The Empire House is a small year round retreat in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It is located at the edge of the center of Empire, a town of 400 located on the Lake Michigan coast in Leelanau County. The house overlooks a meadow and stream with views to a cedar forest and glimpses of the lake beyond. Although it is close to the town center, it has the feeling of a more remote, natural setting.
The warped exterior surface of the roof resembles the sinuous forms of the small valleys and gulches formed by the nearby hills and dunes. The shape results from the long edges of the roof being askew to one another – the west edge angles down and the east runs horizontal. Inside, the shape lifts at the north to provide space for a loft and bedroom at the second floor. It drops down at the south end of the house where the ceiling height is reduced over the living room.
Although the area is returning to its primordial state under the care of the National Lakeshore, forestry and cherry production have been important industries. The metal siding and austere detailing is a nod to this local agricultural and industrial heritage. Inside, the maple floors, millwork, and solid bedroom doors are intended to create a visual warmth augmented by the abundant natural light – and to recall the natural resources so central to the local history.