Step inside five wonderful waterfront retreats that offer their inhabitants scenic views, inspiring decor, and peaceful leisure time. We also provide details on the real-estate markets, acreage, and recreational activities in this selection of freshwater lake communities, from Michigan to Bloomington.
View from the Top
Perched on rolling hills, this Lake Maxinkuckee home rests on a high point above the shore. While other abodes nearby descend down into walkout basements, this new build stands tall to blend in with a soaring landscape. It replaced an original tiny cottage that once languished there, torn down to make way for the new homeowners’ dream house. It faces the lake, and many rooms have windows peering out onto the water.
Ali Marten, lead designer and owner of Marten Design, was instrumental in giving her clients a serene setting where they can relax and unwind. She collaborated with architect Steve Zintel of Summit Design Group to maximize the lake views and allow ample natural light into the space. Marten and Zintel—along with Marten’s husband Tom of Marten Construction, who was brought on as the builder—teamed up to tailor the space and make it light and airy with a classic coastal vibe. Nautical-stripe penny tile covers the floor in the basement bathroom, for example, while color choices everywhere else hint at the lakefront, with splashes of blue hues.
Marten also worked with Nathan Alan Fine Cabinetry and Design to customize cabinets in the kitchen, pantry, and elsewhere in the home. The blue-gray kitchen island creates a focal point with its quartzite countertop in a wavelike pattern reminiscent of water moving over a sandy lake bed.
In the living room, 10-foot-tall built-in cabinets conceal the TV behind antique mirrored fronts that reflect lake scenes from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Overhead, the ceiling is paneled with pecky cypress from Florida to add a natural, organic element to the room.
The aforementioned basement bath was designed with a key convenience feature: a pass-through cabinet connected to the laundry room that makes it easy to transfer washer-ready beach and bath towels.
Having five bedrooms, five-and-a-half bathrooms, and 6,989 square feet, the new home affords a much larger footprint ideal for the growing family who didn’t care to make a cross-county trek every time they wanted to dip their toes in water. The homeowners had a vacation house in Florida, but sold it once they realized they could do without a trip to the airport for a plane ride, opting instead for the hour-and-a-half drive from their permanent home (a farm northwest of Indianapolis) to Maxinkuckee’s nearby town of Culver.
The area in Culver is laidback. And yet, there is always something to do, especially during winter when ice festivals and ice fishing capture local interest. The homeowners say they use the home year-round and pop by for a weekend or just a day trip. Life on the water is a completely different feel, they say, and they like to go to the lake to relax and unwind. “My husband always dreamed of owning a Chris-Craft boat and wanted to learn how to sail,” says the homeowner. But much of the time, they just like to sit back and take in those spectacular lake views.
When Life Gives You Lemons
David Goris and Michael Klitzing enjoyed taking long drives around lakes. They had driven around Lake Lemon and loved its charm and proximity to Bloomington. Unlike popular and overcrowded Monroe Lake, Lemon felt homey, so Goris snapped a picture of a local real estate agent’s sign, not thinking he’d ever follow up.
But one day in 2015, on a whim, he decided to give her a call.
She showed the couple three properties, but Goris asked to revisit the first, whose sunporch caught his attention. Goris and Klitzing ended up buying the house. Then in 2017, they bought the home next door to it, thinking they’d expand their property. Realizing it would be too costly to build the large garage they wanted, they pulled down the old house and built another instead. It would be their dream home, with floor-to-ceiling glass patio doors looking out on the water and a soaring, 12-foot ceiling. They were about to finish the home in 2020 when the coronavirus hit and construction stopped.
To make matters worse, the couple was in the midst of wedding plans. “At that time, you could only have a gathering of 30-some odd people, and we had to switch gears to something much more casual,” says Goris. Catering, invitations, and the location all had to be adjusted. Luckily a minister from Bloomington was willing to come out to the home, and so the couple decided to have the wedding there. They got the lake house finished at the last second, when a batch of materials the builder had been awaiting miraculously arrived just in time.
