house on it.  When they decided to take down the old house and build something new, they contacted me with a very clear mandate: the house has to be big enough to fit our entire large family for week long stays in the summer and winter while not feeling like a vacant hotel the rest of the time when they are there alone.  

midcentury inspired lake house in Michigan - terrace
midcentury inspired lake house in Michigan - living room

Due to the large size of the cottage, what were the major obstacles to overcome, and how did you hurdle them? 

Given our office location in the New York metropolitan area, most of our projects are on small sites or within buildings with extreme spatial limitations.

This house represented a departure from the usual spatial constraints, but posed new ones with its scale. For one, the house needed to be big enough to comfortably fit four to six families for week long stays while not feeling cavernous the rest of the time, when it was just the two owners. 

The other challenge was that the neighboring houses are all modest summer cabins and we didn’t want to dwarf the neighbors. Our solution was to extend the volume back from the lake lengthwise (as opposed to exposing more of the house to the lake widthwise), break the volume apart with courtyards and to partially submerge four of the six bedrooms below grade. 

This had the desired effect of making the house seem smaller, as viewed from the lake and neighboring homes, as well as moving nearly half of the square footage below the primary living spaces so it didn’t feel lonely when those bedrooms weren’t occupied.

How important was the contribution of your parents? 

My Mom simply wanted enough room to encourage everyone to visit regularly. My Dad had built houses previously and knew the process very well and knew what was important and what wasn’t. 

They essentially entrusted the design to me and let me operate as I thought appropriate, knowing that I was not only looking out for their interests, but also my own as someone who would bring his family there on a regular basis. 

Being able to visit one of your projects regularly is a powerful motivator for good design. Especially when your family is happy to share their opinions.

When it came time for decor and to styling the house, I wanted to make sure I would be able to display all the midcentury goodies I have been collecting for years. Michael and I wanted the home to look and feel comfortable, and reflect who we are and what we love, but not kitschy. 

midcentury inspired lake house in Michigan - living room
midcentury inspired lake house in Michigan - exterior

What was your approach for the project?  

Our approach was to keep things as simple as possible while providing comfortable spaces with a strong connection to the surrounding woods and lake. The lake itself is so dynamic with it’s constantly changing colors and activity that the house really needs to play a supporting role.

Something that struck as important for your parents was that the space can be shared with many friends and a large family. 

Which is your favourite feature of this house and why?  

The easy choice would be the large, open living space with its view across the lake, but I love how deceptively nice the bedrooms feel. 

Most first time guests are surprised to find out that the “basement” bedrooms actually have more windows and light than their own bedrooms at home. And depending on which room you are staying in, those large windows give you a great view of the lake, a private view of a landscaped courtyard or the full glory of the morning sun.

midcentury inspired lake house in Michigan - side view

The living room is seamlessly connected to the outdoors through its floor to ceiling windows and the materials used for walls, ceiling and floor. What’s the inspiration here?*

We really wanted to make it feel like you are outdoors even when inside (and in northern Michigan, you are inside much of the year).  

Extending the windows wall to wall and floor to ceiling helps, but the trick here was to bring the wood siding into the living room and the wood floor and ceiling out to the deck and deep overhangs. That helps create the feeling that you are outside among the trees while you sit comfortably by the fire.

midcentury inspired lake house in Michigan - exterior night
Photos by Steven Dewall