An ultra-modern home on Lake Superior in Marquette, Michigan, immerses its owners in a shoreline forest

By Christopher Hudson

The X House, a single-family retreat built on rocky terrain overlooking Lake Superior, is a study in contrasts. It’s structurally reinforced to withstand the high winds and heavy snow loads of a Marquette, Michigan, winter, yet it appears to perch lightly on its craggy outcropping. And while its dramatic use of floor-to-ceiling glass amplifies the lakefront surroundings for the owners, the reverse views are the opposite: The retreat’s siting, massing, and materials all point to the owners’ desire to have the home quietly recede into the forest.

The owners, Leigh and Cory Olson, live in Miami but have a longstanding connection to the Marquette shoreline. Growing up, Leigh spent her summers at a large family retreat on a plot of land near where the X House sits today. She jokes that Cory really married the family property, not her. In raising their own three daughters, the couple continued the tradition of summer vacations and holidays with extended family on the lake. And when a neighboring property became available several years ago, the Olsons leapt at the chance to build a private retreat for themselves and family.

What would they build, and how would they build it on a rocky site? The couple had a breakthrough when they came across a real-estate listing for an award-winning modern home on the rugged Bay of Fundy coastline in New Brunswick, Canada. A little digging revealed that the architect of the glass-walled yet structurally robust retreat, Julie Snow, had also more recently designed a glassy weekend getaway in the woods on Lake Superior in Schroeder, Minnesota. The Olsons had their mental picture—and soon after, their architect.

“We wanted a contemporary home that immersed us in the beautiful shoreline environment, but not one that looked like a spaceship had landed on the site,” says Cory with a laugh. “We kept emphasizing that.”

Snow and her team at Snow Kreilich Architects responded with a design for a single-level home laid out in an asymmetrical X; the shape both fits the site and optimizes views out to the water and to the beach coves on either side of the outcropping. The wing with the main living spaces juts out toward the lake while the bedroom wing runs parallel to it. Both bars start at grade but appear to hover over the descending forest floor at the opposite ends, thanks to discreet concrete piers. A muted exterior material palette—stone, blackened wood, and glass—helps hide the clean-lined structure in the woods.

“If you look down the long bar with the living spaces—a trajectory out toward the lake—you have a telescopic view,” says Snow. “In the wing with the private spaces, the views are panoramic, with the master bedroom at the end also having a broad view into the forest.”

Cory loves the way the cantilevered bars create a sensation of floating over the landscape—that contrast of structural strength and lightness. Leigh says the floor-to-ceiling glass makes every morning a different experience, depending on the light, wind, and waves.

And speaking of Lake Superior weather, high-performance glass, radiant floor heating, and two stone-clad fireplaces make the home as comfortable in the heart of winter as it is at the height of summer. “I told Julie and her team I didn’t want to be wearing my puffy winter coat indoors over Christmas,” says Leigh. Her favorite spot to read a book in warm weather is the small deck off the master bedroom.

From that perch, nestled in the trees, the Olsons can see for miles out over the water. But, in welcome contrast, they themselves are barely visible to boaters motoring by. “Even our friends and neighbors paddling by on kayaks have to really look to find the home,” she says, “and that makes everyone happy.”

Location: Marquette, Michigan
Clients: Leigh and Cory Olson
Architect: Snow Kreilich Architects
Structural engineer: Meyer Borgman Johnson
General contractor: Gregg H Seiple Construction in collaboration with Tom Hall Contracting
Size: 3,955 square feet
Completion: May 2019
Photographer: Gaffer Photography