Everything falls into place at a Lake Superior log home

Story by Linda Vaccariello

Photography by Roger Wade

Styled by Debra Grahl

Some people struggle to find the perfect spot for their log home. But that wasn’t the case for these home owners. They knew exactly where the ideal location would be because they were already enjoying it.

For many years, the couple lived in Marquette, Michigan, and also owned a summer home north of the city on the shore of Lake Superior. When they found themselves spending more and more timecommuting back and forth to the lake they loved so much, they decided to make the site of their summer home the setting for their lives year-round.

It’s no wonder they chose to relocate full-time to this area. The property they own is located in Middle Island Point, a summer camp community that dates back 100 years. The log home overlooks Lake Superior’s Partridge Bay and Partridge Island, and the long beachfront affords a view of the area’s scenic landmarks, including Sugar Loaf Mountain.

But living at the site year-round meant building a new home, something more spacious and comfortable than the charming but closed-in house they’d been using. And that’s how the monumental project began. “It took two years to design and 18 months to build,” the home owner says.

The couple wanted something that would be appropriate for the natural setting. Plus, they needed to choose a rustic material and simple style, in keeping with the neighborhood association’s guidelines. Looking at magazines and scouting homes in the area, they got excited about the possibility of having a combination log and stone house.

The next decision the home owners had to make was selecting half or whole logs for their home’s walls. They liked the full-log look outside, but they had other considerations, too. Winters are rough by the lake, and they wanted optimal heat retention. And even though they liked the look of logs outside, because this would be their year-round home, they wanted interior walls that were more sophisticated and would allow more decorating options. Finally, the home owners felt that most of the full-log homes they saw were boxy, and they envisioned a style with interesting angles and more architectural details. For these reasons, the home owners decided that they would build with half logs attached to conventional stud framing.

They chose Wilderness Log Homes of Plymouth, Wisconsin, to supply the logs. “It’s a company that’s done a lot of half-log homes in our area, homes that we found attractive,” the owner says. It took two years to design the house–since there was a perfectionist at work. The husband, a physician, did the sketches himself, sending drawings back and forth to the designers at Wilderness, reworking details as the plan evolved.

Because of neighborhood restrictions, the couple was limited to a structure that could not be more than 24 feet above grade at the highest point on the property. The neighborhood association also established the way the house would face. “Basically, they gave me the footprint of the house,” the home owner says. Inside that footprint, the owners had some clear ideas about what the home would look like–light, spacious and sophisticated, with interesting materials and some dramatic architectural features.

It was challenging, admits Emily Mahlock, a customer representative at Wilderness Log Homes. “They wanted a design that was pretty from the lake side as well as the drive-in side. And inside, the owner wanted the stairway to be the focal point,” Emily says. “He really worked hard to make it different.”

Once the plans were finalized, Wilderness designers drafted the final blueprints and then produced the logs for the 4,369-square-foot home, delivering them to the site after the foundation was prepared.

When the half-logs were delivered–before they were applied to the frame of the house–really was the only time strangers could tell that the house wasn’t full log. “The house is framed like a conventional home, with the logs applied to the exterior,” Emily says. “These are pine half-logs with full Swedish cope corners, and you really can’t tell that it isn’t full log.”

Builder Jack Piirala of Marquette served as general contractor for the project, and the couple has nothing but praise for all the subcontractors who had a hand in this house. Folks who visit the couple from Chicago and the West Coast are impressed by the workmanship of the local craftspeople. “They did extraordinarily high-quality work,” the home owner says.

The house combines the great room and dining room as an open space. “We do a lot of en
tertaining, and it’s wonderful for that,” the home owner says. A limestone fireplace anchors one end of the dining area. “Having a hearth was very important,” the home owner says, but his pride and joy is the elegant staircase, with its curving baluster that serves as the focal point on the first floor. It was made out of birdseye maple and cherry by cabinetmaker Armand Gollanek of Munising. Another unusual wood use is the arched interior doors with glowing centers of bark pocket maple, crafted by Al Taylor of Taylor Made Furniture.

