Hydrangeas, black-eyed Susans, day lilies, and sweet autumn clematis surround the garden shed; hidden under the arbor at right is an outdoor shower.
From the moment Mark Pfleger laid eyes on Beech Run, he was a goner.
Located on a winding country road in Buchanan, Michigan, the bucolic three-and-a-half-acre property overlooks the rolling hills of a local winery, providing views more akin to California’s Sonoma Valley than typical Midwestern farmland. "It’s the sort of thing where you don’t want to appear too excited, because we hadn’t even agreed on a price," Pfleger recalls. "There were the unbelievable, mature Chardonnay grapes of Tabor Hill vineyards right there and this 150-year-old beech tree. We were like, ‘We don’t even need to see the house.’"
Many of the home’s furnishings were ordered through Lovell & Whyte in nearby Lakeside, including the hand-finished map table that serves as a coffee table. Just beyond the French doors is an expansive deck with a built-in swimming pool.
Pfleger, vice president and national client manager for a management-services company in Chicago, bought the place in 2001. Working part of the week in the city and part at Beech Run, he says, has brought balance to what used to be an all-consuming career. His longtime partner, Jim Kershner, works in the city and has a condo there; he joins Pfleger in Michigan on weekends. Renovating homes clearly is a creative outlet for the couple; they’ve rehabbed at least ten properties together.
Beech Run was built in 1983 as part of a cluster of homes meant to evoke an old New England neighborhood. Named in honor of the three mature beech trees standing sentry at the front of the property, the house is a classic Cape Cod, its design based on plans from the archives of Country Living magazine. At the time Pfleger bought Beech Run, it had excellent bones and some lovely flourishes, such as 100-year-old salvaged-pine floors throughout the downstairs. But it also had a decidedly unfinished feel. "Parts of it didn’t have a coat of paint, just primer on the walls," Pfleger says. "It needed a new roof. None of the landscaping, none of the stonework was here."
Pfleger and Kershner love to entertain large groups, so one of the first orders of business was to update the kitchen. Working with Doug GeBraad and Jim Fitzmaurice, owners of Lovell & Whyte in Lakeside, Michigan, they came up with a plan to improve traffic flow and accommodate an oversized six-burner Thermador stove and grill. Where the previous owner had a table, a narrow freestanding island now serves both as a place to congregate over cocktails and as a buffet. New white paneled cabinets and marble countertops give the room an appropriately traditional feel, as does one of the home’s most charming original details: a fireplace made with salvaged bricks and a limestone hearth set flush to the floor.
Rustic antique-market finds mingle with newer pieces throughout the house. An old jelly cabinet in the dining area stores china, while the table is made from reclaimed barn wood.
Just beyond the kitchen, Pfleger converted a screened-in porch to a four-season TV room (and occasional guest quarters) by adding wood floors, ductwork, and casement windows with drop-down screens. The original wainscoting on the porch walls inspired the addition of wainscoting to the ceiling in the adjoining living room, an open, airy space that runs the width of the house.
The two sets of French doors in the living room were original, but the view they offered of a small deck and a white picket fence that enclosed the house, along with large swaths of mud and weeds, was uninspiring. Given that most of the property’s acreage is to the rear of the house, removing the fence opened up ample space to replace the little deck with a huge one, and even to install a swimming pool in it. Built on the same level as the living room floor, the new deck feels like a natural extension of the house.
Pfleger also had a large picture window installed between the doors overlooking the deck. "It’s pleasant to open the French doors in the summer and barbecue outside, open a bottle of wine, and jump in the pool," he says. "At night the pool is lit up, it’s blue, it’s pretty-who wants to have it 40 feet away?"
Tucked upstairs are two bedroom suites, each with a full bath. Unbelievably, neither of the bedrooms had a single window overlooking the view of Tabor Hill. Building dormers on both rooms not only added interest architecturally but also dramatically increased the amount of natural light streaming in.
A favorite destination of Pfleger’s young nephews is the antique trunk to the right of the bed in the guest room, where he stores a collection of board games saved from his childhood.
Window seats built into the dormers provide cozy nooks for reading and enjoying the scenery-which now includes gardens designed by Ruth Semones of the Root Seller in nearby Baroda, Michigan. "I always had a green thumb, but she really taught me how important it is to stick with stuff that belongs in the area," Pfleger says. "I love hibiscus, but it’s not going to survive here."
The grounds of Beech Run have become a series of outdoor rooms, with antique statuary and artist-made birdhouses nestled among the greenery. In front, limestone retaining walls spill over with hostas, ferns, coral bells, and pachysandra, while native grasses, rhododendrons, and oak-leaf hydrangeas cover the lower part of the hill. The tall plants across the bottom of the slope effectively hide the road, so that from the bluestone terrace in front of the house-a favorite spot for morning coffee and meals-Beech Run appears to flow seamlessly into the hills across the way.
Meandering from the terrace back through the gardens, a sandstone path leads to a lovely pool house. On one side is an outdoor shower, screened from view by a thicket of sweet autumn clematis. "In September, when I take showers here, the smell is heavenly," says Pfleger of his preferred warm-weather bathing spot.
"The energy is just very special. . . . This place is sacred."
Down the path toward the back of the property is the most recent addition, a fire pit that evokes Pfleger’s scouting days. "This is my half–Cub Scout, half-Zen fire pit," he says. "I have fond memories of camping in northern Michigan, sitting with friends around the campfire and toasting marshmallows. My idea was to have a place where friends and family could gather and talk and tell ghost stories. You can also meditate down here; I love to just sit and look at this clearing."
Though Pfleger and Kershner are feeling the itch to renovate another place, Pfleger says that it’s entirely possible they may never leave Beech Run. "We could retire here," he says. "The energy is just very special, up on the hill with this tree sort of protecting it. This place is sacred."
For information on resources, see Buyer’s Guide.
Photography by Nathan Kirkman, Styling by Arden Nelson