Later, as the wedding ceremony was about to conclude, a bald eagle flew overhead, and Goris and Klitzing realized how serendipitous it had all been. Everything had fallen into place. They had their lake home, and they could use it to escape the hustle and bustle of their busy lives in Indianapolis. “Here, the pace just slows down, and all the stresses of the normal work week fade away,” says Goris. The couple say they can breathe and decompress in this beautiful setting. Woods flank either side of the home.
Across from the house, a tiny island beckons, and their dog, Doey, a 10-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, takes to the water almost every waking moment. “We’re actually known as the guys with a dog,” Klitzing says with a laugh. She swims so much they call her their polar bear because even cold waters won’t deter her from jumping in the lake. They thought she’d need dock-diving lessons, but Doey took to the water on her own without hesitation.
Today, other homebuyers have discovered the pleasures of Lake Lemon. But for Goris and Klitzing, the home remains a tranquil retreat. Goris brings in statement decor pieces to juxtapose against the light and airy minimalist aesthetic they craved in a lake home. “We wanted our home to feel casual and sophisticated and not detract from the lake views,” says Klitzing.
The Life Aquatic
For designer Tiffany Skilling of Tiffany Skilling Interiors, the secret to a cohesive space is repetition. Therefore, she knew exactly what to do when an Indianapolis client solicited her help, in collaboration with contractor RAK Construction, architect Lorenz & Company, and cabinetry designer Nathan Alan Fine Cabinetry and Design, to design a new seven-bedroom home on Lake Michigan. The clients asked Skilling if she could blend their strong design aesthetic with some nautical touches. While others might lean into full beach-house mode, Skilling pulled back, recalibrated, and pared down.
Skilling pulled together lakeshore elements—things you might easily discover on the beach—but in an understated way. In other words, no surfboards, crab pictures, or jars of seashells here. The job seemed particularly apt since Skilling had grown up in Grand Rapids and spent her youth scampering on the Lake Michigan shoreline. All in all, Skilling was the perfect designer for the project.
The first thing she did was take the client on a treasure hunt to local antique shops. Over a period of two years, Skilling helped handpick moody paintings of windblown ships or rough waves in storms at sea, all of which would eventually appear on the main living space’s two gallery walls.
Elsewhere, more subtle references to the life aquatic pepper the open-concept home. In the entryway, a chandelier is comprised of weathered wood, bending and cascading downward like flowing brown ribbons. In one of the bedrooms, a bed frame is lined with rope akin to what you’d see on a ship’s mast, and a bathroom mirror—along with the tile in that room—offers a curious resemblance to fish scales. “The point was to gesture to the home’s environment without feeling overpowering,” says Skilling. “The client didn’t want the home to feel like a kitschy beach house.”
While repetition is key, Skilling forbore using the exact same element over and over to make the nautical motif work. “I touched on the seashore theme in a really classic way. Think one or two vintage ships in a bottle—but not overdoing it with 20.” The resulting look was perfect for clients who’d been taking summer trips to Saugatuck for more than a decade. When the clients’ kids were little, they started vacationing in the area with neighborhood friends and continued to visit every year. They enjoyed the area so much, they eventually landed on the idea of a purchasing a lakeshore summer home.
“My client looked for years, and then they found this lot and loved it because of how private it was,” says Skilling. “I wanted to help make the home feel like it had always been there, waiting to be found.”
When an Indianapolis couple purchased a property on Lake Wawasee, the whole house had been gutted. The prior owner was in the middle of a renovation on the 100-year-old home, even though his wife hated the lake. Both were from Goshen, and lakeside life was still new to them. The contractor the prior owner hired stripped the home, taking down all the doors and stacking them in the garage. The roof had a leak, and someone eventually draped a tarp over it. Then the owner and the builder got into a spat, the latter walked off the job, and the home sat abandoned for 18 years, incomplete and open to the elements. “The entire place was horrible,” recalls the current homeowner. “Every kid on the lake and every raccoon had been in there.”
