Stone house in northern Michigan is perfect for … the Stones

The husband of my new Northern Michigan friend LaShelle VanHouten (author of the memoir on often homeless artist Ed Lantzer) built a house I’d snooped around some years back. As a design nut, if I spot a cool house, unless it has armed guards or a high fence I’m undeterred. LaShelle offered to organize a real tour.

Great! I exclaimed, faster than a deer chomps on a daylily.

The house belongs to Todd and Jenny Stone whom I’d met several years ago at an antiques fair. (Actually I remet Jenny. Her first job was with Farbman Group.) From my earlier reconnoitering (a more genteel term than spying), I knew the Stone house was fabulous from the outside. Built of huge boulders and quarter sawn oak, pine and fir, it dominates a hilltop and overlooks a wide stretch of Torch Lake.

Inside I discovered ginormous boulder fireplaces, handsome cabinetry, knotty pine paneling, kids’ bunk rooms. A large home (8500sf) that feels friendly, not overwhelming.

When the Stones first spotted the property, an old cottage perched there. The couple planned to demo the original house, Todd says, until they learned it was “Grandpa’s house.” The grandfather of several families who still live on neighboring lots was an early resident on Torch Lake. Respecting the cottage’s history, the Stones renovated and moved it to the back of their lot. It now serves as a guest house. The couple then hired Traverse City architect Ken Richmond to design a bigger home “that feels like it had been here forever.”

Ken VanHouten, a second generation home builder on Torch Lake, calls the Stone house “my most challenging project ever.” About 800 tons of rock were used in the house and surrounding wall, of which 200 tons were excavated from the site. Multi-hued floor boards are reclaimed and milled old factory beams. Cabinetry incorporates Craftsman-inspired grids and square knobs. The day the copper roof was installed on the octagonal tower, several friends and family members showed up to watch. Ken recalls, “I said to myself: what will I do if it doesn’t fit? I’ll be a hero or a zero.” When the roof actually fit, the audience chimed in with a chorus of “Hallelujah.”

6 carpenters did both rough and finish carpentry. At Jenny’s request, they all signed their names on the back of the beam above the inglenook. The carpenters and other tradesmen attended the contractors’ party the Stones threw a month after moving in.

What most impressed me was the action that happens amid these stone and pine paneled walls. Todd and Jenny, high school sweethearts from Romeo, MI, live in Houston. Todd is a geologist who hunts for oil wells. “Sometimes I find ‘em,” he says with a grin. Living in Texas, the couple missed their home state. When their children were 8 and 10, they decided, as Todd puts it, “We need to brainwash these little Texans.” They began scouting for property on Torch Lake.

The day I visited, daughter Emily, 20, a junior at Texas A&M, was away. Sam, 18, a recent grad of The Woodlands High School in Woodlands, TX, was hosting more than a dozen fellow swimmers and water polo players. Muscular lads in swim trunks and lithe, leggy girls chowed down on Jenny’s tacos. A message on the chalk board reads: “One person, one towel, one water bottle makes Mrs. Stone very happy and she will continue to cook for you.” Another: “If you keep Mrs. Stone up with late night hot tub noise, she will no longer feed you.”

The group resurfaced on the lake atop rafts towed by a speed boat. The number of bunk beds this gang occupied would have daunted me. But Jenny and Todd were unperturbed. The house sleeps 26.

In the backyard, two large vertical rocks provide a landscape feature that became an altar for Jenny’s niece’s wedding and for her father’s funeral service. It also serves as a stage. Every other July this big-hearted couple host an event called Tunes on Torch. They invite a Michigan singer/songwriter and a nationally known musician to perform. A food truck, from which guests pre-order online, serves dinner. Guests donate to a local charity. At this year’s event, Jenny says with pride, 300 guests contributed over $8000 to the Bellaire Community Youth Initiative, which provides after school programming for local kids.

Todd devotes as much to his relationships as he does to finding oil. A handsome elk’s head presides over the living room fireplace. The animal was felled by Todd’s friend, mentor, boss and hunting buddy who died of cancer in his 40s. His widow gave it to Todd, saying, “Dave would want you to have it.” 3 years ago, learning that another good friend suffered from polycystic kidney disease, Todd donated one of his kidneys.

A house built of stone for a man educated in stones whose name just happens to be… There’s an interesting symbolism here. Thanks for the tour, Todd and Jenny. Rock on.

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