Interior designer and business owner Kate Marker and her family were looking for a vintage home to remodel for quite some time when they came across The Leo Cottage and fell in love. After buying the Union Pier, Michigan lake house, Kate renovated and redesigned the 1920s property over a span of just a few months — and the result is the most charming cottage ever. (Wait until you see the photos, we’re not exaggerating!)
Keep reading to find out why Kate decided to put a clawfoot tub in the middle of the home’s master bedroom, how (and where!) she found the abode’s perfect antique furniture and decor accessories, and how she kept The Leo Cottage’s renovations budget-friendly during the remodel process.
Name: Kate Marker, Principal Designer and Owner of Kate Marker Interiors
Location: Union Pier, Michigan
Sq. Ft.: 1,400+
Year Home Was Built: 1920
Rent or Own: Second home that serves as a rental property
Children: Lily, 11, and Myla, 9
You’ve always had a passion for art, how did you decide interior design was the right career for you?
[In college], a sorority sister was working on revamping our sorority house, and I was fascinated by the process. I loved the balance of creativity and space planning. I thought, “I can do that!” and started pursuing design programs that ultimately led me to Harrington [College of Design]. Once I researched more and realized how in line interior design was with my art interest, I knew this was the career for me.
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Do you have a specific design style you typically follow when designing?
Approachable and timeless that is achieved through layering with a mix of modern and vintage selections, details, and accents.
How is designing for clients different than designing for yourself? What is your favorite part of working with your clients?
I’m the most difficult client! It’s a case of too many options and living within my budget! I love getting to know a client and seeing what they gravitate towards, then building a look around them that brings our distinct Kate Marker Interiors (KMI) look to them but has an overarching personalized and customized design for them specifically.
You and your family recently renovated and restored your whole Michigan cottage! What was the original design inspiration for this home?
I’d been seeking a vintage remodel for some time. We were inspired by the existing patterned wood floors, the rambling garden that provides such a quintessential “cottage” feel, the quaint potting shed, and, of course, Lake Michigan just steps away. The aesthetic, with modern conveniences and comforts that do not compromise personality, is eclectic and gathered. We wanted to convey a family home that had been visited by generations, with furnishings and accessories reflecting the passage of time. But I have to say I went a little funkier than my typically refined classic aesthetic with the cottage because we wanted it to be an escape from a typical home and to feel a little more spontaneous!
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Deciding to purchase a second home is a big investment. What made this cottage so special?
We had made several trips to the area and fell in love with the laid-back, small-town feel. I’m from a small town in central Illinois and grew up on a lake, so it made me feel a little at home. It was definitely love at first sight — I remember walking in the door on the day we toured it, and Ken, my husband, and I both saying, “It even smells like a cottage!” We knew it the second we walked in! A huge bonus was that besides being picturesque, it was well-maintained, so I could let my imagination run wild to bring the rooms and exterior to a whole new level.
How far is the cottage from your home? How often do you and your family get up there?
It’s about two hours with a little traffic from Barrington, Illinois where we live. We have spent several long weekends there with friends, family, and just the four of us.
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You purchased The Leo Cottage back in April and finished renovations in July. How did you manage to get so much done in such a short time?
It was intense, I’m not going to lie! It was much more time-consuming than I had anticipated… Late nights planning and purchasing, last-minute site visits, a creative design team, and supportive husband and family.
What has been your favorite project of redoing the cottage so far?
Probably the master bedroom or the garden shed! We took some creative liberties, such as a tub in the middle of the master bedroom and a blush tile in the shed that we probably would not have done in a primary residence. Taking design risks that pay off is so rewarding. I’m thrilled with the end result!
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How did you keep the pre-existing charm of the cottage alive even after the renovations?
We had a very skilled specialty painter come in to continue the pattern in the exact color palette of the existing wood floors. The house dates back to 1920, so restoring this made me so happy. We also kept all of the existing floors from the white pergo in the front bedrooms and family room to the rustic pine in the back master bedroom. Check out our blog for more info on the old/new patterned wood floors — they are stunning, and the workmanship is exquisite.
What’s your favorite room in the home and why?
I love the coziness of the bunk room. The beds are completely custom, and I just love the thought of my girls giggling with cousins and friends for many summer nights to come.
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Were there any quirks in the space you had to design around? If so, tell us about them.
Oh, geez, there were many and there still are. I don’t even know how to list them as there are many. We love them all though now that I got my design eye in there and made them work! In my opinion, they are what make the cottage unique. One should rent it and see for themselves 😉
You went all the way to Texas in search of the perfect, curated antiques. What are some of your favorite vintage pieces?
The American flag is a one-of-a-kind piece from Martha’s Vineyard that is worn and yet so beautiful in all of its faded glory. The kitchen island is also from Round Top and is a beautiful focal point in the central gathering spot of the home!
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Do you have any advice for finding great antique pieces?
If you spy a good piece, grab it! Design tastes change and room arrangements as well, but a beautiful piece that has so much character will always elevate a space!
Let’s talk about the kitchen — it’s amazing! Can you tell us a little bit more about what you did to transform this space?
Well, let’s start with the floors! I fell in love with that cottage the day we walked in and I saw those floors in the kitchen. We just had to restore them! The negative of the kitchen was that the ceilings were so low and the breakfast room was too tight to get into! So, we knocked down a wall filled in the current opening to the kitchen which is now the laundry room and raised the ceiling. When the contractors called me and said they were able to raise the ceiling to match the family room, I screamed with joy as this change really gave me a chance to get creative. I was then able to place rustic beams in the kitchen to the family room opening up that whole space including the breakfast room. A salmon-colored refrigerator and white range with brass accents from Big Chill appliances are works of art and unexpected and really help that space shine.
