Chicago residents Christine and Gabe Bridger grew up accustomed to Midwestern merriment in wide-open spaces (Christine in Ohio; Gabe in Indiana) and wanted their city-dwelling kids (Emelia, 9; Jenson, 7) to experience the same frigid freedom. They found it in Fennville, Michigan (population: 1,398), on three picturesque acres just 140 miles from the city. “It’s a short drive, but it might as well be a world away,” says Christine, who was drawn to the property’s pastoral pleasantries, including a grove of apple trees and wildlife.
While idyllic, the property wasn’t a fully formed winter wonderland when the Bridgers first found it two years ago. The 400-square-foot, 100-year-old farmhouse was way too small for family gatherings. It was in bad shape to boot. Still Christine and Gabe—both DIY-minded, roll-up-the-sleeves Midwesterners—were determined to salvage the old saltbox. “Gabe and I agreed that we would keep the original structure at all costs,” says Christine. “We wanted the heart of the home to actually have a heart.”
The couple began studying old farmhouses in the area for inspiration and formulated a plan with an architectural firm (thedrawingboardinc.com) and contractor Jon Faris. The goal: maintaining the spirit of the existing space while adding 1,400 square feet to the structure.
The duo decided to turn the original footprint into a living room, stripping the walls down to the original wood planks. “These walls were never intended to be exposed—they’re 100 percent structural,” says Christine. “That’s why you have a 20-inch board next to an 8-inch board. But that’s also what makes the room so charming.”
Cut old plaid shirts (patterned inside and out) in strips. Pull loose threads to make fringe. Sew pieces together to make longer strips as needed, and tie around present. “I’ll throw on an ornament, candy cane, doily, or even an old brooch for flourish,” says Christine.
The kitchen's custom island and open shelving are made from old beams and ceiling rafters.
They added hand-hewn iron accents and reclaimed ash floors as well. “Karl Kervin at Barnstormers Wood is one of the top professional farm dismantlers in the country, and he helped us with our beautiful floors,” says Christine. “He matched the white ash planks to the white ash trees in our yard, so everything feels very connected.”
This simple swag pays tribute to the adjacent orchard. To re-create it, use a skewer to puncture a hole through an apple, close to the center, then string wire through the fruit and secure wire to the garland (here, Fraser fir).
A custom steel railing adds an industrial touch to the whitewashed wooden entry.
Turn a vintage sweater into decor by tracing a stocking template, then cutting and sewing it inside out. (The foldover should be sewn the opposite way.) Using scraps, sew on a loop, then add a monogram using metal house letters.
A sconce spray-painted red is a jolly contrast to dark walls, black-and-white “Atlas II” tile, and a Kohler trough sink, which the Bridgers found at a salvage store in Chicago. Pendleton towels provide additional pops of color.
The bunk room is outfitted with plaid flannel sheets and Pendleton blankets. Portfolio Dovray sconces shed light on Christmas reading.
Michigan is the Mitten State, after all. Christine sources vintage ones year-round online and at flea markets, then uses a large needle to pull yarn through the tops of the hand-warmers. (Secure with knots if needed.)
No Christmas tree is complete without something homemade. To whip up your own: Combine 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup salt, and 1 1/2 cups of warm water in a mixing bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth. Roll out dough and cut desired shapes (use a straw to poke a hole for hanging). Bake at 300°F until dry, approximately 1 hour; cool completely.
The Bridger family takes five from an active day of snowman building.