W.G. Tait, Inc. Bear Lake Trading Company Home Page

Carpeted by maple and birch forests and laced with clear lakes and streams, the northern portion of Michigan's Lower Peninsula is Hemingway country. Here on Lake Walloon is where young Ernest spent the first 19 summers of his life, venturing out from Windemere — the Hemingway family cottage — to fish for trout and hunt for squirrel. It's also where Hemingway and his first wife Hadley married and honeymooned in 1921.

Nestled next to the kitchen is this delightful sunroom. Southern exposure that invites the low winter sunshine in makes it a favorite spot on cold January afternoons.

Of course, Hemingway moved on to Paris and Spain, to Key West and finally to Sun Valley, fishing for bigger fish and hunting for bigger game as his fame grew and his life became more complicated. But his time spent in the forests of northern Michigan remained a constant influence on both his life and his literature.

There's a bit of a Hemingway cottage industry that's grown up in the area, but that isn't what drew Bill and Barb Tait and their family to Lake Walloon. It was the land itself.

Creating a Family Heritage
Picture this: clear turquoise water, "as blue as the Caribbean," according to Bill Tait. Golf courses and ski areas just minutes away and humidity-free summers with temperatures in the 80's. Of course, this is a four-season country, and your idea of paradise may not include frigid winters with blizzards blowing in off nearby Lake Michigan.

But for Bill and Barb Tait and their three active boys, this is exactly the place they were looking for. "We wanted a place within driving distance of our home where we could create a heritage for our kids," Bill explains. "We want them to want to come back here in 10 years with their own children."

The big problem was finding a place they could call their own. "We were lucky," says Bill, a native of northern Wisconsin, a place with similar climate and topography. "We spent a couple years taking long weekends and vacations up here, talking to realtors and searching the classifieds, but nothing turned up. Then one evening in our motel room, just when we had about given up, I realized I hadn't yet looked in the day's classified section lying on the floor. So I picked up the paper and there it was. We called that night, went out to look at the property the next day and bought it on the spot.

The owner of an Indianapolis construction company specializing in custom built luxury homes, Bill wasn't necessarily looking to build a new home. "Frankly, we would have preferred to find something already built. And if we did need to build, we weren't necessarily going to build a log home; we weren't going to force it," Bill says. "I've seen them in developments where they just don't look right."

But when the family saw the site sloping through maple, birch and cedar trees toward the lake, a log home seemed the logical choice. "The lot just cried out ‘log home,'" Bill says.

New Home, Traditional Look

The kitchen is highlighted by custom maple cabinets, with a hand-rubbed antique finish and granite countertops. And while there's a formal dining area, seating at the kitchen island provides plenty room when the family of five grabs an informal meal.
Located adjacent to the kitchen and dining area. This cozy inglenook has its own hearth and direct access to the deck overlooking the lake.

According to Richard Tuxbury of Maple Island Log Homes, the Lake Walloon area is full of log cottages built in the 1920s and 1930s. Many have logs that have been painted dark brown, which seems to be the traditional finish in the area.

"If you see the new windows and a few slightly new design features — the attached garage, for instance — the Tait's home could be mistaken for one of these 70 year old classics." Tuxbury says.

But the inspiration for the Tait home came not from Michigan but from the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, home to the great camps — like William West Durant's Sagamore — that have influenced generations with their rustic elegance.

"We wanted to go for the Adirondack look, which meant dark, hand-peeled logs and no drywall," Bill says. "We also wanted modern features — big, open rooms that are also warm and comfortable, for example — in a house that looked older."

Crafted by master log carpenter Jim Grieb, this spiral staircase features book-matched log treads and a central support crafted from a single large yellow pine log set into place with a crane. Hanging to the left of the master bedroom entry is an antique mahogany canoe said to have once belonged to Chief Petosegay, an Ottawa Indian chief for whom the nearby town of Petoskey was named.

The Beauty of Handcrafting
Though he is an experienced builder who has built dozens of large, high-end homes, Bill Tait had never built a log home before. So he did his homework, researching the basics and talking to a number of log suppliers before zeroing in on Maple Island, a firm located near Traverse City, not far from Lake Walloon.

"We didn't want the machined look of uniformly milled logs," Bill explains. "The beauty of a log lies in its imperfections, which makes each one unique. That's why we chose to use hand-peeled logs."

The Taits worked with their own architect, Don Scott, to develop the conceptual plan for their house, then turned the drawings over to Maple Island's Gordy Hughes.

"There was a lot of pushing and pulling," Bill admits, noting the plans had to be adapted to the realities of log construction. "Gordy would tell us, ‘We can't do this,' and Don would say, ‘Yes you can.' In the end, the give and take produced a better house."

The logs for the Tait home were harvested nearby in northern Michigan. They are Michigan red pine, a timber that reveals beautiful grains when hand-peeled. The log shell was handcrafted over the course of about five months at Maple Island's log yard near Muskegon, Michigan. The walls, gables and trusses were built of full round, hand-peeled logs that are notched and hand fitted. Then the shell was disassembled and loaded onto nine tractor-trailers for delivery to the site, where it was reassembled in about a week's time.

Once the shell was up, Bill (who served as general contractor on the project) assigned a crew from his firm to finish the house. He also relied on the help of local log construction wizard Jim Grieb, who familiarized Bill's carpenters with the idiosyncrasies of log construction, and also built the home's fabulous spiral log staircase. Erected in November 2000, the home was ready for occupancy nine months later.

Balancing the soaring heights of the great room is a 6-foot rustic chandelier hanging from over 8 feet of antique chain. The chandelier is custom drafted of yellow birch twigs, birch bark and translucent parchment.
Built with Michigan fieldstone, the massive hearth and chimney (below) soars nearly 30 feet to the great room's vaulted ceiling. The foyer floor to the left is slate, while the radiant-heated wood floors in the house are 4-inch Australian cypress, a wood that looks like pine but is harder and bears more color and grain variation.

A Home Run
Although the Taits have been enjoying the house for two summers, progress continues.

Part of the large basement level is being finished with a small kitchen and two bedrooms in anticipation of when the boys (the oldest is now a freshman in college) will return to the family home with their own families in tow. But there's not much that the Taits would do differently.

"We were just talking about that," Bill says, "and Barb mentioned that maybe we should have made the house a little smaller since everyone laughs when we describe it as our ‘cabin in the woods.'" But as anyone who has raised three active boys can attest, every square foot of the 7,100 square foot house is needed so everyone has a place of their own.

"Our whole family really loves this house and we use it all year round," Bill says. "Even though this was our first trip up to the plate, we really feel like we've hit a home run."

<< Return to Published Articles Start Page

Return to the top ^^