“I wanted some degree of down-home unpretentiousness, but I didn’t want it to look hokey,” the home owner says. Throughout the house, the striking materials used in provocative ways accomplish that end. The kitchen, for example, is separated from the rest of the house by a series of stone-framed arches. Subcontractor Terry Gilfoy completed the tilework and handsome oak and marble flooring seen throughout the house.

Another room tailor-made for entertaining is the kitchen. “Everybody is always in the kitchen when you’re having a party,” the home owner says, “and it’s hard to have people standing around an island and still have room to cook.” The couple came up with the idea for the double islands. The work sides of each island face one another, leaving room for people to congregate at the perimeter and not get in the way of the cooks.

The home has a first-floor master suite, plus two bedroom suites on the second floor. They’re self-contained so that the couple’s grown children and guests can be comfortable during long visits. Separating the two suites is an airy library and reading room, closed off by etched-glass double doors but affording a view across the lofty living room to the landscape beyond. “It gives you a tremendous sense of space,” the home owner says, “and it’s quiet even during a blizzard.”

The house, like many homes in the area, was designed with two front entrances–one on the lake and one inland. The owner explains that in the summer, people are on the beach, on the water and walking along the bluffs. So when friends drop in, they generally walk in from the lake side. In the winter, they’re driving and coming in off the road.

Whichever way guests enter, they’re in for a surprise. “When people see the outside and then go inside, there’s a disconnection,” the home owner says. “They expect that the rustic, neo-wilderness sensibility will continue inside.” The surprise is exactly what the owners planned.

Log producer: Wilderness Log Homes
Built-ins, bookshelves and paneling:
Al Taylor
Chinking:Sashco Sealants
Doors:Therma-Tru Corp.
General contractor:Piirala Builders
Glass doors and library transom:Glass Artistry Inc.
Kitchen and master bathroom knobs: Natural Knobs
Kitchen cabinetry:Schwalbach Kitchens Custom Design
Kitchen sink and faucet:Kohler Co.
Masonry: Andy Griffin Construction Inc.
Range:Viking Range Corp.
Refrigerator:Sub-Zero Freezer Co.
Stain:Sikkens by Akzo Nobel Coatings
Stairway, balcony, railings: Northern Sun Woodworks
Windows:Hurd Millwork Co.

For more information, see Resources.


Andy Griffin Construction Inc., 518 Riverside Road, Marquette MI 49855; 906-249-3510

Glass Artistry Inc., 1665 Old Skokie Road, Highland Park IL 60035

Hurd Millwork Co.,575 S. Whelen Ave., Medford WI 54451; 800-433-4873

Kohler Co., 444 Highland Drive, Kohler WI 53044; 800-456-4537

Natural Knobs, 4712 Mangrove Point Road, Bradenton FL 34210; 941-795-0660

Northern Sun Woodworks/Armen Gollanek,N7475 Miners Castle Road, Munising MI 49862; 906-387-4082  

Piirala Builders, 2049 Granite, Marquette MI 49855; 906-226-3382

Sashco Sealants, 10300 E. 107th Place, Brighton CO 80601; 800-767-5656

Schwalbach Kitchens Custom Design, 500 N. Third St., Marquette MI 49855; 906-228-3232

Sikkens by Akzo Nobel Coatings, P.O. Box 7062, 1845 Maxwell, Troy MI 48007; 800-833-7288

Sub-Zero Freezer Co., P.O. Box 44130, M
adison WI 53744; 800-222-7820

Al Taylor,2905 Wright St., Marquette MI 49855; 906-226-2641

Therma-Tru Corp., 1687 Woodlands Drive, Maumee OH 43537; 800-537-8827

Viking Range Corp.,111 Front St., Greenwood MS 38930; 601-455-1200

Wilderness Log Homes, P.O. Box 902, Plymouth WI 53073; 800-237-8564; www.thewildernesscompany.com