When Gretchen and Britt Diver’s three young sons first saw the Clarkston colonial-style home they would eventually move into, they were, well, a tad worried. The decision to purchase the early-1970s abode seemed odd to the boys, given they were, at the time, living in a very comfortable and stylish home just a mile or so away.
“I remember Luke (the Divers’ middle son) saying that he’d be embarrassed to have friends over to the new house,” Gretchen says, laughing. “It was that strange of a home. It seemed to be cobbled together over the years. Originally, it was a ranch with a crawl space, so a basement was dug and a second story was put on … then we discovered this green shiplap-type siding beneath its white vinyl …”
But Gretchen — a creative home stylist, interior design specialist, seamstress, upholsterer, and all-around visionary — and the affable Britt had a plan, and they knew their sons would eventually love what they now call Cupola View Farms.
Gretchen had envisioned that the outdated, lackluster design would be transformed into a livable, comfortable farmhouse-style home. Throw in the property’s large barn, another aged outbuilding, lots of land and woods, and the acquisition of three rabbits, two goats, a horse, and two dogs, and you’ve got boyhood paradise! (Truth be told, the close-knit boys — Luke, 13, and his brothers, Mac, 16, and Copeland, 11 — likely would be happy anywhere their parents decided to transplant them. As long as their mother was still whipping up her renowned chocolate chip cookies — she bakes almost every day — everything would be just fine.)
Why uproot the family and re-settle just a mile away? A big part of the reason was Gretchen’s passion for bucolic northern Michigan. “We have a vacation home in Suttons Bay, and I love the laid-back lifestyle there,” she says of her northwest Michigan slice of heaven. “I actually wanted to move there, but Britt’s company is here, so we had to try to find that northern feeling in the Clarkston area. Being happy, for me, doesn’t mean living on a less-than-one-acre lot. So we looked at farms and found this one. It’s fulfilled a void, I think, for all of us.”
First, they had the home completely gutted, taking down walls and adding 3,100 square feet; the home now measures out to about 5,000 square feet. They also added a mudroom, garage, an upstairs bonus room, a bedroom, and a bathroom, and they extended the front porch on both ends to create an L-shaped design. “We needed a new garage and it made sense to add the space above it,” Gretchen says.
The Divers then selected all new siding, trim and doors, and fresh paint. Some new windows were also installed. By adding gambrel trusses to the addition, a truss shape to the front, and gambrel-shaped eyebrows to the front windows, the home was transformed to look more like a Dutch colonial than a 1970s colonial.
As for interior design, Gretchen was excited to incorporate an entirely different color palette into this home, compared to the family’s more colorful previous home. “It was like a blank slate,” she says. This time around, she opted for quiet creams, pale blues, ivories, and whites. She focused on a farmhouse sensibility and refinished, overhauled, uncovered, upcycled, repurposed, and handcrafted as much as she could, while still fashioning a comfortable and practical home for a busy family.
Gretchen has two degrees — one in apparel design and textile science from Michigan State University and another in fashion design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. As a former designer at Carhartt and a textile designer at Ford Motor Co., the homeowner traveled to many fabric mills on a regular basis. Recognizing that fashion and interior design cross over constantly, she’s as adept at pulling together a striking outfit as she is at creating an inviting vignette in one of her home’s several gathering spots.
Striking, to be sure, but also one-of-a-kind. “I don’t want the stuff that everyone else has,” she says.
Take, for example, most of the art that adorns the home. “I discovered this woman who had a lot of original art for sale, so I messaged her to find out if she was the artist. She told me no, but she goes into abandoned homes in Detroit when they go up for auction and buys the art in the homes.” Gretchen’s artwork also comes from her grandmother’s collection. “She (Thelma Crawford) was a wonderful artist; a favorite watercolor by her is hanging in our foyer.”
Ask the homeowner about almost any of her furnishings and it’s quickly obvious that Gretchen simply adores the hunt. One time, she was in Traverse City in a salvage yard and found a stack of old wood aged to a “beautiful gray.” It was from a barn in Kalkaska, she recalls. “I fell in love with it. Of course, I didn’t know what I was going to use it for.” Then it came to her: “The fireplace needed a makeover, so we inset the wood around the fireplace.” Then there was the old library cart that Britt found in a shop in Allen. “He’s very supportive of me and these projects,” Gretchen says. “When he discovered the cart, he Facetimed me, saying I’d love it — he was right.” She added glass and turned it into a vanity for the home’s powder room. “Like everything else we bring home, it gets cleaned, sanded, bleached, waxed, and finished to a different level.” From grimy to great, from ridiculously beat-up to ridiculously cool, the couple’s finds each have an intriguing story.
