A Lake House to Call Home

By+Carly Squadroni

Scattered across southwest Michigan are dozens of little lake towns where, for a few glorious months of summer each year, many Michiana residents find respite from the daily grind. Long, lazy afternoons are spent reading in the sun, peals of laughter and the hum of boats in the background; evenings are spent taking leisurely pontoon rides around the lake, cold drink in hand. But for Chris and Sue Stoler, lake life was too sweet to confine to just the summer, and in 2012, they decided it was time to make Diamond Lake in Cassopolis, Michigan their year-round home. 

The Stoler family has a three-generation history with Diamond Lake. “My grandmother has an old picture of me standing out on the pier in rubber pants,” Chris laughs, recalling the summers he spent on Diamond Lake during his childhood. His maternal and paternal grandparents both had summer homes here, and his parents still live on the west side of the lake. “I grew up here,” he says. “I’m just lucky that Sue fell in love with the lake too.”

Chris and Sue had a smaller place down the street for years, perfect for weekend getaways, but they eventually grew tired of making the drive back and forth from their full-time residence in South Bend. They identified a large piece of property on the northeast side of the lake where they could tear down the existing cottage and rebuild, and then got to work planning. The first order of business was designing a home that would comfortably accommodate their entire family, which now includes five children, two sons-in-law, and a grandchild on the way this summer.

Three of the Stolers’ children are in town; teenagers Calen and Chloe have yet to fly the coop, and their daughter Kelley lives in South Bend with her husband, Kevin. But with their oldest daughter Kaylee in Indianapolis, and Kelley’s twin sister Karlee living in New Jersey with her husband Kerry, the times that they are all under the same roof are increasingly rare, and that much more special. “We wanted to make this place as enticing as possible for them to want to come spend time here,” says Chris. That meant creating not only plenty of spacious common areas, but also a place to retreat for peace, quiet, and privacy. “We always want our kids to have their own bedrooms at our house,” Sue adds.

With these requirements in mind, the Stolers enlisted the help of architect Todd Nunemaker of Agape Designs and Jim Sieradzki of Century Builders to bring their dream home to life. They considered five or six builders initially, but ultimately chose Century because of the top-notch quality of their work and their commitment to follow up—plus, as Chris says, “Jim just charmed our socks off!” Both Nunemaker and Sieradzki were very open to incorporating their ideas: Chris and Sue wanted their home be truly one of a kind.

From concept through execution, nearly every choice was made with an eye toward the times that would bring family and friends together—right down to where the Christmas tree would go. “All of the kids are here for the holidays,” Sue says, “so a room for the Christmas tree was a top priority.” That room turned out to be what the Stolers call the “hearth room”: a cozy, sunny room at the house’s southwest corner with a soaring ceiling to accommodate even the tallest tree. 

After planning that first room, the rest of the design fell into place. The open concept main level is perfectly suited to entertaining family and friends, with airy and comfortable gathering spaces that include a well-furnished living room, a dining room that seats 14, and a kitchen island large enough for plenty of people to crowd around (it never fails: everyone ends up hanging out in the kitchen all night). Floor-to-ceiling windows maximize the lake view from nearly every vantage point. At the north end of the first floor is what the Stolers say is probably their favorite everyday room: the screened-in porch, complete with a wood-burning fireplace, Raber windows, and radiant heat in the floor to make it a true all-seasons room.

The second floor is dedicated to bedrooms: one for each of their five children, each with its own private bathroom, plus the master suite and a fitness room. On the lower level are the usual suspects as far as basements go—an entertainment room with a sprawling sectional sofa, a pool table, and a fully stocked bar—but Chris and Sue also reserved a wing of the lower level for the next generation of lake-goers. A bright room full of bunk beds with DIY guard rails fashioned from water skis stands at the ready for future grandchildren, directly adjacent to a TV room where they imagine someday kids will scamper in straight out of the lake and flop down on the couches and chairs in wet bathing suits.

It’s an utterly inviting home; the furnishings and décor are refined, but not remotely stuffy. The Stolers describe it as “comfortable, with just enough formality”—after all, it is first and foremost a lake house. They achieved this balance by shunning the coastal-inspired aesthetic that’s typical of lake houses in favor of mostly earth tones, choosing rich latte shades for the walls and custom-stained, hand-scraped hickory for the floors and woodwork. The floors were actually one of the more challenging hurdles in the process, as they simply couldn’t find exactly what they wanted. Hoosier Hardwood worked painstakingly with the Stolers to get the color, texture, and finish just right. They ended up laying the floor, scraping and distressing every inch of it by hand, and finishing it with a custom stain and finish. 

Chris and Sue did much of the interior design themselves, complementing their earthy color palette with furnishings in a mix of fabrics and textures. Supple leather, soft corduroy, and nailhead-trimmed linen work in tandem with a few strategically chosen patterns, shaggy rugs, and knotty wood end tables to create an aesthetic that’s as sophisticated as it is welcoming. The décor pays homage to the lake itself with several interesting pieces, such as the wall art hanging in the foyer. It’s the only place on the first floor where you actually can’t see the lake, so the Stolers had a South Bend blacksmith create a metalwork landscape that draws inspiration from the lakefront view. The same blacksmith made custom metal bases for two tree trunk discs taken from trees at their old home in South Bend, and which now function as coffee tables in the screened-in porch.

The Stolers moved in just over two years ago now, and have already made some incredible memories in their new home. They’ve held a wedding for one daughter on their lakefront lawn, and watched another get engaged here. But even in the midst of these big memories, a smaller one stands out: Sue recalls with a smile finding two of their grown daughters curled up at the kitchen table, staying up talking until the wee hours of the morning one weekend. Perhaps in that moment, she knew they had succeeded in creating what they set out to create: a place for all of them to call home.