The Orchards

Clad in white corrugated metal with raincoat yellow low e-glass windows, this 7,800 square foot country home for a Chicago family of five is sited on a 30-acre former truck farm in rural Southwestern Michigan.  It takes its architectural inspiration from the whitewashed Midwestern vernacular of the region — gable roofed barns, conical silos and slatted corn cribs.  It responds to environmental concerns by using a geothermal field and ground water to heat and cool the house and sun screens to shade the interior. 

The land as configured by landscape architect Maria Smithburg has been replanted with indigenous fruit orchards and a vegetable patch.  A pear tree alleé contains a garden parti of native grasses and perennials with a Bertoia sculpture on axis that connects the new house with a remodeled cottage, c. 1920, that serves as guest quarters.  A pool complex also designed by the architect to relate to the original cottage now links the two residences.  Nature trails encircle the 30 acre site which includes a glacially scoured ravine and seasonal wetlands.  The children pick wild strawberries in the spring, harvest eatable greens in summer and pick from 10 indigenous apple trees in the fall as they learn environmental stewardship.

In response to the family’s desire for a warm, practical and interactive interior that is ecologically responsible, all first floor rooms are interconnected and are clad in quartered American white oak.  Limestone floors repel dirt while conducting radiant heat.  The master bath shower platform is certified sustainable Ipe.  Above the two-story cross axial atrium, a skylight floods the dining table with soft diffused light.  Second story bedrooms carpeted in sea grass all spill out onto the balcony that shares this light as it surrounds the family eating space below. 

This is a house designed as a serene retreat for its adults as well as a treat for its young children whose bedrooms each sport lofts for playmates while overlooking the two-story great room whose fireplaces are Fond du Lac limestone from neighboring Wisconsin.  An endless pool provides winter time entertainment and exercise while the staircase off the atrium also leads down to a family playroom below.  All furnishings, some old some new, were selected or designed by the firm. 

This is a homestead that its family will never outgrow.  The young couple plans to retire here in their own nature conservancy and welcome grandchildren some day.