Who would truly appreciate Kevin Akey’s lakeside home? Willy Wonka, to be sure. Children of all ages. Designers, artists and eco-enthusiasts. Not to mention your average American family, which lives, actually right here amid Akey’s vision of creativity, whimsy, and truckloads of sustainability.
Akey, principal of AZD Associates in Bloomfield Hills, designed the home for himself, his wife, Michelle (a yoga instructor) and their three daughters.
Working with a restrictive budget and a narrow lot on Union Lake in southeast Michigan’s Commerce Township, the inventive designer managed to create a residence utilizing inexpensive and recycled-yet-durable materials in unique applications. Evolving design decisions were based on ecological consciousness as well as value-engineering issues, all within the goal of creating a cheerful place in which to raise his children, ages 2, 3, and 12.
Akey, who grew up in a traditional home around water in the Traverse City area, has been a principal at the design firm for 17 years. This is the fourth waterside home he has designed for himself.
As it was being built over a two-year period, passersby were quite intrigued by the 5,100-square-foot curiosity that to date has won eight design awards. Standing where once stood a small, ranch-style home, Akey’s 7-year-old, loft style abode boasts a zero-maintenance exterior that combines wood, glass, steel and masonry beneath a curved metal roof.
And if lake residents think the outside is artistic, they should see the inside, which combines playfulness with practicality.
“I like contemporary,” Akey said, right down to his artwork collection, which includes many colorful abstracts painted by artist and friend Susan Morosky.
Outstanding features include a two-story, illuminated, 8-foot-by 8-foot shaft that provides a glow throughout the entire space. Glass flooring and exposed wood and steel create an industrial feel. Heated concrete floors were installed based on “a cost decision,” he said, “Plus, you can’t hurt them, they wear so well.”
A serpentine-shaped wall that flows through the home toward the lake, and a two-story waterfall that cascades into a pond in the foyer, are more highlights of which Willy Wonka would approve.
“The pond turtles and fish now socialize with our pets. Even our cat will sit on the rocks and communicate with the fish,” said Akey with a laugh. “And our turtles have gotten huge.”
His daughters love it, too; the 12-year-old is known at school as the “girl with the pond in her house.” Then there’s the playful fire pole, which connects the second level to the foyer. “The kids slide down and freak out the pizza guy,” Akey said.
He also designed his one-of-a-kind, remotely controlled fireplace by beginning with a steel box and then ran a gas pipe, covered with lava rock, through the bottom. “We also made the damper. There’s really nothing like it on the market that creates a 7-foot-wide fire except for a sealed unit which cost about $30,000. We made this one for $4,000.”
Beyond the warm light cast by the fireplace, the electrical lights also have a beauty all their own. Akey made all of them by modifying ordinary types of lights. Akey also designed and made much of the furniture, including the master-suite bed.
Akey’s talents landed his powder-room on a 2007 episode of “I Want That!” an HGTV show about unusual home adornments. One of the powder room’s notable features is the sink basin, a floating slab of stained concrete with a concealed drain. A foot pedal activated water that runs over a sheet of stainless steel, creating a waterfall.
But the best room in the house, at least according to the family, is the screened in porch. Although every room of this lake home is enhanced by a view to the lake, the porch presents the best vistas. With the push of a button, two retractable, overhead glass doors open on the interior side of the porch. Simultaneously, electric, retractable screens roll down to create a screened room.
Outdoors, a contemporary (naturally) playhouse beckons. Akey and several other companies provided complementary services for the miniature home, which was designed by his firm for an American Lung Society fundraiser.
“The builder (Bloomfield Hills based Thomas Sebold & Associates) ended up buying it and then gave it back to me,” Akey said. “All in all, our home is a fun, lakefront house.”
But the challenges?
“Getting things built,” Akey shared, “like the fireplace. I would give the builders the drawings, and they’d say, “But we’ve never seen anything like this.”