“Our neighbors called it Grey Gardens,” laughs Michelle Adams, describing her 1890s Dutch Colonial on Lake Michigan. While the comparison might be an endearing one for a design aficionado like Adams—she’s a brand consultant (Adams Creative Studio), blogger (The Maryn) and former editor (she cofounded Lonny magazine)—it seems that, to her neighbors, the nickname wasn’t meant to be quite so flattering, in light of the house’s less-than-stellar previous state.
When Adams and her husband, Steve, bought the four-bed- room house in 2020, it was in rough shape. “It had sat empty for a few years and needed a lot of work to restore it to its former glory, both structurally and from a design standpoint,” she recalls. “The age of the home definitely presented challenges, simply because you never know what you’ll find when you open up a wall in a house this old.”
Luckily, Adams found a “phenomenal” partner in local builder William Charles of William Charles Custom Homes. “We addressed everything from rotting wood siding to new windows, roof, plumbing and electric,” she says. In the 1990s, a previous owner had installed Federal-style moldings that weren’t historically accurate to the house; using a room that had (thankfully) remained untouched as their guide, Adams and Charles had new custom trim and baseboards cut to match. Yellow-tinged floors were stripped and stained white (a brightening trick that also helps hide the sand that the two dogs track into the house, Adams says).
The original kitchen was nothing short of a disaster. “It could be described in one word: vile,” Adams recalls. “There was a dead possum in the fridge, more mice than I care to admit, and random acorns and walnut shells laying around.” Not to mention the obvious design flaws: low ceilings, sticky metal cabinets, peeling vinyl floors, a choppy U-shaped layout. Adams and Charles took the space back down to the studs, reinforcing the floor, raising the ceiling and, crucially, filling up holes to keep out any future visitors of the murine variety. Adams chose classic materials like Belgian bluestone flooring (heated, to account for Michigan’s famously cold winters), white-painted beadboard, and Carrara marble countertops. “Even though everything was brand new, I wanted it to feel like some aspects of the design might have been original to the house,” she explains.
Adams envisioned a more modern way of living when it came to the decor: “I wanted our home to feel like an East Coast beach house—something you might find in Bellport, New York, or in the Hamptons; relaxed, unpretentious, inviting yet sophis- ticated.” The high-low mix of furnishings embodies the elevated approachability that Adams championed as an editor: iconic designer pieces by the likes of Eero Saarinen and Hans Wegner sit alongside artisan-made goods, flea-market finds, and even the occasional Ikea standby. Easygoing white indoor-outdoor fabric covers much of the upholstered furniture; stripes—Adams’s favorite motif—make frequent appearances.
While the house’s bright white walls are covered in Adams’s large collection of paintings, photographs and prints (she is also a consultant for the online art shop Artfully Walls), it’s the windows that command most of the attention thanks to the house’s “brilliant use of sight lines.” From one side of the living room, for example, one can see all the way through the first floor to the backyard; on the wall facing the front of the house, windows are perfectly centered on the garden. “Living here has taught me how impactful it can be to pay attention to those sorts of details,” notes Adams. “There’s basically magic everywhere you look.”
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THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE FALL 2022 ISSUE OF FREDERIC. CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE!