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Lakeside Cottage

Designer Tom Stringer creates a fantasy cottage for a young family in need of a little room to grow

Written by Jenny Bradley
  • Werner Straube

    Sheila Keil had her hopes set on creating a comfortable, kid-friendly cottage reminiscent of her childhood home. What she got is part fairy-tale cottage, part summer camp. (And summer camp never looked so good.)

    While it has the classic cottage essentials--cedar shingles, beadboard, vintage wicker furniture--the Keil family's home in Harbor Springs, Michigan, is more fantastical than old-fashioned. More fairy-tale than fusty. One almost expects to find bread crumbs leading to the front door.

    With a charming property on Lake Michigan that lends itself to once-upon-a-time reverie, Sheila and her husband, Bryant, chose to build an enchanted dwelling with room to grow.

    "I grew up here in Harbor Springs, one of 13 children," says Sheila. "My parents still live in the cottage that's been in our family since the 1920s. When we decided to build here, I knew I wanted something that felt lived in--a cottage that could stay the same for a hundred years."

    Fortunately, Sheila found the perfect design partner--and cottage enthusiast--in Chicago-based designer Tom Stringer.

    "For me, this kind of work is a natural because I grew up summering in the very same area," says Stringer. "Both Sheila and I have a real fondness for turn-of-the-century cottages."

    While quirky details and bright, bold color are evident around every corner, any hint of fussiness was banished. "Ultimately the design was driven by the needs of four lively children," says Stringer. "It's a young family, and they wanted to live as a young family does. There's also an emphasis on fewer, larger rooms."

    While the largest of those rooms--the sun-soaked living room--is predominately periwinkle (Sheila's favorite color), sunshine yellow, lush green, and peony pink also convene here, having found their way from the spaces in which they rule. Pink from her daughter's fit-for-a-princess bedroom. Yellow from the genteel dining room. Periwinkle from the romantic blue-and-white master bedroom. Green from the great outdoors.

    "Sheila loves color, but sometimes an abundant use of very strong color can be overwhelming," notes Stringer. "We ended up going with a color scheme derived from a prototypical grandmother's garden. You have everything under the sun--periwinkle, aqua, yellow. It's like a Midwestern garden in June."

    A vibrant floral fabric echoes the cottage's quaint-yet-contemporary mantra--familiar at first glance, yet lively and updated on closer inspection. "I could eat that fabric," laughs Sheila. "It makes me happy every time I see it!"

    With a constant stream of summer "drop-ins," the Keils need the kitchen to be extra-efficient--a workhorse that can handle a profusion of pint-sized play pals with super-sized appetites as well as short-order-style breakfasts. Thankfully, such thoroughly thought-out elements as a wall of cold storage, an oversized island with a mahogany countertop, and double ovens accommodate the busiest summer weekends.

    In the dining room, optimistic yellow beadboard walls (narrower above the chair rail than below) increase the charm factor while "recycled" furnishings from previous homes add a touch of family history. Dining chairs confidently wear the same updated floral upholstery as the living room armchairs--creating continuity between the spaces.

    Upstairs, the bedrooms have a fantasy appeal all their own. The daughter's picture-perfect, ethereal-pink bedroom would make even the consummate fairy-tale princess green with envy. Its Swedish-inspired built-in bed--complete with secret stairs and a glide mechanism that allows the mattress to be easily pulled out to be made (genius!)--was the brainchild of builder Jeff Ford. "I've wanted this bedroom since I was a little girl," says Sheila. "And it was so well executed."

    The bedroom shared by the boys is no less fanciful. Inspired by an adult's lingering memory of childhood summer camp, the room is oriented around two Sequoia-scale bunk beds. A seating area with wicker chairs dressed variously in red, white, and blue serves as a metaphor for tree stumps encircling a campfire. "It's designed to have a cool sense of wonderment," says Stringer.

    In the master bedroom, color was kept to a minimum to encourage restfulness. And in case the soothing palette fails to induce REM, two layers of motorized shades with overlapping seams provide total darkness--converting the room from light and airy to deep-sea dark in the flick of the switch.

    The fairy-tale pièce de résistance, however, is an attic playroom. With its garden gate, window boxes, and lush green shag "lawn," it provides rainy-day distraction for princesses-in-training.