Another remarkable transformation took place after Gretchen eyed a huge, old cupboard with chipped green paint. “It used to be in a mechanic’s shop,” she remembers. “It had a $350 price tag on it. I told the antiques shop folks it would take a lot of work, and said, how about $175?” Today, the old cupboard is a practical pantry and main attraction in the Diver kitchen, with tons of storage space (Gretchen took it to the carwash first and sprayed it down; she also found a separate set of feet for it and added those after refinishing it).
“Sometimes the kids say, ‘Mom, I can’t believe you’re doing this again.’ But they’re always amazed at the transformation,” she says. “I’d rather go the extra mile and find something that’s authentic, the real deal.” As for the cupola, Gretchen discovered it online. “The owner had it on his farmhouse in southern Illinois for years; he loved it, but needed to get rid of it. He was so touched that I liked it so much, he hand-delivered it to us,” she says. Upon delivery, the vintage roof topper sat outside for days. “My family hoped I would never put it on the house,” Gretchen recalls, laughing. “But now that it’s up, they love it!” Why the longing for a cupola? Gretchen wanted to be reminded regularly of good family times spent on Mackinac Island. She and Britt, who met at Michigan State University, and the kids go to the Grand Hotel — and its Cupola Room — every August to celebrate their wedding anniversary. “I wanted that feeling and those memories to be relevant to our home here in Clarkston.”
Says Britt: “My favorite part is seeing Gretchen’s vision come to fruition. When Gretchen said she wanted to go with the ‘modern farmhouse’ style, the concept sounded good but I couldn’t completely see it. She always knew what it was going to become and never lost sight of her vision.”
Off the back hall of the first floor is Gretchen’s studio, where she plans many of her design projects. There, she also sews, upholsters, and more. In one bin sits a collection of soft farmhouse-style fabrics and feed sacks with such themes as charming chickens or the Land O’Lakes butter logo, picked up at various antiques shops. “I made the ottoman in the family room out of old feed sacks,” she explains, adding that she’s “always making pillows!” Beyond feed sacks, she uses vintage toweling, gingham, and ticking for her pillows. Every Christmas Gretchen hosts a show featuring those, as well as handmade ornaments and more.
“I like to push myself and I like change,” she says, eyeing her stencil work on the walls of the bathroom just off her studio. She also wants her children to grow up with an appreciation of simple pleasures. “We’re not going backward in time, by any means — they all have cell phones,” she says. “But think of this: Since we’ve moved in, I’ve not even unpacked the video games. There’s so much to do here, year-round.”
On one recent afternoon, young Copeland wandered into the kitchen for a just-baked cookie and thought about what he’d do next on this sunny day. Then he yelled to his mother as he dashed out to the great outdoors, “Mom! I’m going to the woods to see if the fawns have been born yet!” Later, he spent a few hours sitting on the pasture fence whittling an arrow from a stick he found in the woods.
“The boys tell us now all the time,” Gretchen says, “that they’re sorry for giving us grief about moving here. In fact, they thank us.”
More information: Gretchen Diver, of Cotton Bucket Designs, offers design services, shopping consultations, furnishings, handmade pillows, and more. Visit cottonbucketdesigns.com.
A Taste for Textures
The Diver residence gets a lot of its rustic, farmhouse appeal from the use of a variety of textures that come into play on everything from rugs to chipped paint to furnishings and accessories made of vintage fabrics. Here’s a sampling:
The Team Behind the Renovation
Builder: Jim and Audrey Tanner, Tanner Building & Remodeling, Clarkston
Landscaping: Todd and Ann Childers of C. T. Childers landscaping, Fostoria
Carpenter, drywall expert, plumber, handyman: Steve Fleming, Clarkston
Carpet installation, custom woodwork: Steve Fick, Lake Orion
Electrician: John Heasley, Clarkston
Painting: Jon O Dell, O Dell painting company, Burton
Lawn maintenance: Drew Colbert, Extremescapes, Clarkston
Wood floor refinishing: Tim Taylor, Clarkston
Driveway grading and surfacing: Larry Luckovich of A & N Asphalt Inc., Clarkston