As a young girl, Kay Root spent summers with her family at northern Michigan’s Bay View, located on Lake Michigan. On their way into town, the family would drive by a quaint little fishing cabin in nearby Harbor Springs. From the outside, it looked like the perfect hideaway. To Kay, as a child, the place seemed magical, and she used her imagination to picture what it was like inside.
Years later, when Kay was grown and living just 2 miles from her magical cabin, she and her husband, David, were driving by the cabin when they noticed an “open house” sign in the front yard. David stopped the car so that Kay could finally take a peek inside.
“We stepped in the door, and I was shocked!” recalls Kay, who was taken aback by the plush wall-to-wall carpet in the main living area; linoleum covered the kitchen and bathroom floors. “It wasn’t at all what I’d pictured.” But Kay could still see potential in the little cabin, and she knew she could achieve her vision for it, if only they bought the place.
“So we decided to fix it up so we could rent it out,” says Kay.
Remove, Refresh & Refurbish
When the cabin was built in 1935, it was just one big room. Sometime later, partitions were added to create separate rooms. Plumbing, a dishwasher and a stacked washer and dryer were also added.
Though the Roots appreciated such modern conveniences, their main ambition was to restore the cabin’s natural charm. To that end, the first thing to go was the carpet. Kay hoped that she would find beautiful pine floors beneath the carpeting, but no such luck; instead they found deteriorated, splintered floors and a hole in the middle of the room where a potbellied stove once sat. The Roots insulated beneath the floor, and then laid down new honey-colored knotty-pine floors.
In an effort to keep the cabin true to its era, the couple did not disturb the original cedar logs. They also left the claw foot bathtub untouched. And to this day, they have not changed the unique exterior door-locking system, which involves pulling a leather string from the outside (one that pokes through a small hole in the door) to lift a lever on the inside that enables the door to open.
“It’s really neat … unless the string breaks,” says Kay with a chuckle. “Then you’re in trouble!”
To improve the structure’s functionality and purpose, the Roots removed part of the kitchen countertop peninsula that acted as an eating bar, and then added a small dining table, two chairs and a chandelier.
Also in the kitchen, they painted the oak cabinets hunter green and installed a hanging pot rack above the counter.
Meanwhile, in the family room the Roots mounted two wall sconces and removed the bulky built-in cabinetry that gobbled up floor space. And they replaced the bathroom’s oversized sink with a smaller one.
They also winterized the cabin, brought the electrical up to code, installed storm windows, added central air-conditioning, replaced and insulated the roof, and redecorated and refurnished to make the place warm and inviting.
Great Property, Great Fun
The Roots use the cabin for all sorts of occasions. When their daughter first moved to the area, she lived there for awhile. And Kay hosts “girls get-togethers” full of food, fellowship and fun. It’s also the perfect spot to house overflow guests.
“It’s a great location for every season,” says Kay. “In the winter you can step outside and start cross-country skiing.”
Summertime brings hours of porch swinging in the fresh air while exchanging “hellos” with passing runners, walker and cyclists.
“We also love animal watching,” says Kay. “On any given day we might see eagles, deer or wild turkeys.”
Leaving a Mark
True to their plan, the Roots occasionally rent out the property. And thanks to a unique guest tradition, they often get to find out how people enjoyed their stay.
“When we bought the place, on the back of the master bedroom door hung an old-fashioned wire robe hook with a dangling pencil on a string,” explains Kay. “Someone had signed their name on the door and dated it. We thought that was a neat idea, so we always keep the pencil sharpened to encourage more signatures.”
So far the “guest log” has collected over a dozen names – and sometimes folks use the door as a journal of sorts to describe the fun they had biking, boating, reading, skiing, shopping, sightseeing and relaxing by the fireplace. One common thread among all the guests is that they seem to appreciate the cabin’s rustic ambiance and understated décor.
“I think the cabin’s accessories and simplicity spark happy, nostalgic memories for people,” says Kay. That’s certainly the case for one visitor who felt the same vibe from the structure that Kay did all those years ago.
“This place feels magical,” he wrote.
Ahh, yes. Good old cabin magic – no “abracadabra” required.
Frequent contributor Christy Heitger-Ewing thinks it may be just as dangerous to check out a cabin “open house” as it is to browse an animal shelter. In either scenario, something is bound to call to you, “Take me! Take me!”