Designer, Contractor Collaboration Curries Public’s Favor

Some homes are pure fantasy. Others are purely functional. Few strike the perfect balance. And fewer still do it in such a way that it still has broad appeal.

However, the home that was designed by Joe R. Blasius and Jenny Pytleski does just that. The spec home was a model of collaboration without compromising style or function.

Blasius and Pytleski built it to spark the imagination of the vacationer who buys property that captures the peaceful, woodsy, natural feel of this northern Michigan town and showcase the area’s distinct rustic style.

Simultaneously, it also needed to not only speak to the needs of a local family who would fall in love with the style and surroundings, but stand the test of time in terms of design, function and overall practicality.


Their efforts not only struck the right balance between both design mandates, but struck the right chord with the public who toured it as part of the first Parade of Homes for Charlevoix/Emmet County in northern Michigan – so much so that it was named the Parade of Homes People’s Choice Winner.

Blasius and Pytleski decided to enter the house that’s set on a wooded lot into the Parade of Homes, which was sponsored by the Little Traverse Association of Home Builders (LTAHB), because they both felt that it “offers people something different. It offers warmth, beauty, comfort, texture, a smart design and great product selections to create a rustic, yet elegant home. The house is designed to accommodate couples with living space that is adaptable to current and changing needs of a family,” says Blasius, who owns Lake Front Contracting in Harbor Springs, MI, with his wife, Cindy. Lake Front is a design/build custom home builder that creates its own projects.

“Many of towns located in these counties are considered resort areas. Both counties are in the Great Lakes region, which provide plenty of outdoor recreation for people throughout the year. People from all over the world visit this recreational playground,” elaborates Blasius.

“The first goal of the LTAHB was to develop a marketing strategy to promote the builders of the area and provide an opportunity for the public to meet directly with the builders and see their product first-hand. The second was to create a great opportunity for both the local residents and visitors to see the diverse style of homes built in the area.”

The contest was judged by a panel of local professionals who specialize in specific areas in the construction industry as well as other members of home building associations in Michigan. The public was asked to judge their favorite home. The criteria used to judge the homes were based on design, appeal, quality and craftsmanship. The main award is the People’s Choice Award.

“Out of all of the awards we could have won, the People’s Choice is the one we wanted. It signifies that we did our job. It’s validation that the home is in keeping with that area, which is a mix of vacation and full-time homes, ranging from the mid-end to ultra high-end,” adds Pytleski, who owns Jenny Ann’s Cabinetry, which has two locations: one in Troy, MI featuring a 2,500-sq.-ft. showroom open to the trade only, and one in Lakeport, MI.

“The judges were impressed with the overall design, quality of selections in the home, quality of construction and attention to detail. The public agreed. Not only did they make mention of the quality of the home and smart layout, but they also liked the overall feel of the home – especially the kitchen and the master bath,” relates Blasius.

The Parade of Homes took place in mid-July last year. The public was allowed to tour the homes during an eight-day time period. Seventeen homes where showcased throughout the two counties. The locations of the homes provided the public with an opportunity to tour lakefront homes and homes in the middle of the subdivisions, open landscapes, gated communities, golf communities and new developments. Home prices ranged from an estimated $450,000 to $4.5 million. The builders who entered the contest ranged from high-end custom builders, production builders and large building companies to smaller companies and one-person builders.

“As soon as we heard the news, our company was excited. This was a wonderful opportunity for great exposure. The construction industry in general is hard to market; word of mouth has always been the best way to promote business,” notes Blasius. “The Parade of Homes is a good way for people to learn about our company and the home-building process, and see the quality of our products. It also lets us have immediate feedback from the public, which is important to create goals for the continued success of a company.”


In addition to the open kitchen, living room, foyer and mudroom, the first floor has a master bedroom, office and laundry room. The kitchen is large enough to accommodate multiple cooks, as well as accommodate and entertain multiple guests.
“The kitchen and adjacent entertaining areas are divided into three sections: the work area that has stainless steel appliances and storage-specific cabinets in the kitchen proper; a dining area that features a full-size dinner table and comfortable furniture; and a visiting area that includes a table, chairs and fireplace,” describes Blasius.

The theme of the kitchen is rustic, yet elegant. “I wanted something fresh, a look no one else had. I like an Old World/European style; however, not everyone has my taste. When you build for the public, you try to appeal to a variety of styles and tastes. Living in northern Michigan the log look is very popular, but again the audience for that particular style is limited. So I created a more refined northern look or [even], say, a toned-down European style. We call it Rustic Elegance,” explains Blasius.

Texture was key to Blasius and Pytleski’s design, which features various materials to add visual interest and bring the kitchen to life. For example, the floor is Cooper slate, which has plenty of color and variations on the surface. It contrasts nicely with the clear-stained Australian cypress wood floors in the dining and hearth areas. Texture can also be found on the “dry stack ledge” cultured stone backsplash in Chardonnay. The same cultured stone is on the fireplace in the adjacent hearth room and Great room.
“I wanted to bring a new idea to the kitchen that was functional, made a statement and wasn’t in everyone else’s kitchen. So, when designing the kitchen, I wanted to open the area above the 48" cooktop, which is located near a double oven on the back wall. I did not want cabinets or a hood. I was willing to give up cabinet space for something unique. I [eventually] told Jenny to draw in a big beam with brackets to keep the area open,” recalls Blasius. Big enough to use as a shelf for decorative items or functional items, the beam is a solid piece of pine wood with custom-made brackets from a local sawmill. It weighs about 150 lbs.

It complements the Showplace Wood Products cherry cabinets, which feature a sienna stain with ebony glaze. A darker, antiqued black stain highlights the food prep island that’s topped with lyptus wood. Tan/brown granite countertops surround the island and form a peninsula at one end that creates a space for breakfast and a space for guests to sit. It also houses a beverage center and microwave, plus wine and cocktail glasses. It’s positioned near a custom-designed food pantry concealed by a custom, decorative sliding door.

Opposite the peninsula sits the refrigerator, which is just outside the working area of the kitchen but still easily accessible to all areas of the kitchen and adjacent living areas.

For function, Blasius and Pytleski installed Jenn-Air, KitchenAid and GE appliances from Witbeck Appliance in Petoskey, MI. Their placement clearly breaks up the kitchen into specific zones that together allow several people to work simultaneously.

“The cooking, clean-up, food prep, snack and beverage areas are all designated to a ‘spot’ in the kitchen. You could have a person in each area with a guest in the kitchen and no one would be crowded. The aisles are also a little wider than the standard allowance between island and perimeter (45"),” says Blasius.


Autumn slate is at the heart of the master bath, cladding the floor, as well as the large, two-person shower with a built-in bench seat. It features separate 6'-long vanities with eight side drawers, one big center cabinet and wood tops for a furniture feel. The wood tops allow the slate to take the spotlight, says Blasius.

The powder room cabinet is also made to look like a piece of furniture. “It’s cherry with a Cordova stain and ebony glaze, an antique brown granite top and Queen Anne legs to give it a formal look,” notes Blasius.

Like the master bath, the guest bath has two pine vanities with a clear coat stain, two drawers, a big, open cabinet and Kohler sinks. The vanities are separated by a large tumbled marble countertop that connects them. In the middle, above the counter, are custom shelves. Another set of custom shelves are cut into the wall for towels or other large items. Tumbled marble 12"x12" tiles cover the shower and floor. The Kohler toilet is in a separate room off the shower.