Second Life

A lakefront cottage in Huron, Ohio, is reborn as a year-round residence.
Chris Keener had dreamed of making her family’s lakefront vacation getaway a permanent address ever since she and her management-consultant husband Steve bought the place almost two decades ago. Trouble was, the 1926 colonial — one of the earliest structures built in the historic Huron, Ohio, resort community of Mitawanga — simply wasn’t habitable during the winter months.

 “It was a cottage,” stresses the 58-year-old silversmith, jewelry designer (she works under the name Crystal Moon) and co-owner of Gestures, a shop in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River. “It had no foundation, no insulation, no heat. We had to turn the plumbing off, drain all the pipes. There weren’t walls — it was all bead board.”

Nevertheless, the idea became increasingly appealing after the younger of the Keeners’ two daughters graduated from high school and they began looking to
 downsize from their Rocky River home. Their Mitawanga neighbor, Jess Oster of Lakewood, Ohio-based general contractor Oster Services, quoted costs that made tearing down the cottage and building a three-story split-shingled Dutch colonial designed by Rocky River architect Rex Gilliland financially viable — but only if Chris stuck to a strict budget in finishing and furnishing the interiors.

 “I had to get kind of creative,” she says. “I couldn’t just go to XYZ and pick out fixtures or flooring. Somehow, I had to pare it down so that we could do this. We spent a lot of time just looking for products and sourcing out products that were going to fit within the budget, but yet stand up to the level of the house. That was really, actually, part of the fun of it.”

Chris literally began her cost-cutting from the ground up by purchasing her flooring from Clarky’s Closeouts, a business located in two pole barns behind a house in Warren, Ohio. The drive she and Jess made to the northeastern corner of the state yielded top-quality, off-white tile used to floor J.C. Penney stores. Much to Chris’s surprise, it matched the background of the blue nautical-compass inlay she had picked up on eBay 15 years ago and planned to put in the entry hall. More importantly, she scored ¾-inch hardwoods — hickory for the pale-blue master bedroom, gray maple for Steve’s pale-green office, whitewashed oak for the aqua guest room.

“In the budget, we had carpet for the bedrooms,” she says proudly. “But I was able to get hardwood because it came from Clarky’s.”

Chris then relied on estate-sale, flea-market, thrift-store and online finds to create the look of a home that had stood since the 1920s. Tin ceiling tiles replaced the typical ceramic or glass used in kitchen backsplashes; a couple of the cottage’s ceiling fans and a pendant fixture — a light that originally hung in a school where Chris’s mother worked — were reused on the first floor. The icy blue guest bath owes its early 20th-century charm to the ornate base of a vintage sewing-machine stand that Jess converted into a marble-topped vanity and a deep cast-iron apron tub Chris had refinished.

 “I wanted a big soaking tub,” she explains. “New ones are really, really expensive.”

Most of the house’s furnishings were culled from the artful hodgepodge of antique and vintage pieces that once filled the Keener cottage and primary residence, everything from a general-store sewing-thread cabinet repurposed as a living-area end table to a ’70s fondue table elevated to proper dining height by adding longer legs. The most notable exception is the wall of built-in bunk beds Jess constructed in the guest room, an arrangement consisting of two double beds on the bottom and two twin beds on top. Each level of mattresses is divided by an integrated nightstand.

“I didn’t want to have a million beds, even though I did have a million beds when we tore down the cottage,” Chris explains. “This is such a space-saver."

Chris did splurge on some items. Garrettsville, Ohio, cabinetmaker Ken Bender constructed custom kitchen cabinetry in a mix of woods and finishes. A 90-degree angle of white-painted cupboards, some with glass-fronted doors that display Chris’s collection of pottery and jadeite, contrasts nicely with a gray granite-topped island of hand-hewn maple bearing the mineralized scars of multiple sap taps. The nearby wet bar was built of maple culled from fallen trees pulled from a pond. Jess explains that prolonged immersion in water yielded the distinctive funky grain of spalded wood.

 “I didn’t want everything to match,” Chris explains — a philosophy that extended to the selection of everything from decorative hardware to lighting fixtures.

More indulgences can be found in the light-gray master bath, which boasts a linear-tile double shower with river-stone floor and quartz-topped vanity with his-and-hers sinks. The living area features a fireplace faced in manufactured stone that replicates the granite river-stone counterpart the Keeners so enjoyed in the cottage, right down to its location in the floor plan. The process proved cheaper than Chris’s initial idea of using the original stone.

“To remove the stones, clean them and prepare them for being re-laid, it’s very cost-prohibitive,” Jess says.

The home is designed so the Keeners don’t have to move again. A stack of first-, second- and third-floor closets can be turned into an elevator shaft if climbing steps ever becomes too difficult. Chris’s studio, which takes up the entire third floor, is plumbed for a full bath and equipped with a Murphy bed to accommodate additional overnight guests. She notes that Steve’s office — a space distinguished by a sliding barn door at the entrance — could be turned into another guest room.

“But this house was really built for how we live, for my husband and I,” she adds.