For many Michigan leisure seekers, seasonal stays and scenic settings often go hand in hand. Such is the case for Catherine “Cahssey” Augenstein, who has spent summers on Gun Lake in Middleville since she was a kid. Now, she and her husband, Don, who currently live in Cleveland, have their own special getaway for memories to be made — a custom cottage that embodies past, present and future. Situated on the Hastings Point peninsula adjacent to the Yankee Springs Recreation Area, their new build has an added perk with her siblings next door and their dad two doors down in houses that have been in their family for generations.
Guided by Cahssey’s personal ties to the area, she and Don acquired the original cottage on their property when it became available in 2004 and where they lived until 2016. When it came time to rebuild, however, they had a hard time seeing past what they had. Cahssey credited Mathison | Mathison Architects in Grand Rapids with nudging them to another level. “They helped us expand our thoughts, and now, it’s a very comfortable place,” said Cahssey, who also worked with builder Dale Deverman. “It feels so open, and it really brings in the surrounding beauty.”
The more the merrier
Though their new 2,200-square-foot home has a modern aesthetic, the unique structure exudes a classic cottage feel that welcomes all who enter. With four grown children and a total of 16 cousins in the mix, the quaint location offers the ultimate gathering spot for the couple and their extended family. “It really has become the place where we see each other throughout the year,” she said.
With only nine cottages on the point, multigenerational dwellings are typical in the tight-knit community where staying connected to their neighbors remained a priority. The original home was oriented toward the road, and everyone would sit on the porch and greet passersby. Now, a wraparound deck spans three sides of the distinctive dwelling, with a wider section on the side reserved for al fresco meals that lure the locals. “We enjoyed being the welcoming committee, so we still wanted it to feel open for people to stop by,” Cahssey said.
Low-maintenance living also made the list for their new digs. “We wanted it to be pretty easy to manage and functional, not fussy,” she said about the house they hope to pass on to their children, and where cork floors stand up to dog claws. “It’s quiet with kids and easy on the feet.” In the kitchen, comforting robin’s egg blue cabinets have a retro effect while Formica countertops contribute to the casual vibe. A storage closet with a stackable washer and dryer provides an efficient area nearby. Wood accents like the walnut that tops the kitchen bar and the shelving in the living area lend warmth to the peaceful surroundings.
The main floor layout features sweeping views of the water from the big, open space dotted with contents that have sentimental value like family heirloom furniture and paintings by Cahssey’s mother, who was an artist. A pair of vintage Green Stamps chairs provide the perfect perch to admire the lake. “We sit there all the time,” she said.
A wide staircase to the second story features Danish wool carpet and a walnut railing. The cedar ceiling above envelops the cozy landing, claimed by the cat, that leads to lake-facing bedrooms with built-in storage. As Cahssey explained, “We only have four bedrooms because we have the overflow of the house next door. Everybody’s used to finding an open bed.” High ceilings can accommodate bunk beds for future grandkids.
Horizontal siding softens the exterior, which blends effortlessly with the setting. According to Evan Mathison — co-founder and principal of Mathison | Mathison Architects with his father, Tom — the original house was in poor condition, so they made way for a custom home that would suit today’s lakefront lifestyle.
“We wanted to play with more modern materials and finishes … with an orientation that aligned with everything else on the point,” Mathison said.
The rich family history in the area was an integral part of the design process. “They have a family value system that’s very authentic,” Mathison added. “The form of the house represents that value system, with a modern twist.”
The home is a fairly narrow building with glass on three sides. A gabled roof joins deep overhangs that fit the waterfront setting. The horizontal flat roof was their interpretation of a wraparound porch on a traditional house, where the roof form is meant to mimic the line of the lake. Perched high above the water, the outdoor threshold for gathering and relaxing was oriented the long way on the lake, to take advantage of the view.
The threshold overlooking the lake includes an expansive wood deck and a screened porch. Triple-pane windows and doors include a 20-foot lift-and-slide system that expands the modest footprint. The home also has an unfinished basement that can accommodate kayaks and a wood-retaining wall along the concrete stairs leading to the house from the lakeside.
The fact that the deck floats a little on the landing highlights the depth of the covered porch and the sophisticated outdoor rooms. “We completely reoriented the new building with remnants of the old building, and it’s so efficient with insulated foam walls,” said Mathison, who connected with the couple after they searched online for green architects. The home heats and cools quite easily, he said. A self-sufficient biofuel fireplace requires no venting or flue, and a geothermal open-loop system pulls in water from the ground.
The flat roof also contains black river pebbles and a green section with sedums. Cutouts provide natural light to the outdoor space below.
All together now
“They wanted a home that was easy and open and comfortable. It reflects their life,” Mathison said. “From the street, it’s very tidy and clean and simple. I love that dichotomy.”
The laidback lifestyle at the lake keeps the couple and their kids coming back to their casual cottage, where Cahssey loves to cook for her active family, who enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking. While pontoon and ski boats are shared with other kin, Don, who loves to sail, has a Hobie Cat. Other popular pastimes include walks with their dogs, cross-country skiing, and yoga on the deck when all the cousins are there.
“We go there to get away, relax, and entertain,” Cahssey said.
Originally published in the 2020 Cottages issue of Michigan BLUE Magazine.
Jeanine Matlow is a Detroit-based writer and regular contributor who loves writing about homes and cottages.