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Bluff House

A place for gathering, respite, and retreat.

Overlooking Lake Michigan, the Bluff House site was in rough shape: unkempt and overgrown with invasive plant material, bluff sheet piling failing and a 80’ rise of beach stairs in need of replacement. But the view was worth it.

Contrasting with the general expectation of a multi-floor “lake house” with expansive views from every room to the water, the owners desired a more modest approach—radically, a single floor house—an intimate, warm, acoustically-tuned instrument that plays differently to two different audiences:  the community to the west and the lake to the east.

Through a singular gesture, a low-sloping roof moves from intimate understatement from the street towards an elevated, uplifting panoramic view of the sublime Lake Michigan.

On the public western face — approached by vehicle or on foot— bluestone pavers wind through the landscaped entry court protected from the lake winds. Its public-facing window-screen with wood infill compositionally breaks down any sense of formality as one arrives at the entrance door. In contrast, the private eastern facade opens to the lake with an expansive glass wall, angled to follow the bluff and shoreline. This angle in plan, coupled with the rising roof plane, provides a constant, subtle elevation of the interior volume in the public rooms, simultaneously assisting with sound dissipation.

The couple lives on one level, where the lake view is foregrounded for daily social interactions. All non-social elements (i.e. bedrooms) retreat from it, with much of the supporting program dropped below grade to emphasize modesty. A seven foot high datum is struck off the main floor, as a way to scale down the living spaces below and to uplight and read more clearly the lift-off of the roof above. Low-maintenance materials of stucco/plaster, dark bronze, and oiled Ipe clad the exterior walls, windows, and doors, while inside, warm materials of white oak floors unfold underfoot and around a central skylit stair living spaces revolve around.

A site restored, a roof plane is set. Under which two people share their lives–and this place–with others. They say they never want to leave.

General Contractor: Bulley & Andrews
Structural Engineer: Enspect Engineering
Landscape Architect: Mariani Landscape
Owner’s Rep: Rotholz LLC
Lighting Design: Lux Populi
Interior Design: Karen Rish Design
Photography: Tom Rossiter