Some folks like to mix business with pleasure, but for this rural Michigan family of five, time at their timber frame home is no work and all play.

Story by Amy Laughinghouse
Photography by Roger Wade

Juggling work with family life can be tough for even the most organized, detail-driven of us. But when you work for a family-owned business, it gets even tougher. “There’s no such thing as a vacation,” according to Joe Johnson, a private investor whose get-togethers with extended family frequently turn into impromptu business meetings. With three young children and a demanding schedule, Joe and his wife Jill began plotting a second home where they could escape the rigors of the work-a-day world.

“We wanted a place where just my wife and children and I could be together,” Joe says.

After a lengthy search, the Johnsons purchased 160 acres of wetlands and rolling woodlands. Their next step was to enlist Mark Melchi and Ron Thomas, principal architects at Archetype Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to find a suitable building site on their newfound acreage. They created an approach from a gently undulating gravel road to a winding hillside driveway that threads its way through pasture and woodland before finally revealing the house. Given this pristine woodland setting, a timber frame seemed the natural choice.

The professional team gradually expanded to include Connie Seiser, project coordinator at Riverbend Timber Framing in Blissfield, Michigan, and Tim Powell, owner of Handcrafted Homes Inc., a high-end custom-home builder based in Saline, Michigan.

Model of Success

The final product, completed over a span of 10 months, is a 3,900-square-foot, three-bedroom, four-bath timber frame, enclosed in Riverbend’s energy-efficient Insulspan panels. A metal roof and window casings and cedar shingles and siding are easy to maintain. Other touches – a ladder to their boy’s bedroom loft, a Juliet-style balcony overlooking the great room from their daughter’s bedroom – add whimsy.

But for all of the home’s character, the most fanciful feature is the tower, accessed by a spiral staircase. “That’s the place to sit, because you have a 360-degree view, and you can see for more than half a mile,” Joe says. “It’s like a tree house.” He keeps a pair of binoculars handy to spy on the wildlife—fox, coyote, deer and birds of all kinds, including the giant sand hill cranes for which the Johnsons named their home.