Fixer-upper in Michiana Shores creates serendipity

2013-05-13T00:00:00Z Fixer-upper in Michiana Shores creates serendipityJulie Dean Kessler nwitimes.com
May 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

From the first step inside this home, you can feel the energy – a vibrancy reflecting the couple who live here. Their renovation of this “fixer-upper” in Michiana Shores, Ind., was clearly driven by fearless imagination.

After countless visits with friends along the Lake Michigan shoreline, Laura Forecki and Lynette Emmons, from Chicago and northwest Indiana, finally said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a place up here?”

The place turned out to be an 800-square-foot home with one bedroom, one bath, “in horrific condition” when they bought it in 2000, says Laura. “Friends asked us, what were we thinking?”

“But we saw this bag of bones and we jumped right in,” finishes Lynette.

Which pretty much expresses the couple’s approach to challenges. With intense research and a whole lot of elbow grease, the two women transformed the woebegone dwelling into a 2,800-square-foot retreat with style and comfort.

“We really did it ourselves. A contractor rehabbed the foundation and put in the drywall, but we roughed in the electric, including a speaker system, installed the cabinets, redid the flooring.” Laura chuckles as she recalls, “We learned how!”

Lynette explains, “Laura’s the kind who will do the research.”

“ …And Lynette’s a terrific worker!”

Even with all that derring-do, it’s a jaw-dropper to see the spacious and serene result. The galley kitchen became a welcoming foyer. The new kitchen is large; cherry wood veneer gives lighting fixtures over the island a sophisticated look. Their choice of cabinets was whisked away by an overly ambitious woman who later confessed they were too large. “So we got them anyway!”

That expectant air of serendipity infuses their conversation and guides their lives, sometimes in unexpected ways. As the house took shape with its areas for rest and relaxation, it became a peaceful haven for Laura as she battled a life-threatening illness and recovered. Now, with the danger past, the two agree that the home-as-retreat had been made to order.

“Made to order” became a motto.

“People would ask, ‘Can you come and do my kitchen? My bath?’ So we’ve been doing that for twelve years,” says Lynette.

They tackled the too-low ceilings, converting them to vaulted and slanted ones. They took on breaking up the old flooring, though Lynette recalls they were three-fourths of the way through when they asked a neighbor for help ripping up the final bits. Now, where there were a number of little rooms, the new hickory flooring with its deep, rich glow anchors the open spaces. The furnace in the living room loft was moved to the basement, but with too little space next to the fireplace for a ladder, the loft with its openwork railing now serves to accentuate the expansiveness of the living room. The fireplace? Yes, they put that in, too, with cultured stone rising to the ceiling.

Originally the entrance was through the porch and another door into the living room, with just one small triangle window. The porch is now a library and sitting room that looks out into the woods. Once the wall dividing the library and living room was down, there was the problem of what to do with the unstructured space. Inspiration came, as usual, with energy.

“I told Laura, ‘Bring a truck! Bring clippers!” They brought 2-inch-thick vines from their woods and cut them to fit into drilled holes to form a half divider between the two rooms. The unique solution looks sophisticated and allows a view into the woods from the living room, with its windows on three sides.

Laura and Lynette are into repurposing found items, seeing art in all manner of cast-offs. The innards of a piano form a pleasing pattern on a living room wall.

“People just throw this stuff away!” the two exclaim, shaking their heads at such cavalier treatment of potential art materials.

In the guest bedroom – once the only bedroom – rusted mattress springs in an arrangement on a wall are visually exciting. The use of mirrors all along a closet wall create a trompe d’oeil, doubling the apparent size of the room. The couple is particularly excited about a discovery in Cook County: scads of old, filled-out prescription pads. Some are decoupaged and framed. Other frames hold narrow strips of newspaper clippings, stories of social justice and dedicated teachers.

The master bedroom and bath are a getaway and spa, the bath with an atrium-like area and décor that invite healing warmth and serenity.

The basement is entirely finished and furnished, with an area dedicated to creating more artwork.

“We feel so alive,” says Lynette. “Last night we planted boxwood. If we’re not going back to Chicago exhausted, something odd has happened,” and the two laugh.

“People say what great energy this house has,” muses Laura. “That’s because there’s so much love put into it.”

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