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Everyday getaway in Sylvan Lake

Couple creates livable lakeside life with renovation of 1950s home

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

Unlike the other offer on the table, Dana and Richard Bennett had no intention of leveling the Sylvan Lake residence they were trying to buy. “We really liked the bones,” says Dana of the waterfront home they happened upon that would become theirs to revive in 2012.

From her deck, Dana Bennett gazes out on Sylvan Lake and the backyard of her 1953 home as she talks about its transformation from a red-brick ranch into a laid-back Michigan lake home. "We wanted charm, not grandeur," says Bennett.

As it turns out, the two make a great renovation team. “I have the vision and he’s my sounding board,” says Dana – a former attorney on the board of directors for the Jacqueline E. Bayley Foundation for ovarian cancer research and awareness – of her husband Richard, a urologist with Comprehensive Urology based in Royal Oak.

Dana finds it ironic that their house will be featured on the Sylvan Lake Home & Garden Tour. “We set out to create a very livable home, not a showpiece,” she says. Still, they fit this year’s theme of breathing new life into existing homes in the historic community.

Their 1950s house has reached new heights. It’s hard to imagine the 4,400-square-foot residence, which includes the lower level, has evolved over time from a red-brick ranch to its current aesthetic.

“It went through an evolution in the early ’90s with the previous owner,” says Dana. “We just finished the third phase of our version, which is kind of a classic traditional Michigan lake home. That’s definitely the mood we’re trying to accomplish.”

Inspired by New England style, right down to the window boxes and the color palette, the mid-century home exudes charm through its soothing hues. “The color palette is on trend right now with homes in grays, blues and taupes, but it’s timeless on the water; the colors speak to a lake home,” Dana says.

Their furnishings also stand the test of time with pieces that have been repurposed to better suit their new surroundings, like a Mission-style rocker that was refinished in black and a sectional from Art Van with an extension added five years after the original portion was purchased.

Carefully chosen Benjamin Moore paints appear throughout the house, like the Nimbus Gray on the living room walls. “When the sun is out, it looks blue, and in the evening it looks gray,” says Dana.

Some of the original features went from obstacles to welcome elements, such as the baseboard radiators salvaged by their contractor from Home Renaissance in Northville, who was able to make them more attractive in the process.

Existing wood floors were refinished, while the carpet and plantation shutters are new.

Opening up the staircase that leads to the spacious walkout made a big difference. “I wanted to make the entrance to the lower level more gracious so it wasn’t closed off,” Dana explains.

They also turned a section of a sizable bedroom into a lively space. “We had no need for an extra-large guestroom, so we created a sunroom alcove. We still have a nice size guestroom and two more on the lower level,” she says.

Facing the lake, the views couldn’t get any better. “I feel like I’m on vacation in the sunroom,” says Dana of the warm and inviting space. “I can sit and read and look out on the water. It’s very soothing.”

The walls wear Haystack in the sunroom where existing pieces play new roles like a sofa from the formal living room in a previous home and a playful chair with a fun pattern that was once in their son’s nursery. “It’s a loud print, so I just embraced it,” says Dana.

Since expansive windows leave little wall space, Dana adorned the guest room with meaningful art and photography by family members. “It’s a wonderful way to decorate your home. It’s beautiful and it’s personalized,” she says.

Their son’s room, which sports a nautical theme, features furniture that has grown with him through the years.

Simple updates to a nearby bathroom include freshly painted cabinets embellished with new hardware. Even the radiator got a makeover. “I wanted it to pop instead of apologizing for it, so I made it a focal point by painting it black,” Dana says.

The only space that was completely gutted was the powder room where classic details like wainscoting and a pedestal sink contribute to the timeless interiors. The demo was a housewarming gift from family friend, David Glovak, who served as another sounding board throughout the renovation process.

Kitchen updates included painting the existing cabinets Simply White. “It’s milky and it has some depth to it,” says Dana, who changed the hardware and kept the Corian countertops. Other upgrades include new appliances and a backsplash made from glass, ceramic tile and stainless steel.

A pendant light with a drum shade hangs above a new dining table that can easily seat 12 with a bench on one end to accommodate children.

Just outside, a new patio and deck beckon from the many freshly renovated outdoor spaces on the lake that have a distinctly organic feel. Dana worked with Todd’s Services in Hamburg on the hardscapes, landscaping and outdoor lighting.

A small beach area was added along with a sea wall made from boulders that keep the look cohesive with the neighbors. The table and chairs on the dock offer a peaceful perch to fish or simply have a conversation.

“There’s nothing formal about this house. It’s very livable and comfortable for us and it’s welcoming for family and friends,” says Dana. “It’s fun for everyone. There’s no pretense here.”

The lower level features a remodeled kitchen that’s ideal for entertaining with a newly added bar, beer tap and wine fridges. “We put in a kitchen we really like to enjoy with family and friends,” says Dana, who chose low-maintenance porcelain tile floors that mimic wood for the high-traffic location.

A basket on the counter that’s reserved for candy and an old-fashioned popcorn cart are guaranteed crowd pleasers, while Corian countertops gave Dana the look she envisioned for the laid-back space. “We wanted charm, not grandeur. That was very important to us,” she says. “Just about every weekend in the summer we have guests. We have a lot of fun.”

Jeanine Matlow writes the Smart Solutions column in Homestyle. You can reach her at jeaninematlow@earthlink.net.

Sylvan Lake Home

& Garden Tour

See eight homes that range from lakefront properties to bungalows and mid-century modern abodes Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Advance tickets are $12 and $15 on tour day. Tickets available at sylvanlakehometour.com, Sylvan Lake City Hall (1820 Inverness) or Detroit Garden Works (1794 Pontiac Drive). Hotline: 248-615-6296.