    "This house is really a place where we can all be kids again," says Sheila. "It's like being at a year-round summer camp."

    Exterior architecture: Nick White, N.J. White Associates, 117 Howard St., Petoskey, MI 49770; 231/347-6870,
    Interior design and architecture: Tom Stringer, Tom Stringer Design Partners, 314 West Superior St., Suite 601, Chicago, IL 60654-2562; 312/664-0644,
    Builder: Jeff Ford, Evening Star Joinery, 190 Franklin Park, Harbor Springs, MI 49740; 231/526-7861.
    Landscape architect: Douglas Hoerr, Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, 850 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60607; 312/492-6501,

    Photography: Werner Straube

  • Werner Straube

    On the porch, Jane Shelton pillows and wicker chairs add a little romance to a seating area overlooking Lake Michigan.

    Chairs ("Eastern Shore Dockside Chair" #MB7531): Mainly Baskets, 800/647-3728,
    Chair-cushion fabric ("Fishbone"/Finch and Sky #1006-07): Delany & Long, 203/532-0010,
    Pillow fabric ("Manderley Floral"/Multi on Cream #4016-02): Jane Shelton, 800/530-7259,
    Cocktail table (iron with slate top): Murray's Iron Works, 323/521-1140,
    Planters ("Lexington Square Planter," discontinued): Plow & Hearth, 800/494-7544,

  • Werner Straube

    Designer Tom Stringer likens the living room's color palette to "a Midwestern garden in June." The periwinkle rug is from his collection for Texstyle. Armchair fabric is Victoria Hagan. Drapery fabric is Kathryn M. Ireland.

    Wall paint ("Pale Almond" #OC-2); ceiling and trim paint ("White Dove" #OC-17): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Sofa (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644,
    Sofa fabric ("Vizcaya"/Celery #415B74): Raoul Textiles, 805/965-1694,
    Sofa pillow fabric ("Four Seasons Linen Print" #4006-3): Victoria Hagan Home, 212/888-3241,
    Armchairs ("20th Century Armchairs"): The Stalls, 404/352-4430.
    Armchair fabric, front ("Four Seasons Linen Print" #4006-3): Victoria Hagan Home, 212/888-3241,
    Armchair fabric, back ("Maris"/Apple #7262-01, discontinued): Romo Fabrics & Wallcoverings, 800/338-2783,
    Lounge chairs (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644,
    Lounge-chair fabric ("Rivage Weave"/Sun, #GWF2406-40, by Groundworks, discontinued): Lee Jofa, 800/453-3563,
    End table ("Parquet Side Table," custom color and size): Niermann Weeks, 212/319-7979,
    Cocktail table ("Donner Table," custom color and size): Richard Mulligan,
    Bench/ottoman ("Swedish Neoclassical Stool" #2309): Charles Pollock Reproductions Inc., 323/962-0440,
    Bench fabric ("Marwood Plain"/Blue #J171F-03 by Jane Churchill, discontinued): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    Round side table ("Shelburne Side Table" #4007, custom painted): Dessin Fournir, 785/434-2777,
    Side-table paint ("Harlequin Blue" #830): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Glass hurricanes: Ralph Lauren Home, 888/475-7674,
    Painting over fireplace: owner's collection.
    Horse (antique, Indian): Primitive, 312/575-9600,
    Drapery ("Storybook"/Yellow #2018): Kathryn Ireland Textiles & Design, 310/399-0300,
    Wing chair (1940s): English Accent Antiques, 404/351-9433.
    Wing-chair fabric ("Eaton Plain"/Sage #F2104-04, by Colefax & Fowler): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    Cashmere blanket: Pratesi, 212/288-2315,
    Game table (pear wood table/desk, antique): Dearing Antiques, 404/233-6333. Backgammon board: owner's collection.
    Area rug ("Tan Tan"/custom colors): Texstyle/Jamie Stern, 800/524-1598,

  • Werner Straube

    For consistency, Stringer used the Victoria Hagan fabric from the living room on the Hickory Chair dining chairs.

