Every year at the end of summer, the Manthei Supply team is on a mission to photograph exceptional landscape projects completed by members of our very own landscape community. And I can tell you that we will push the season to the limits capturing these beautiful projects, all the way up until the leaves fall on the ground. On one particular 2021 day, we were scheduled for a photo shoot a few hours away. I remember the clouds filled the sky, and it was raining all morning long. We were closely monitoring our weather app (as we typically do for photo shoots) and saw a glimmer of hope, a potential weather break. We took off in the car and headed to what has now been recognized as a 2022 Michigan Nursery and Landscaping Association (MNLA) Industry Award winning project, situated on Lake Michigan.
When we initially arrived, gusts of wind were coming off the lakefront and the patio was drenched in water. The rain appeared to be changing to drizzle, but we were certainly questioning whether we would be able to take any usable photographs. Needless to say, we went to work immediately drying off the stone before our photographer would arrive. Luckily enough, the storm fully parted, and we were able to get our preparations completed just in time for what I would describe as “a perfect shoot”. The stars just aligned on this magical day, and the photos are here to prove it.
Fast forward to today. I finally had the opportunity to sit down with project manager and business owner, Jeff Elshoff of Twin Bay Landscaping, to learn about the design process and landscaping decisions that were made along the way for this Northern Michigan residence.
As I listened to the twists and turns of the design and build stages, including last minute changes and pleasant surprises, I sensed a sincere excitement from Jeff about how it all came together. This is something I could relate to given my own experience visiting the site.
The Project Goals
As with any project, there were a set of goals and objectives established with the homeowners.
First and foremost, when Jeff received an initial call from the client, they were experiencing extremely high waters. Therefore, the main objective was protecting the bluff that they currently had. At the same time, they wanted to maintain the feel of a natural environment and shoreline.
The second goal was improving accessibility on the site. The residence included multi-generational family members, and mobility was of particular concern. “They actually had a six foot ladder that you couldn’t even see the top of (from the house) that they had to climb over to get down to the beach.”
Better access to the beach, went hand-in-hand with another criteria: increased visibility. The homeowners wanted to be able to see their children playing outside along the waterfront. This was particularly a safety concern.
Lastly, they wanted to create a centralized fire pit area where everyone could congregate around and spend time.
With a designer and architect on staff, Twin Bay got to work initiating design studies and maximizing the budget with the homeowner. After a handful of renditions, they landed on a design that would maintain the existing patio footprint and infrastructure, while protecting the shoreline and enhancing the natural environment.
When I asked about challenges they faced along the way, “Ahhh, permitting was definitely a big one out there. You know, it was on Lake Michigan. Everybody was applying for permits at that point; so it was a really slow process”, Jeff explains.
The work around? They completed the project in a different order than they would ideally approach it. Even though the team was waiting on permits for the shoreline, they began work on areas immediately surrounding the home instead. This meant also changing access to the shoreline for when they would be able to complete that portion of the project.
Another obstacle had to do with materials. This was not a new home and existing natural stone was already on the site. However, they discovered that the quarry where the stone had come from was now closed. They didn’t want the design to look like an afterthought, and desired the right blend of stones to compliment the exterior of the home and natural surroundings. Working closely with the homeowner, they looked at multiple options in both precast and natural stone, and finally settled on an irregular Fond du Lac slab for the patio.
However, this plan didn’t come to fruition. When it finally came time to order the stone, they ran into challenges. The supply chain for irregular Fond du Lac was disrupted. This was during Covid-19; and they struggled to get the quality product they desired. They had enough to complete a walkway, but it was back to the drawing board for the patio surface. But because the homeowners had gone through the material selection process once before, the second time around proved to be easier.
Was it a blessing in disguise? I believe so. They were able to procure travertine pavers from Manthei Supply in a rich color blend of taupes and browns. The antiqued finish and tumbled edges portray an aged or weathered look complimentary to the rugged sandy shore. But most importantly, it goes back to their goal of improved mobility. The consistent thickness of the pavers and the tight joints between each stone provide a more level surface for walking on than the irregular Fond du Lac slabs would have. Ultimately, these French pattern pavers would provide better foot stability and help achieve one of their important goals.
Custom Details and Functions
Quality craftsmanship and thoughtful details are what makes this project so special, and you can discover quite a few of these details as you walk throughout the site.
The custom gas fire pit design was unlike any other that Jeff’s team had worked on before, and the entire patio design was based on it. “We ended up getting two really large outcroppings that had a natural curved-like form on either side. From that we were able to build the fire pit within those pieces.”
He further explains they incorporated a blend of three additional stones to finish out the circle. It was a slow process to get just right. There was a lot of care in the cutting and grinding, particularly with providing proper ventilation. They constructed vents directly within the stone, in lieu of having a large metal grate that would stand out and appear out of place. A hidden drain was also added underneath the outcroppings, beside the fire pit. This was done to prevent water from pooling on the patio.
Along the journey, the team continued to generate unique solutions that would improve the project, and the handrails are an attestation to this. With every storm, different pieces of driftwood would come to shore. They were able to collect ones that worked for the handrail and other details. “It just kind of goes back to wanting to respect what was there and just tie it all in, make it look like it could have happened naturally,” says Jeff.
The pathway design was also updated as they were working in the field and these changes were based on functionality. “We were going up and down the stairs near the house and realized we were cutting it off to the right and the left a little bit, so we chose to split that staircase knowing how much more user friendly it was going to be. The homeowners are going to be using it the same way we were working on the project.”
Protection and Prevention
Getting back to the first phone call Jeff had with the client, preventing erosion and protecting the shoreline was the foremost concern. After working on the patio area and obtaining the necessary permit, Twin Bay was now able to provide the infrastructure needed along the lakefront.
A new development had occurred though. After realizing the potential for a view from the downstairs basement all the way out to the shore, they wanted to protect that sightline. They chose to open up the hill that the patio was on and create a gradual slope down. If you are wondering about the ladder, it no longer exists. A moderate staircase now provides access down to the beach.
Riprap was installed for shoreline protection with fieldstone boulders that were anywhere from two to five feet. “There’s probably seven feet worth of stone there. Right now you can only see a foot to six inches of it just because the water levels have gone back down and the sand blows around and covers it all up,” says Jeff.
Native plantings that would naturally exist in the area, such as dune grass, were placed along the shoreline. “It helps catch all the sand that blows around in the wind.” Closer to the house they incorporated Junipers, an evergreen known for low maintenance. And the decision to work within the existing patio footprint was in part due to the well established English Ivy along the perimeter. Not only did it already look nice and full, it can help control erosion. The front of the home is where you see a more traditional floral garden, as it is shielded from lakeshore wind.
Twin Bay Landscaping continues to maintain the property and enjoys their working relationship with the client. “The homeowners were an absolute delight to work with. They weren’t living here (during construction) and as the project went on, they definitely got more comfortable with us. It was exciting to see their reaction when they would come and we had gotten a big chunk of the work done.”
Overall, I think it’s rare that someone says they wouldn’t change a thing after working so closely on a project, but that’s what Jeff says, “It was really just a fun project from start to finish. And yeah, we love how it turned out.”
Congratulations to the Twin Bay Landscaping team on their Michigan Nursery and Landscaping Association (MNLA) Industry Award winning project!
Bayshore Oil and Propane (Gas Line)
Spinniken Lawn & Irrigation (Irrigation)
Jacqueline Southby Photography (Photographer)