Contemporary meets history in downtown Petoskey home
Larry and B.J. Shawn are contemporary people, really. They’re stylish and modern to the extent that the select pieces of artwork through their home give an avant-garde edge — and most of it was done by their daughter when she was just a child.
While their taste, particularly with décor, is chic and subtle, the Shawns also revere the past and share a passion for its preservation.
Their stunning downtown Petoskey home effortlessly melds the two schools of design into one spacious blend of past-meets-present.
“We were trying to preserve the integrity of the home but contemporize the function,” said B.J., an art major and former teacher-turned-retailer. “I think we didn’t let the house down.”
Added Larry, a builder who mastered a 1,400-square-foot addition on the narrow Bay Street lot that sits picturesquely along this sloping downtown street: “We tried to keep the texture of the original home.”
On this day in particular, that texture has an added layer — a slight smell of smoke and spices when HomeLife comes knocking.
In the kitchen, Larry is cooking two chickens on the built-in rotisserie. They turn rhythmically over open flame, a drip-pan placed underneath to protect the counter, wood crackling inside the brick oven.
Both B.J. and Larry savor cooking and revel in entertaining, and a big part of the renovation and addition undertaken over the last couple of years resulted in a generous helping of kitchen space that flows indiscernibly from the original 100-year-old home.
Larry explained that adding space to an historic home by definition means not mimicking exactly the appearance and techniques of the past, but using yesterday as inspiration in designing today.
In the case of his own home, he started the renovations in 2003, handling the restoration and new construction simultaneously. The home stands as an example of his ability to expertly restore the century-old rooms and make a visitor feel that the new spaces had been there all along.
“It’s a blend,” he notes, standing at the line of demarcation between old and new, “of preservation and extension of the theme.”
“It seduced me as soon as I walked through the door,” Larry enthuses, about the day he walked up Bay Street and saw the home. “I thought, ‘What an amazing place, I’m sure I can’t afford it.’”
But the long-time owners were looking to sell, and the Shawns soon after became just the third owners of the home, purchasing it from long-time residents the Wooden family.
The Shawns had moved to Northern Michigan from the Detroit area in 1998, when B.J. opened her shop Bearcub Outfitters and Larry looked to continue his construction business. He landed a job restoring the legendary Castle Farms in Charlevoix, which was completed recently after seven years.
His background spurs him to note details that might easily go overlooked by others, such as the doors — the facades facing the front of the home are oak, and the backsides are less-expensive pine, because only the servants saw them. “Oak was a status symbol,” he explained. “And tall ceilings are a status symbol.”
(We all look upward; it would appear the Shawns have arrived, we laugh, as the hosts continue the tour.)
The original part of the home includes a sitting room off the foyer that is the only room not touched by renovations; the original wallpaper still hangs tight, and an antique fireplace with ornate detailing, the same as one in the Perry Hotel, is tucked in a corner. Throughout the rest of the house, however, the old wallpaper was stuck so fiercely to the plaster that the only option was to drywall over it all and start new; the result is a fresh look within the same boundaries of the historic layout.
The old kitchen was a narrow strip of galley with a couple cabinets and not much room to maneuver. Today, well, we already mentioned the brick-oven rotisserie, right?
“We went two years without a kitchen during the renovation,” B.J. said. “We barbecued a lot and used a toaster oven. Bill from Mighty Fine (pizza) would say, ‘Your kitchen’s not done yet?’”
The next time the pizza guys deliver, they might not recognize the place. It’s nearly doubled in size now (and it has a kitchen).
From streetside, the home is deceivingly large because of its skinny lot. It has four levels, including a nearly 1,000-square-foot attic that is being transformed by Larry into a movie room and entertainment space. “I got to see the construction of this house and it is in good shape. It was not thrown together; they used 16-inch centers for spacing the rafters and joists, which was unheard of 100 years ago,” the long-time builder said.
Just beyond the door to the attic, the master bedroom and bath encompass all new space and are jaw-droppers, with multiple ceiling and wall angles that surely secured some overtime for the drywaller. Again, like the rest of the home, the décor is sparing and classy, leaving the architecture and design to do the talking.
Apparent to guests is that the Shawns are as casual as they are contemporary; they even insist visitors keep their shoes on to contribute, as B.J. laughs, to “life’s patina” on the floor. They relish the times when the grandkids are over and the rooms are full of guests, Larry’s cooking in the kitchen, and history is in the making for this home’s continuing story.
Homeowners: Larry and B.J. Shawn
The home: Over 100 years old, on Bay Street, downtown Petoskey; the historic plaque on the exterior of the home reads “Walter Kephart, 1903”
Its stats: 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, 2 1/2-car garage (new) on four levels.
Square footage: Original, 2,600 square feet, with 950 square feet of attic space. Addition square footage, 1,421 square feet, for a total of 4,971 square feet.
Historic restoration and addition by: Owner Larry Shawn and his company, Lazer Construction (www.lazerconstruction.com); architects, AZD of Ann Arbor; kitchen design, Renee Guthrie Design within the Lake Street Design Studio, Petoskey
How you might know the Shawns: Larry recently completed a seven-year historic renovation project to Castle Farms in Charlevoix. B.J. is the owner of Bearcub Outfitters, downtown Petoskey.
Family: Daughter Becky (Brad) Philipp-Kranig, and grandsons Mitchell, 3, and Connor, 1