    Wall paint ("Mushroom Cap" #177); ceiling and trim paint ("White Dove" #OC-17): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Dining table ("Swedish Yolk Table" #1109, in custom color and size): Charles Pollock Reproductions Inc., 323/962-0440,
    Chairs ("Fretwork Armchair" #2551-10): Hickory Chair, 800/349-4579,
    Chair fabric ("Four Seasons/Summer" #4006-03): Victoria Hagan Home, 212/888-3241,
    Chandeliers ("Denville Chandelier" #6056, in custom color): Dessin Fournir, 785/434-2777,
    China; crystal; flatware: owner's collection.
    Lamps ("Butternut Gourd Lamps"/Blanc de Chine): Christopher Spitzmiller Inc., 212/563-1144,
    Botanical prints (set of 6): Trowbridge Gallery, 404/816-8612, Sideboard (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644, Drapery ("Spiral" #GWF2621-140, by Allegra Hicks for Groundworks): Lee Jofa, 800/453-3563,
    Drapery tape trim ("Olympia Wood Fringe"/Yellow #974-31737-2910): Samuel & Sons, 212/704-8000,
    Area rug (custom design by Tom Stringer Design Partners): Texstyle/Jamie Stern, 800/524-1598,

  • Werner Straube

    The large, cheerful kitchen with an adjoining office for Sheila is truly the heart of the house. A mahogany-topped center island is identical to one in Stringer's own home. Cabinetry is all custom-designed by Stringer. Pendant lights are from Vaughan.

    Paint ("White Dove" #OC-17): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Counter seats (#18-999-1, Milling Road Collection): Baker, 800/592-2537,
    Bar-stool fabric ("Tara"/Azur #4521-03, by Manuel Canovas): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    Hanging pendants ("Crosswood Kitchen Light" #CL72-BK, with custom blue shades, discontinued): Vaughan Designs, 212/319-7070,
    Window treatment fabric ("Pavilion Stripe"/Pale Blue on Oyster): Bennison Fabrics, 212/223-0373,
    Tape trim on window shades ("Dorsett Tape"/Light Blue #39045-206): Brunschwig & Fils, 800/538-1880,
    Pot filler ("Swing-Arm Pot Filler"#A1451 LM): Rohl, 800/777-9762,
    Cabinetry (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644,
    Backsplash tile ("Calico" #AS2286C, Fresco Collection, by London Ceramics): Ann Sacks, 800/278-8453,

  • Werner Straube

    Not an inch of wasted space! Drawers under the back stairway add storage.

    Paint ("White Dove" #OC-17): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Drawer pulls ("Coke-Colored Glass Knobs" #DPG-8): Te-Ma, 845/679-5571,

  • Werner Straube

    In the family room, colorful framed travel posters hang above a "double-wide" sofa--custom made for family movie nights.

    Wall paint ("Putnam Ivory" #HC-39); trim paint ("White Dove" #OC-17): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Sofa (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644,
    Sofa fabric ("Lazy Days"/Natural #25824-1): Kravet, 888/457-2838,
    Blue diamond pillow fabric ("Algiers"/Blue): Jacques Bouvet et Cie, 323/931-1576, Available through Bettermans, 773/281-3779.
    Yellow pillow fabric ("Glazed Dundee"/Daisy #34292-17): Clarence House, 800/803-2850,
    Green vine pillow fabric ("Emma"/Apple #2119-07, discontinued): Rose Tarlow-Melrose House, 323/651-2202,
    Red paisley pillow fabric ("Fawkes Cotton Print"/Flame #79747-154): Brunschwig & Fils, 800/538-1880,
    Club chairs (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644,
    Club-chair fabric ("Blanford Check"/Green #F3003-07, by Colefax & Fowler): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    Cocktail table/ottoman (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644,
    Cocktail table/ottoman leather ("Shrunken Buffalo Bill"/Caramel #SBB16): Edelman Leather, 800/886-8339,
    Pair of chests (Bluebery Black painted chests, antique): Lee Stanton Antiques, 310/855-9800.
    Table lamp ("Wood Triple Gourd Natural Finish Lamp"): Allan Knight & Assoc., 214/741-2227,
    Area rug ("Basketweave"): Watson Smith Carpet & Rugs, 312/644-4725.
    Side table ("Twig Table" #60Q-629, Oscar de la Renta Collection): Century Furniture, 800/852-5552,
    Drink table ("Burl Wood Stump Table," product line varies): Mecox Gardens, 312/836-0571,
    Art (vintage French travel posters): Chicago Art Source, 773/248-3100.
    Window treatment fabric ("Jefferson"/White #8946): Pindler & Pindler, 805/531-9090,
    Window treatment trim ("Lakefield Braid"/Red #JM13E-05, by Jane Churchill, discontinued): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    Ottomans ("Florence Storage Ottomans" #214-04): Ralph Lauren Home, 888/475-7674,
    Ottoman fabric ("Emma"/Apple #2119-07, discontinued): Rose Tarlow-Melrose House, 323/651-2202,
    Cashmere throw (solid cashmere throw): Williams Sonoma Home, 888/922-4108,
    Floor lamps ("Adjustable Floor Lamp"/Bronze): Visual Comfort & Co., 713/686-5999,

