A home of their own
By Tom Renkes
Photos by G. Randall Goss
New feet within my garden go,
New fingers stir the sod;
A troubadour upon the elm
Betrays the solitude.
The first stanza of Emily Dickinson’s “Nature” warms the weather around you as spring works its way into its seasonal throne. Sarah Dickinson Little and Derek Marshall needed a barn, but Sarah wanted “birdsong and bunnies.” They got all three.
“My great-great-grandparents bought property and started a farm on Boyne City Road around 1916, and it became a sacred gathering spot for the family,” Sarah shares. “Then it was sold, but the tug in my heart brought me back.”
After 15 years of apartment living in Chicago, Sarah had never owned a home. She and Derek started talking, and three years ago Sarah called local realtor Pat O’Brien to say she’d look at the house on Marion Center Road.
“I bought it that day,” she says. “I told Derek, we’re moving to Charlevoix. Best decision of my life.”
As you drive off the road and into the circle drive around a quaking aspen, you’re not sure if this is an old farmhouse made new, or a replica to be made old. Once inside it becomes clear — it’s both. Built-in shelves, new shelves built by Derek, and “functional organic art” (Sarah’s term for her creations), bring a world class designer’s view to light.
Hand-hewn hardwood floors are the base for which the entire house rests upon.
“Derek did them all. Cutting, shaping, scraping and finishing the old-fashioned way,” Sarah recollects.
Around us in the living room are antique books of all shape and size, some with covers, some not, but each is placed as art.
“I wanted to show a sense of history. A wide swath of history,” Sarah says.
Whites and off-whites dominate the color scheme of the room — and house — while accents pop off the backgrounds. The fireplace, handmade and set by Derek, looks as if it was always there. But, no, Derek built the structure and placed the insert with astonishing alignment with the original design of the home, the outdoor views and the surrounding accoutrements. Fresh flowers accentuate every space and were provided by Judy at A Touch of Spring in Charlevoix.
To the rear of the first floor is a fully updated dining room and kitchen beguiling the historical tensions in the house; however, because of the whites and color accents, along with the white cabinets, white subway tile and platinum grout, it’s a seamless move into a very functional space, and everywhere are Derek’s creations: the dining room table, end tables, counters, shelves and again, the floors. T.J. Marble and Granite did provide the cutting for the new cast iron sink, and Matt Herzog reworked and rewired all of the antique light fixtures throughout the house.
“I did all of the painting and design,” Sarah notes. “It’s something I’ve been thinking of doing anyway, and this house was like a clean slate.”
A nice artistic touch in the kitchen are framed seed sacks that were cleaned and bleached by Sarah with frames built by Derek. The house is full of memories Sarah secured from the original family farmhouse and outbuildings.
Upstairs and to the left, we walk into the master bedroom with closets and attached bathroom. But more notable are the nightstands Derek made from old pub tables. Each has one forward brace-leg while the table top is attached to the wall in the back. The white draperies frame the view of the back farmland and walking sculpture path through the fields being created by Sarah.
Completing the upstairs is a writing nook for Sarah. “If you’re a descendent of Emily Dickinson … ” she begins. And that’s all she needs to say. The room is artfully created with books, mementos and shades of white and blue.
Toward the front is a guest room with similar colors and more family memories. In each of the rooms, there is a chandelier. I ask if they’re antique. “No. Wayfair,” she says with a smile.
Finally, outside, the gardens are a tribute to the natural world around them. Charlevoix Ace Hardware was the main shop of tools and implements necessary. Pine Hill Nursery delivered rocks, flagstone, perennials, mulch and anything else required for the home.
“Ralph and Sandy of Pine Hill were fabulous. This house was on the (Charlevoix) Garden Walk,” Sarah said with delight.
The barn you see off the road is home to Derek’s workshop and is stocked with rows of wood of all cuts and grains awaiting Sarah’s design. Upstairs they’re working on a room that they’re not sure what the purpose will be: “It may end up being Derek’s getaway, who knows,” Sarah concludes.
As Sarah and Derek set their sails upon their inland sea of contentment around their farm, only Emily Dickinson could have foretold their future:
Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea, -
Past the houses, past the headlands,
Into deep eternity!
Written By By Tom Renkes, photos by G. Randall Goss