August 2008 Issue
Americana on the Lake
An interior designer builds an idyllic cottage retreat on Lake Erie – on a budget.
When Columbus attorney John McDonald and his wife, interior designer Sally McDonald, built their Lake Erie summer cottage in 2006, they knew they wanted a cozy retreat for family and friends. They even considered calling it the Friendship Inn, for all the company they planned to host there on weekends. Though they decided the name was too cheesy, their wish of having a full house has been fulfilled.
Summer weekends find the couple kicking back with friends on the home’s screened-in porch with its picturesque views of the lake. Time seems to slow down here. Their Port Clinton cottage serves as a relaxing escape for the McDonalds, who have a year-round residence in Columbus’ German Village neighborhood.
Before building the home, they shared a small cottage next door with Sally’s sister and her family for 25 years. “It’s a little apartment above a garage. It’s not a big place. And we all loved it, but we fought over who got it for the weekend,” she explains. When the home next door came up for sale, they bought it, tore it down, hired the same architect who designed their German Village home (John Behal, of Behal Sampson Dietz in Columbus), and set out to build their dream vacation home — on a budget.
“We were trying so hard to build economically and low maintenance, because the lake is hard on things,” Sally says. The couple gave Behal a list of features they wanted, including a fireplace, a spacious kitchen, four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large screened-in porch. The porch, which overlooks Lake Erie, is “where you want to be up here,” she says. In fact, the focal point of the porch is a long, wide swing, on which guests often snooze for hours on sunny, breezy afternoons.
Not surprisingly, Sally thoroughly enjoyed the process of decorating the home. The downstairs features red, white and blue, and nautical themes. “I remember coming in and seeing those huge windows, and thinking, ‘Fading is going to be a real problem,” she says. She selected a blue Sunbrella fabric for her couch and accented it with sailboat print pillows. An antique pine table in the living room, high-quality kitchen faucets and red, white and blue backsplash tiles were some of her “splurges.”
“As a decorator, I was able to do smart things to make [the house] look like more than it was,” she says. The kitchen counters, for instance, are laminate, with a wood edge, and the siding on the outside of the house is a vinyl shake, with cultured stone. “We wanted to make it look fabulous, on a budget,” she says.
“I wanted to have good woodwork,” she adds, “because to me, that shows. I wanted nice casings and moldings and wall paneling.”
A recurring decorating theme throughout the house — and displayed prominently in the living room — are colorful, painted, lead-weighted antique ice fishing lures that date back to the Depression, when people would ice fish just to feed their families, Sally says.
The upstairs of the home was designed entirely with guests in mind. “We have company almost every weekend,” Sally explains. “We really do catch up with our friends up here and they all love to come. They all know where things are and they know what to do to be good guests. They throw the ball to the dog in the water, one of them will go wash a car, or somebody will help water [the plants]. Everybody pitches in.”
Three meticulously decorated guest bedrooms (and one large bathroom) make up the home’s upper level: the blue room, red room
and green room. The blue room has blue walls and nautical-theme pillows; the red room has red walls and a red-and-white pompom quilt on the bed; and the green room features a chest that was painted in the style of a Van Gogh landscape.
The upstairs flooring is made of sisal, which lends a beach feeling to the home, covered with soft area rugs. The bathroom features lush guest robes and towels, monogrammed with song titles by popular Put-In-Bay based singer Pat Dailey.
Finally, each room features a copy of a laminated document that instructs guests on everything from laundry procedures to where to find beer in the house. One frequent visitor even keeps a bag of necessities in the closet of the red room, so she doesn’t have to pack much before heading to the cottage.
Most of the time, though, guests — and the McDonalds — can be found on the porch, lounging, talking and enjoying the view of the lake and the garden that John McDonald lovingly tends.
“We just love being here,” Sally says with a smile.