As a gallery owner, Bradley Vite knows that sometimes you find art and sometimes art finds you. In 1997, this penchant for serendipity brought Vite more than unique paintings and sculptures. It brought him a home.
Driving around one day, Vite happened upon a weathered cottage at Paradise Lake that was more Clampett than quaint. Dingy, gray, sad and peeling, the small structure looked as though it had seen its share of hard times. But Vite saw an open canvas. And he began to fill it in.
Over the course of five years – “I didn’t want a turnkey operation” – Vite slowly renovated the cottage and its grounds, transforming the place from a dilapidated shack to a tidy bungalow that sits among the foliage as though it has always belonged there.
When he began the project, foremost on Vite’s palette was a desire to avoid the “McMansion” look of many lake houses. Rather, he wanted this home to reflect its surroundings, to blend in with the natural beauty of the setting.
“One of my motivations was to achieve a sense of quietness, solitude and serenity,” Vite said. “That’s been lost on other bodies of water.”
Vite was fortunate that Paradise Lake, near Vandalia, Mich., is one of the few that isn’t boxed in by houses. “Most people here appreciate the natural state,” he said.
Vite estimates there are maybe 50 homes around the lake’s perimeter. From his cottage, only glimpses of roofs can be seen through the trees. Across from his 100-foot-wide, 200-foot-deep lot is an untamed peninsula. Rabbits scurry across the lawn and flower gardens “as though they’re at a soiree,” he jokes. Wild turkey, coyote and deer have been known to make an appearance. And everywhere, the trill and chirp of birds makes for a symphony of sound.
“This area looks like it did 200 years ago,” he said. “It looks the way God created it.”
From an old country road to a dirt lane to a circular gravel drive, one approaches the lake cottage. A brick path leads from the drive to a verandah, where bright purple clematis twines around latticework. Flower gardens rimmed in rocks meander among the setting. Maple and cherry trees rise majestically. Mulberry, apple and pear trees dot the landscape. Black-raspberry bushes, grapevines and wild onions contribute to what Vite calls his personal grocery. Over all, peace pervades.
Eschewing the idea of vinyl, knowing it “just wouldn’t fit the locale,” Vite wrapped the cottage’s exterior in sand-colored cedar siding with woodland casing. At the entry, one sees clear through the cottage to the lake.
The interior – which Vite scraped hollow to the studs – is perhaps best described as an Arts and Crafts style, which evokes earthy simplicity and emphasizes good design, high standards and honest construction. Two small bedrooms and a bath flank the entry. Five-panel doors on these rooms elicit a period feel. A short hallway entices the visitor toward a vaulted great room. On the right is the kitchen, with light hickory cabinets that complement the sage countertops. An island in the u-shaped kitchen offers informal seating. To the left is a fieldstone fireplace before which an autumn red leather recliner and two wicker chairs reside. A mission coffee table centers the grouping and above it hangs a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired lighting fixture. Vite’s collection of Native American art, artifacts and rugs (some from the 1920s and 1930s) bring an additional sense of serenity to the décor.
Reflecting on the design, Vite said, “I wanted it to look as if it was built 70 to 80 years ago, with a vintage aura and modern amenities. You look at this place and you don’t know if it was done recently or several decades ago and well preserved.”
Along a six-foot strip at the back of the cottage is a dining alcove and a small sitting area. A dark beadboard ceiling anchors this strip, where Vite’s grandparents’ 1940s-era Formica table and chairs hold a place of honor and memory.
Eggshell walls throughout the cottage are enhanced by soft lighting and an abundance of windows that bring the outdoors in. A glass door centered along the back wall offers entry to an intimate screened porch, where another beadboard ceiling mirrors that on the interior. Here, the full effect of the view grabs you.
A dozen steps beyond the porch, the land slopes sharply then stretches to a sweeping lawn before the placid, spring-fed lake. On an L-shaped dock, two Adirondeck chairs beckon.
“My senses are continually rewarded with color, sounds, scents and sights, making this a transcendent space. All of this and the view influenced my decision to settle here,” Vite admits.
But more than just a place with an incredible vista, for Vite the property represents an opportunity to live a personal philosophy.
“To preserve a natural asset for me is a given,” he said. “We’re all temporary stewards of what we have. As you travel through life, I believe in making circumstances better if you are able.”
In the landscaping around the cottage, Vite points out that four dozen garden lights extend the living area to the outside. Knee-high lights illuminate the flowerbeds, while uplights glorify the towering trees. Vite has the lights separated into 12 “zones” so he can illuminate different areas to suit his whim.
Even so, he said, “You can’t improve on nature as it was intended.”
In the six years since he moved into the cottage, Vite has heard an array of comments from those who have visited. “People pull up in the drive and they just smile,” he said. “This place makes you feel good, but in a quiet way. You’re transported to a different time. You forget the cares of the world. Here, things start to unravel. You can breathe.”
He pauses, and looks his visitor in the eye. “Welcome to paradise,” he says.