High Style in Harbor Country
Everyone’s favorite quick trip out of town offers beaches, blueberries, and sophisticated shopping
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Photography by Matthew Gilson
Brandon Nelson is just one of the many Chicago expatriates who have set up shop in the resort towns of Michigan. His store in Three Oaks, Ipso Facto, is filled with antique advertising and promotional pieces, vintage garden furniture, and folk art.
Lovell & Whyte, in Lakeside, is one of the oldest home furnishings stores in the area. The owners, who also offer interior design services, travel the country for elegant, one-of-a-kind pieces, a mix of antiques and new merchandise.
Drier's Market, in Three Oaks, is a local institution specializing in smoked meats. It has been around since just after the Civil War.
Pomegranate Home opened in Lakeside last May. There's an urban edge to the cottage style here: one of the co-owners' taste runs more traditional, the other, modern.
"I like a point of view that's global," says Brian Overley, co-owner of Marco Polo, in Harbert. He and his partner, Alan DeBaugh, search the Midwest for old, handmade things, and also shop abroad. "I hope there's a general underlying elegance to the things we're choosing," Overley says.
Chicago interior designer Susan Fredman bought a vacation home in the Harbor Country area a couple years ago and soon after opened At Home With Nature, a full-service design shop with cottage-style furniture and accessories for sale.
Springdale, in Three Oaks, is one of the country's largest sources for Heywood-Wakefield furniture. The curvy, blond, birch chairs, dressers, tables, and sofas were made in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.
Little more than an hour's drive from downtown, Michigan's Harbor Country has long been a favorite destination among Chicagoans for a pleasant day trip or weekend getaway. Fruit picking, vineyard touring, antiquing, sunbathing, and biking are all great things to do in this lake-hugging resort area. Now you can add shopping for stylish home decor to the list, thanks to a crop of fine boutiques catering to lovers of sophisticated cottage style.
Why travel all the way to Michigan to shop? First, it's fun. Cross over the Skyway and suddenly you're truly away. Buying something there is like buying something on vacation. Second, Harbor Country is the land of second homes, which are typically pared down and a bit more fun than the regular kind. So if your home needs loosening up, it's the place to go. Boutique owners there talk enthusiastically about mixing textures, periods, and styles to give your home visual punch.
There are two main centers of shopping action-the tiny inland town of Three Oaks and the lakefront cluster of Union Pier, Lakeside, and Harbert. All are within a ten-mile radius. Three Oaks is "a happening little town," says Aron Packer, whose respected Aron Packer Gallery in Chicago features contemporary and outsider art. He opened an outpost in Three Oaks last April (6 Linden St., 773-458-3150; http://www.aronpacker.com/). "It's got that sort of half-resorty, half-slacker thing going on," he says of the town. Kim Pruitt, a Chicago expatriate, apparently agrees. She recently moved her shop, the awkwardly named Dawning Art the Gift (22 N. Elm St., 269-756-9940; http://www.dawningart.com/), from Chicago. It showcases her own outsidery-looking paintings and primitive sculptures, along with the work of local potters, textile artists, and woodworkers.
Not all the furniture and accessories found in the area are geared toward vacation homes. One of the biggest surprises is a showroom featuring the country's largest collection of mid-century modern Heywood-Wakefield furniture, in a shop that would be perfectly at home in Los Angeles. Fans flock to Springdale (19 S. Elm St., 269-756-9896; http://www.springdalefurnishings.com/) for curvy, American-made birch furniture from the 1940s and '50s. A few other stores deal in large quantities, but none can match the stock at the 5,000-square-foot Springdale, says owner Jim Toler.
Toler first stumbled onto a piece of Heywood-Wakefield 17 years ago at an auction in Shipshewana, Indiana. "It was an epiphany," he says of his find, a Niagara vanity with a rounded front. Though Toler knew nothing about Heywood-Wakefield, he fell in love with the piece. "I thought, wow, I want more of that," he remembers. Six years ago, he amassed enough stock to open his store in a former bowling alley on the main drag in Three Oaks. Though the store is mostly a sea of blond wood, there's also a smattering of other fun vintage furniture from the 1920s through the '60s (with a concentration on the 1930s through the '50s), including vintage rattan and pieces by Herman Miller, Dunbar, and Widdicomb. If you can picture it in your rec room or tiki lounge, it's here.
