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A Lake Michigan Contemporary Breathes Life Into Protected Seashore

This article originally appeared in the fall 2016 issue of Homes & Estates

Merriam-Webster defines a “labor of love” as “a labor voluntarily undertaken or performed without consideration of any benefit or reward.”

According to that definition, The Dunes, a 40-acre private lakefront oasis in Montague, Michigan, fails to qualify. Make no mistake; the labor was most certainly there — how else to explain the years of approvals to even get the go-ahead to build in a protected Lake Michigan Critical Dune Area?

But so was the reward — how else to explain the rousing, remarkable structure that has redefined coastal development in this idyllic hamlet?


Truth be told, it took vision simply to consider building in this ecologically sensitive area, especially given the stringent guidelines for development.

“It took two years to get the permits,” says homeowner Gaylen Byker. “Figuring out where and how we could build demanded very specific strategies to satisfy the requirements.”

Turns out, getting the approvals wasn’t the most difficult part. Far more complex was Byker’s process of conceptualizing the 8,000-square-foot home — one that consumed more than a decade of extensive research on estates around the world to create a one-of-a-kind private retreat that was contemporary and warm, secluded and hospitable.

“I spent about 10 years on the design. I had collected 10 folios containing pages from books and magazines, with features of homes that would fit this very specific site,” says Byker. The search for someone to realize that vision landed on award-winning architect Jeff Visser of Visser Architects — especially after he made the couple an offer they couldn’t refuse. “Jeff said, ‘I’ll draw up the plans and give them to you. If you like them, hire me,’” says Byker. “He designed everything in three weeks, and we never changed a thing.”

The finished property is a showcase of stone, wood, copper and glass designed as multiple separate structures — a specification of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to build only in certain areas, and one that was ultimately fortuitous because it created connection points formed by a vast expanse (approximately 6,000 square feet) of multilevel, Brazilian hardwood decking.

“You’ve got 360-degree views of the lake and dunes, a virtually undisturbed forest on three sides, 830 feet of sandy lake frontage with steps to the beach, and 40 acres of gated property in perfect harmony with its environment,” says listing agent and Waterfront-Luxury Specialist Andrea Crossman of Coldwell Banker Woodland Schmidt. “The quality, design and function of this nine-bedroom, eight-bath estate is spectacular.”


In the main home’s living room, floor-to-ceiling glass exists where walls should be, ensconcing the space in a cocoon of serene luxury. But viewed from the shore and from above, the estate is less noticeable.

“You can hardly see it from the air because of the enormous trees that surround us,” says Byker. “It’s so very private.”


Within the structures, unique architectural details and high-end finishes abound. Miles of exotic hardwoods grace the floors and ceilings and frame the doors, 14-foot windows and ceilings soar, flying staircases accent open floor plans, and rustic stone fireplaces ground the spaces. The north and south pods are self-contained, three-story structures, each with a luxe master suite, large living room and bunk room. The effect is one of complete privacy, yet each of these buildings is 100 feet from the main house.


In the main house, the luxury quotient extends to the resort-worthy master suite and modern gourmet kitchen, which combines natural elements with custom wood cabinetry, integrated professional appliances and an entire wall of windows that centers the eye right at treetop level. Also featured is a state-of-the-art fitness facility, sauna, steam room, wine grotto and private deck with outdoor kitchen, resistance pool and “numerous places to enjoy lake living and watch the sun setting over the water,” says Crossman. Rewarding, indeed.

20 Peppers Trail
Montague, MI 49437
9 bedrooms
6 full and 2 half baths

Represented by: Andrea Crossman
Coldwell Banker Woodland Schmidt | 616.312.2237 | 616.218.0267


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A Lake Michigan Contemporary Breathes Life Into Protected Seashore

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