  • Werner Straube

    Stair rails with quirky positive-negative, tulip-shaped cutouts are "a traditional cottage detail, reinterpreted," says Stringer.

    Wall paint ("Linen White" #I-70); trim paint ("White Dove" #OC-17): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Carpet runner ("Hastings" #600322): Watson Smith Carpet & Rugs, 312/644-4725.

  • Werner Straube

    In the blue-and-white master bedroom, "We minimized the use of other colors to make it soothing and restful," says Stringer. Shade fabric is Classic Cloth through Dessin Fournir with Samuel & Sons trim.

    Wall paint ("Bone White"); ceiling and trim paint ("White Dove" #OC-17): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Window-treatment fabric ("Seaton Stripe"/Cornflower #1161/04): Classic Cloth, 785/434-7200,
    Window-treatment trim ("3/4-inch Domus Dotted Braid"/Blue #977-16454): Samuel & Sons, 212/704-8000,
    Club chair (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644,
    Chair fabric ("Chancellor Strié"/Canton Blue #89730-221): Brunschwig & Fils, 800/538-1880,
    Chair-and- bed-pillow fabric ("Madame Butterfly"/Blue on Linen/Cotton #301340F): Quadrille Wallpapers & Fabrics, 212/753-2995,
    Pillow tassel trim ("La Petite Silk Tassel Fringe"/Sky Blue, Tourmaline #985-36715-67): Samuel & Sons, 212/704-8000,
    End table ("Round Oak Table" in custom paint finish #2845.29): Minton-Spidell, 310/836-0403, Floor lamp ("Adjustable Reeded Club Floor Lamp" #CHA9128ABV): Visual Comfort & Co., 713/686-5999,
    TV pop-up unit (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644,
    Ottoman ("New Port Ottoman" #OT172, by Edward Ferrell): Edward Ferrell-Lewis Mittman, 336/841-3028,
    Bed ("Quincy," in custom size and paint finish): Summer Hill, 312/467-6860,
    Headboard and bedskirt fabric ("Charron"/Canton Blue #26665-010): Scalamandré, 800/932-4361,
    Bedside-table lamp ("Cameron Lamp"/Warm Beige): Christopher Spitzmiller, 212/563-1144,
    Bedding; painting; wicker rocker (antique): owner's collection.
    Cushion on wicker rocker ("Kasumi"/Bright Blue on Oyster): Bennison, 212/223-0373,
    Area rug ("Hayfield Manor"/custom color): Watson Smith Carpet & Rugs, 312/644-4725.

  • Werner Straube

    Cabinets in the master bathroom were custom-designed by Stringer. Fixtures are Waterworks.

    Paint ("White Dove" #OC-17): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Cabinetry (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644,
    Cabinetry fabrication: Evening Star Joinery, 231/526-7861.
    Drawer pulls (polished nickel round knob): Creations by Alno Inc., 818/882-6028,
    Sconces ("Thelonius Sconce" #IS1691.1): Remains Lighting, 212/675-8051,
    Bath fixtures ("Astoria"); tub fixture ("Etoile"): Waterworks, 800/899-6757,
    Glass jars ("Classic Pedestal Containers"): Restoration Hardware, 800/910-9836,

  • Werner Straube

    In a cozy corner of Caroline's room, a petite bergère upholstered in green and pink becomes the touchstone for the room's pink and green palette.

