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Firefly Hill

Sullivan Goulette Wilson Architects; Dan Jacob Builders

Project Name

Firefly Hill

Project Status


Year Completed









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Project Description

A farmhouse-style house has many defining features, from a deep front porch to a metal roof to a barn somewhere on the property. Architect Jeff Goulette, principal at Sullivan Goulette Wilson in Chicago, was familiar with these details and how to borrow from them. So when he designed his retreat in Michigan wine country where friends and family could gather, he wanted the house to feel like it had been around for a while.

After driving around New England looking at farmhouses, Goulette and his wife got a feel for the details. The homes they liked best were a loose collection of utility buildings—barns, chicken coops, and sheds—that tell the story of a house added to over time.

To give aggregate character to the newly built house, Goulette broke up the massing into pavilions. At one end is a screened porch inspired by a carriage house. With a cupola and an arched window, it’s more ornate than the rest of the exterior. It’s the type of addition that Goulette noticed on farms as they grew bigger and more prosperous. The other end is shedlike, with a full-height 10:12 pitched roof that slopes gradually to match the hillside. The outline makes the building look like it’s rambling down the hill. A nod to a chicken coop or storage shed, it serves a modern-day utility: the garage.

In between is the main part of the house, which looks like a large-scale barn. But inside, the house is broken up into adjoining rooms that make the home feel both spacious and intimate. The living room has a main area, plus an L-shaped nook, a window seat, and a game table tucked into a corner. The stair landing, where nieces and nephews like to read and spy on the grown-ups, overlooks the living room with a spindled railing.

Stone floors lend a time-worn patina to the home. Goulette and his wife are salvage hounds and had been collecting pieces long before the house broke ground. “Stuff that’s been around for a while and doesn’t look all new and perfect” is how Goulette describes the appeal of croquet balls used on newel posts, an oak and tile fireplace surround, and Douglas fir timber beams from an 1890 mattress factory in Ontario.

Goulette credits builder Dan Jacob ’s skills and willingness to experiment with a broad palette of materials. Likewise, Jacob’s son “was genius about framing up arches and barrel vaults,” says Goulette. “The two of them were always trying to find an economical way to achieve what I was trying to do.”

An old-house feeling in a newly built one translates to a quality that’s as intangible as it is cherished: a place that feels comfortable and inviting. “It’s a very happy thing to have people want to come to your house,” Goulette says.
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