A short walk away is Springdale alum Brandon Nelson's Ipso Facto (1 W. Ash St., 269-756-3404). If you were ever in Mad Parade, a short-lived, idiosyncratic Chicago salvage store, you'll get Ipso. Nelson, a School of the Art Institute graduate, scours the Midwest for funky garden antiques, architectural salvage, primitive modern pieces, advertising art, folk art, and ethnographica. Seen recently: a huge, three-dimensional Indian head that he reckons was worn by the mascot of a high school football team ($1,500), an unusual metal cowboy hat from the early 1900s that was probably an advertising or promotional piece, and some African and Oceanic tribal art. "What interests me," Nelson says, "is the juxtaposition of periods and materials-to have a sleek, clean, modern piece next to an African stool."
You can't leave Three Oaks without doing some food shopping at the famous Drier's Market (14 S. Elm St., 888-521-3999; http://www.driers.com/). Drier's, a fourth-generation institution, specializes in smoked meats from a 100-year-old smokehouse. Want to make a picnic? Grab some honey sunflower bread, muffins, and bagels at Froehlich's Bakery (26 N. Elm St., 269-756-6002; http://www.shopfroehlichs.com/), or have lunch on the premises; Froehlich's serves up tasty soups, salads, and sandwiches. Three Oaks is also home to one of the area's hottest new restaurants, Mesa Luna (13 S. Elm St., 269-756-7519), which opened in June 2004. The menu is contemporary American (with Asian, Italian, and Spanish influences). The two chefs here work with local farmers to bring seasonal produce to the table.
Back along the lake, continue your shopping tour in Union Pier, where noted Chicago-area interior designer Susan Fredman opened Susan Fredman's At Home With Nature (15998 Red Arrow Hwy., 269-469-9640) a couple of years ago. After buying a summer home nearby, Fredman noticed there were few places accommodating people doing a complete home remodel. Now with three interior designers and one garden designer on staff, At Home With Nature is a place to buy a rug or pillow or to have your entire kitchen renovated. Fredman's new line of fabrics represents the epitome of subtle resort style (one upholstery fabric has a graphic pattern consisting of different views of flip-flop sandals). The in-house designers show off their talents in room vignettes-a bedroom, bathrooms, and a kitchen.
We love the vintage-look chairs in bold colors, the French linens, and the brightly painted primitive furniture by local craftsman Floyd Gompf at Lovell & Whyte, just up Red Arrow in Lakeside (14950 Lakeside Rd., 269-469-5900). Designers at this studio, which has been around for nine years, have decorated many a hyper-sophisticated cottage in the area. Ralph Lauren is a signature brand here; in summer, find more of a cottage/outdoor furniture look. The owners, Jim Fitzmaurice and Doug GeBraad, travel the country looking for one-of-a-kind works, handmade chairs, and other artisan pieces you can't get elsewhere. The mix of traditional and primitive is highly appealing.
Across the street, Sally O'Malley and Bob Herbst opened Pomegranate Home (14913 Lakeside Rd., 269-469-2344) last May. Their merchandise is a mix of contemporary and rustic country pieces with some English, Italian, and French pottery, upholstered furniture, and vintage wicker worked in. There's a decidedly urban edge to the cottage style here; when we visited, we were drawn to the cocktail-glam barware and the delightful linens of Dermond Peterson. Artwork-some original and some reproduction-is a big category here; Herbst recommends art as a way to add instant edge to a room.
"We like to mix within a lifestyle, such as a neutral upholstered sofa mixed with a painted vintage chair and a contemporary lamp," he says. "It's a fresh, textural approach. Nowhere do you have an expected result." Herbst also believes in incorporating garden items-terra cotta, rustic stone, plants-into the home (to wit: a large potted topiary on a dining table).
A couple of miles north in Harbert, Marco Polo (13630 Red Arrow Hwy., 269-469-6972) is a gem of an antique store. "I look for stuff with style, with a weekend point of view," says Brian Overley, who owns the shop with his partner, Alan DeBaugh. Overley searches the Midwest for old, handmade things. He also buys in the Far East. "I like a point of view that's global," says Overley, a former Chicagoan who has a degree in fine art. "The store is hard to define. It's an interesting mix of 1950s mid-century modern with a 19th-century rustic table. We're a shop that really curates its merchandise and looks for a level of quality."
What you won't see here is anything funky or folky. "Quirky or humorous doesn't interest me," he says. "I hope there's a general underlying elegance to the things we're choosing." (He hopes right.) "Some of my favorite things are little American things made on the farm." Overley and DeBaugh have planted an incredible naturalistic garden next to their store; be sure to wander through.
If you're hungry after shopping, lunch or dinner is in order across the street at Café Gulistan (13581 Red Arrow Hwy., 269-469-6779), a popular Middle Eastern restaurant.