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Storybook Style: A Magical Timber Home

A Michigan couple breathes life — and an unusual purpose — into a fairytale-themed cottage.

A Michigan couple breathes life — and an unusual purpose — into a fairytale-themed cottage.

Story by Suzanna Logan Photos by Roger Wade Styling by Debra Grahl

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Tucked away in a grove of white pine trees and surrounded by an immaculate garden, the newest addition to Keith and Justine Miller’s homestead is a charming structure with undulating cedar shingles, intricate stonework and a steeply curved roofline. The quaint architecture conjures images of the English countryside and makes the tiny, cottage-like building look as if it were plucked from your favorite childhood fairytale.

Although the storybook-inspired structure feels worlds away, it is actually located in the resort community of Harbor Springs, Michigan. What’s even more surprising is that the building isn’t the couple’s primary residence. It isn’t even their vacation home or a guesthouse. What it is, in fact, is a gardening shed.

Like the structure’s size — it measures just under 900 square feet — its story is one of small beginnings. “It started out as a place to keep our gardening tools and paraphernalia,” Keith says. But while researching floor plans on the Internet for the structure, the gardening enthusiasts stumbled upon sketches of a small cottage by architect John Hendricks, AIA, of Hendricks Architecture in Sandpoint, Idaho.

“It was a little bit whimsical and hobbit-like and really fit into a wooded setting,” Keith says of the building now fondly known as the Potter’s Lodge. While Keith was sold on the look of the home, he still planned to keep it as bare-bones as possible.

“Originally, he didn’t have plans to bring water to it, and he wasn’t sure if it needed electricity or a septic tank,” recalls Scott Kennard of Wentworth Builders. “But once everyone got together and the creative juices started flowing, it became so much more than just a garden shed.”

The Millers decision to go all-out on the structure also extended to their use of materials. Douglas fir glulam beams shipped from California, custom-made cedar shakes, and local fossilized stone lend the tiny structure it’s organic feel, as does the way it sits on the land, amidst a grove of cedar and pine trees.

“We were very judicious about conserving the grounds,” Keith says. “Every time we cut down a tree we made sure it absolutely had to go, so we were able to keep all of the trees within three or four feet.”

Because of the couple’s desire to preserve the natural foliage, no heavy equipment could be brought on-site during construction. “Everything had to be done by hand, including lifting all of the beams and bringing in the stones with a wheelbarrow,” Keith says. “It was slow going.”

The demanding nature of the materials also added to the 18-month construction process. “Each shingle had to be hand-cut and only a dozen or so stones could be laid each day because of their weight,” Keith says.

But was it worth the wait? One step into the bright and airy space answers that question. Twig-themed chandeliers sparkle under soaring white-washed ceilings and an intricate framework of curved timber trusses. In a home, the effect would be impressive. In a gardening shed, it’s downright spectacular.

“The Millers opened up the space a lot to fit their purpose,” says Hendricks, who mentions the original plans had a much more “cozy” feel. “They removed a loft from above the entrance and took out the interior walls.”

The wide open space, which features plenty of built-in cabinets and free-standing shelves, is perfect for storing gardening supplies and working on new projects. “It’s so open you could drive a garden tractor through it,” says Keith, who chuckles and adds, “though we don’t have any plans to do that.”

It’s no wonder why. Gracing the floors of the Potter’s Lodge are antique limestone tile floors, which once served as flooring for a bank in France. “We were looking for something eye-catching and unusual,” he says.

They had the same parameters in mind when hunting for a front door. The result of their search: a curved white oak door with an intricate spider-web of iron creeping across the lead glass. “It has that playful, organic feel to it that fits the storybook theme,” Keith says. “It’s everything we wanted the Potter’s Lodge to be.”

Tour the Magical Timber Home