Ten years ago this fall, I started working on the project that would ultimately launch Jeff Jordan Architects: the design of a new house for my parents on Higgins Lake in northern Michigan. At that time, I was working for a prominent architectural firm in New York City and wrapping up a major residential project in North Carolina that had taken a couple of years to complete. I was soon faced with challenges ranging from the ongoing economic downturn and raising my young children. My wife also had a demanding job; oftentimes we wouldn’t get home until after our boys had gone to sleep. The bottom line was that I wanted to be more involved in their lives. It seemed like a good time to strike out on my own and take charge of my schedule.
The first thing to know about Higgins Lake is that it is spectacular. It has been both a vacation destination and a permanent home for many generations. The lake is nearly 10,000 acres in area, has a max depth of 135 feet and it is spring fed and crystal clear. The water often takes on shades of blue reminiscent of the Caribbean. It is one of Michigan's best kept secrets and those who have been lucky enough to find space on the lake tend to stay for many generations. It also means that lakefront land is in short supply and the lots are narrow and deep with neighboring houses close by.
When my parents finally found a little slice of lakefront space in 2009, the requirements were clear: make the most of the view, provide a large living, dining and kitchen space and at least six bedrooms so the whole family could stay for extended visits. I had a goal of my own: To create a modern and distinct house that would differentiate it from some of the outdated homes that surrounded it, while not adding another new, out of scale home to the lakefront
This proved to be a significant challenge, given the nature of the lot and the square footage requirements of a six-bedroom home. The lot was 75 feet wide at the lake and extended 400 feet back to the access road. It had smaller houses within a few feet of the property line on each side. There was a slight slope from the access road to the water, with two enormous white pines framing the view of the lake. To meet the spatial requirements of a six-bedroom home that might hold upwards of 20 people, we ended up with about 5,000 square feet of space including the garage.
Given the width of the lot, the view and the size of the house, the approach was to stack the living spaces backwards from the lake as a series of connected and open spaces so anyone could have a view of the lake from most rooms, including the kitchen, living room, dining space and deck. Additionally, I inverted the traditional domestic layout of living spaces with bedrooms above and put the bedrooms below. In order to make the bedrooms not feel like they were in a basement (even though they are), the idea was to lift the house out of the ground a few feet, take advantage of the sloping site and incorporate courtyards to bring natural light and air to the bedrooms below.
The other big move we made was to locate the master suite facing the lake on the main level. That way, when my parents aren't sharing the house, they have everything they need on the same level without having to be reminded of all of those empty bedrooms The net effect is a house that stretches back from the lake and appears to be a single level, despite having bright and airy bedrooms below. From the lake, it appears to be another cottage, but with a decidedly modern look.
The team began construction in 2010 and the house was completed in 2011. The neighborhood residents were impressed by its impeccable design and structure. It was referred to as the "California House" and folks have often stopped to admire the home from the water.
For our family, it has become an important summer destination and activity hub. Our kids have grown up spending time on the lake with their cousins – much the way I did with my friends when I was young. As for Jeff Jordan Architects, the Higgins Lake House caught the attention of a new client whose project eventually ended up on the cover of Dwell Magazine, helping to jumpstart our business.
Since its creation, Jeff Jordan Architects has operated as a full-service architecture practice focused on design excellence and project execution. Our projects have ranged in scale from modest interior remodels to complex new buildings, and in locations from the city to the countryside.
For information on the firm, born largely from this extensive lakefront design some ten years ago, visit: https://www.jjarchs.com/.
Awards: 2012 Detroit Home Magazine “Best Contemporary Home”
Featured Press: Traverse magazine, Real Cedar Magazine, Detroit Home Magazine, French design magazine Eco Maison Bois.