    Chair (vintage): owner's collection.
    Chair fabric ("Ribbon Check" #NCF3751-02, by Nina Campbell); window-seat fabric ("Soline" #MLF1001-03, by Lorca): Osborne & Little, 877/322-7420,
    Pillow and shade fabric ("Happy Valley"/Pink, by Anna French, discontinued): Summer Hill, 312/467-6860,
    Ball fringe on window shade ("Lakefield Beaded Tassel"/Rose #JM09E-01, by Jane Churchill): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    Pillow fabric ("Girl's Best Friend," discontinued): Bassett Furniture, 877/525-7070, Pillow fabric ("Shoefly"/Peppermint#1776-01): Summer Hill, 312/467-6860,
    Pillow fabric ("Halsey Cotton Check"/Spring Green, Magnolia #89505-M41): Brunschwig & Fils, 800/538-1880,
    Pillow fabric ("Nigella Rosebud Weave"/Leaf #2004016-3, discontinued): Lee Jofa, 800/453-3563,
    Area rug ("Hamilton"/Pink #5267/0001): Watson Smith Carpet & Rugs, 312/644-4725.

  • Werner Straube

    The summer camp-themed boys' bedroom has oversized bunk beds fitted below with drawers for storage. The rug is from Watson Smith. Shade fabric is Classic Cloth. The drum table is from Richard Mulligan.

    Wall paint ("Pale Almond" #OC-2); ceiling and trim paint ("White Dove" #OC-17): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Bunk beds (custom): Tom Stringer Design Partners, 312/664-0644,
    Fabrication: Evening Star Joinery, 231/526-7861.
    Bedding: owner's collection.
    Area rug ("Carioca"/Multi): Watson Smith Carpet & Rugs, 312/644-4725.
    Shade fabric ("Walden Stripe"/Indigo #1142/08): Classic Cloth, 785/434-7200,
    Shade trim ("Queen Street Galloon"/Indigo #V642M-16): Scalamandré, 800/932-4361,
    Dresser: owner's collection.
    Paint on dresser ("Moroccan Red" #1309): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Lamp (pair of antique iron sprigs in blue finish): The Stalls, 404/352-4430.
    Oars (sets of painted paddles): Palecek, 800/274-7730,
    Wicker chairs: owner's collection. Chair fabric ("Delphina II/Zinnia #910045-08, discontinued): Rogers & Goffigon, 203/532-8068.
    Chair fabric ("Main Sail"/Blue #MS0008): Michael Taylor, 415/558-9940,
    Chair fabric ("Nice"/Sailor #34041-50): Clarence House, 800/803-2850, Chair fabric ("Gladstone"/Cochineal #1130-04): Classic Cloth, 785/434-7200,
    Drum table ("Standard Drum Table" in custom finish): Richard Mulligan,
    Soldier lamp: owner's collection.

  • Werner Straube

    Stringer paired periwinkle and polka dots (not to mention that view of Lake Michigan) to create a charming guest bedroom.

    Wall paint ("Lambskin" #1051): trim paint ("White Dove" #OC-17): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667.
    Headboard ("Helena Headboard"/Chalk White, with custom upholstery): Oly, 775/336-2100,
    Headboard and bedskirt fabric ("Avondale"/Blue #J349F-06, by Jane Churchill, discontinued): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    Bedding; desk chair (vintage): owner's collection.
    Paint on desk chair ("Icicle" #OC-60): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Area rug ("Sanford Square"/Blue, Tan, Cream): Watson Smith Carpet & Rugs, 312/644-4725.
    Lounge chair ("Salon Chair" #5003): Dessin Fournir, 785/434-2777,
    Lounge-chair fabric ("Selhurst"/Blue #J398F-01, by Jane Churchill): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-4900,
    Desk ("Tivoli Writing Desk" in a custom size); desk paint, base ("Picket Fences White"); desk paint, top (custom): Summer Hill, Summer Hill, 312/467-6860,
    Table lamp on desk ("French Balustrade Lamp" #CHA8845 WHT): Visual Comfort & Co., 713/686-5999,
    Window-treatment fabric ("Menorca Sheer"/Azul #83508-222): Brunschwig & Fils, 800/538-1880,