FGH Architects’ Traditional Vacation Home with a Modern Twist

THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE: Classic architecture gets a modern twist while staying true to its Midwestern roots

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The traditional T-shaped farmhouse (another wing protrudes from the back on the left side) is connected by a loggia to a three-car garage; Jeff Harting and John Toniolo’s vintage vehicles include Floyd, a 1959 Chevy Apache pickup with whitewall tires. Off the west side of the house are small vegetable and herb gardens and a shed. See more photos in the gallery below.
 

For five years, architects Jeff Harting and John Toniolo owned a cottage in a community of them in Union Pier, Michigan, and they spent most of that time plotting their next move.

Once they’d found the ideal lot—two and a half acres in Three Oaks, wooded and private, yet not so secluded that they would have to “drive 20 miles for a gallon of milk,” says Harting—they set to work designing the ideal house for themselves and their 12-year-old daughter. They wanted something that was different from their neighbors’ homes, a modern retooling of a classic Midwestern farmhouse.

“We kept returning to that simple design, with a T shape, but we avoided being too literal,” says Harting. They chose black-framed windows and continuous white-stained horizontal cedar cladding, forgoing traditional vertical trim at the corners. They also opted to do without an old-school attached front porch, creating instead a detached loggia that connects the protruding west wing of the house (where the front door is) to the garage on the east end.

Yet another twist: The roof of the loggia is covered with plantings, “so when you look out the windows from the second floor, you don’t just see metal,” Harting says.

Peering through the front windows of the living room offers its own thrill—a matching set of windows on the opposite side of the room reveals the woods beyond. From every vantage point, the house is only one room deep, with facing windows used to create a sense of transparency. Playing on this inside-outside idea, the architects brought key exterior materials indoors: The white-stained cedar siding appears on interior accent walls; galvanized steel pipe on the loggia columns shows up on stairwell railings in the foyer.

With its white walls and the matching cabinets and hardware in the kitchen and bathrooms, this house is low on bells and whistles, high on simplicity. “We were looking to unify, not to have this color paint in one room, this wallpaper in another,” says Harting. “The idea was that the architecture itself would be the artwork,” Toniolo adds.

Which is not to say the decorating—including the artwork—wasn’t well thought out. Harting spent months searching online for the right painting to hang above the fireplace, one that would match the serenity of the house, and found it through a gallery in Russia. Antique cast-metal kitchenware on the coffee table was chosen for its “geometry and simplicity”; modern high-back chairs by the fireplace “are reminiscent of wing chairs,” he says. “They’re traditional without being expected.”

Ultimately, a sense of reminiscence was central to this project. As the house was being built, Harting realized he’d been inspired all along by his grandparents’ 1820s farmhouse in Ohio. “I was there once or twice a week growing up,” he says.

There’s just something about a farmhouse that seems to evoke good memories. And if you can design your own take on one, so much the better.

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Photograph: Nathan Kirkman
Styling: Diane Ewing

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