When the new buyers first crossed the threshold, there was no kitchen and everything else was out of date. Whatever was good— like nice doors with milk-glass knobs still attached—had been cast into the garage. The prior owner by this point had died, and his daughter was ready to sell the abandoned house. For the husband, the buy was a no-brainer, but the wife was unsure. Though they had been renting on the south shore of the lake for nearly 25 years, she knew the home would need a lot of restoration and wasn’t too keen on the purchase. But she saw the big porch and dreamed of how the house might look someday.
Knowing it needed work, the couple bought the home with eyes wide open, salvaging what they could. They took board and batten left abandoned in the garage and added it to the hallway stairs, living room, and front hall. They pulled the original wood floors out of two of the bedrooms to renovate the floor in the larger living room that had been damaged from exposure to the elements. They restored the home’s two fireplaces; the one in the living room had granite rocks painted lime-green. The couple power washed it to uncover beautiful original stone. They added on a new kitchen, and the entire home renovation took a year to complete.
Then the secrets began to pour out. A neighbor next door remembered the original owner, William H. Noll. The woman’s parents attended dances in the property’s boathouse, where Noll (who marketed his father’s cough-syrup concentrate, Pinex) invited mobsters like Al Capone. The story goes that since Noll’s home didn’t have a kitchen, he ate all his meals at the famed Spink Wawasee Hotel, where he first met Capone.
Unbeknownst to the couple, they bought and restored a home an ancestor had built, as the husband’s grandmother was cousin to William H. Noll. “We don’t know for sure if the stories are true, but we like to think we salvaged a little bit of history by saving this house,” says the wife.
The Sweet Life
What do you do when you lack the time to go on vacation, but want an escape? In 2003, the owners of this house were in the mortgage business and had to be available 24/7 because they didn’t have any employees who could help shoulder the workload. They did, however, have a 3-year-old and 6-month-old, and the couple didn’t want to miss out on precious family moments. “We had been looking for about 18 months before we found the house,” says the homeowner.
What drew them to the lake house, built in the 1970s and situated in an isolated cove on the private lake of Sweetwater, was the commute from Carmel, where the couple worked and had their primary home. Not to mention, the lake water had spectacular clarity. “The lake is consistently ranked highest in the state for being the cleanest. We didn’t want to just look at the water. We wanted to play in it too,” says the homeowner. Because of the lake’s depth, piers don’t have to be taken in and out during summer. The dock’s charm wasn’t lost on the couple, who liked the construction material—Brazilian Ipe hardwood that required little upkeep.
With 120 feet of private lakefront, the property’s expansive view is spectacular. When you drive up, the home looks like a “saltbox,” according to the homeowner. One side of the home feels “like a big square,” but an A-frame on the other side faces the water. “From a style standpoint, an architect might cringe, but from a livability perspective, it totally works.”
While the location and structure mattered, the home inside proved lackluster, chiefly due to its 1970s vibes. The basement especially showed its age with velvet curtains, black faux-leather edging around the bar, and disco-ball speakers—round, wood speakers that hung from the ceiling. “The original owners must have really liked music because these were full-size floor speakers hanging from the drop ceiling. It was like an early form of surround sound.” The family lived with this basement for five years. As a summer home, the house didn’t have to be immediately perfect.
But they changed other features right away, like a winter kitchen that became a bunk room for the kids. They kept the two-story black iron staircase that was original to the home. Inside the house, the owners went with clean, simple lines and a bit of midcentury-modern vibe.
By 2021, the interior and exterior changes were finalized, and the home is now ready for another new owner. While the lake house was the family’s only getaway for a number of years, the couple has retired from business, and they are ready to move on to new adventures. The family enjoyed being so close to Nashville and Bloomington, and they spent many hours climbing up and down Brown County State Park hills and visiting the small town of Story. How sweet it was—and how sweet it might be for new owners.