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How did you manage to find a balance between vintage and modern not only in the kitchen but throughout the whole home?
Tables, stools, artwork, a deconstructed armchair are vintage pieces sprinkled throughout the entire space. Greenery, open shelving, new upholstery pieces, and statement lighting are just a few of the “fresh and modern” touches.
Your master bedroom is so beautiful, especially with the chandelier above the bed! What was your go-to place to shop for decor?
This was a mix of several of our trade vendors. I’ve been crushing on the nightstand lamps from Arteriors for a while and was excited to incorporate those. The bed is from LEE Industries, one of our top vendors that always provides excellent quality and a wide array of customizing options. I also was able to shop the Benton Harbor area for antique pieces such as crocks, old books, trivets, wood sculptures, etc. so that the cottage has a blend of Michigan’s Harbor Country woven throughout.
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Tell us about the bathtub in this room!
My dad and the plumber actually pushed me to include a bathtub in the master! They said if they were renting a cottage in the area that the Master needs something special. The second I heard “tub,” I was sold, as I know us mamas love a glass of wine and a warm bath. We also knew moms would love a place to bathe their babies after a long day at the beach. With some brainstorming, we decided to make it a showpiece, centered on a large window, instead of shoved in a corner! We love how it turned out! P.S.: it is actually a tub/shower combo.
A goal of yours was to keep the renovations budget-friendly. Do you have any tips for keeping restorations affordable?
Mixing high and low adds so much depth to a space. We chose some simple, affordable lighting to complement higher-priced statement fixtures, shopped Target, Amazon, and Wayfair and other retailers for trendy or timeless low-priced pieces. We even share our sources on the blog to achieve several of our looks so our followers can implement in their own home!
What is the key to finding perfectly curated furniture and decor pieces?
Do not shop in one place! Gather, store, curate! Just like going to client installs, so much of design is in-the-moment to see what enhances or complements the overall planned design to add the final touch, so it’s great to have options and mix. Don’t rush into anything that is poor quality — you will be so much more satisfied if you wait to find the perfect item!
What are your favorite activities to do as a family at The Leo Cottage?
We love making meals together after a day at the beach or a family bike ride. Playing games in the game room is a great way to be together, unplugged and making memories. My girls and husband love the outdoor shower and, of course, we also enjoy the hot tub.
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Tell us more about your two little girls! How do they inspire you?
Every mom loves talking about their children. As I said before, we have two girls, both with their own shining personality, style, and charm! Our oldest, Lily, is so creative, insightful, and caring… always looking to help someone! She has a heart of gold, and I’m confident she will be a teacher or caretaker someday as her patience for people in need is endless. She won an award at school for determination, and I think that word defines her pretty well!
Myla is 9 going on 19 and is full of life! She is our kid that challenges and always has something to say. I know she will go far in life as she is always up for anything but quick to tell you what she needs when she needs it! She is a hard worker and also pretty funny. She is a fun girl to be around!
They both inspire me every day in every way… to be a better mom, business owner, wife, and just overall person. Life is about family and how we choose to spend it, embrace it, and enjoy it is only up to us. I hope to have at least one of them on my KMI team someday and would be so blessed!
What’s been your favorite moment of motherhood so far?
Talking to my girls… just the simple talks! Right now, they are at an age where they tell me everything. I hope we can continue to talk, communicate, and be open as they grown older and go through those tough teen years! I grew up as the only girl in my family with two brothers and my mom always told us to communicate well, share our feelings, and try to understand all perspectives. I pray and hope my girls will have that relationship with me forever!
What does a typical day in your life look like?
Wake up around 6am, go on a walk if I’m lucky with a close friend, wake the girls around 7am, prepare breakfast and lunch if they are in school that day, and then off to work. I get into the office around 8:15am, just before the team arrives to clear my head a little and then the ladies come between 8:30-9am. I typically leave work between 4-5pm depending on the girls’ activities that day. Once I’m home, it is time for homework and dinner — I try to cook dinner when I can. At night, after the girls are in bed, my computer or phone are back up and running for some work emails, etc. Last but not least, I try to spend time with the hubs and have meaningful conversations before bed. Off to bed around 10pm, but when I was doing the cottage, it was closer to midnight, ordering and checking off those to-dos. So glad it is done and we get to create our own family memories in it and share it with others!
Kate Marker is The Everymom…
Go-to meal to cook? Salmon and Brussels sprouts or homemade chicken noodle soup in the winter months.
Best way to end the day at the cottage? Homemade dinner, followed by a dip in the hot tub, then a glass of chardonnay on the porch with my girls as they eat ice cream 🙂
Home essential everyone needs? A bed that you love to retire to every night! Crisp sheets, a great mattress, beautiful overstuffed throw pillows, and textured blankets that look inviting by day and provide the best comfort at night!
Favorite workout? Yoga
Favorite Instagram to follow? I can’t limit it to just one! Nicole Davis, Lauren Liess, Cortney Bishop Design, Kate Lester, Khoury Vogt Architects, and The Everygirl, of course!
Coffee order? Iced almond milk honey latte
Most embarrassing mom fail? Well… to this day, my 9-year-old is a terrible sleeper. She is constantly finding her way to her older sister’s room or our bedroom in the middle of the night, and I equate it to taking her out of her crib too early. She was 18 months and starting to jump out! At the time, I felt strange about putting the “tent” around her crib, so we moved her into a twin, and I equate her habits now to maybe being transferred at too young of an age. But as with all parenting decisions, we all do the best we can in the moment!
Last book you read? Educated! Such a good book about family, loss, and the struggle for a better future. I also read a lot of books about raising daughters!