“Tear it down. Start over. It’ll cost the same amount of money.” That was the expert (and unwelcome) advice given to Ariane Prewitt and her husband, Archer, after they bought their century-old Lakeside, Michigan, cottage in 2012. “It really was in bad shape,” Prewitt admits of the three-bedroom home. “It had been on the market for six years because no one wanted that kind of project. But we didn’t want to destroy it. We wanted to save it.”
Prewitt has been an antiques dealer since her early 20s, when she opened her own store in Chicago, her hometown. Her long-held fondness for old things is what eventually lured her to Lakeside, a vacation spot and antiques-shopping destination adored by Windy City summer travelers. And it was this very same love of aged pieces that led her to buy, and then rebuild, against all advice, that sagging late-1800s bungalow at 14931 Lakeside Road.
Today, the cottage is a gleaming dream of a split-purpose structure, with Prewitt’s clothing and home store, AP Shop, filling the front rooms and a cozy, exceedingly stylish guesthouse tucked in the back. But, before the couple decided to save it, “this place had been deteriorating for a long, long time,” Prewitt says. “There had been some work done to it, maybe in the ’70s or ’80s, but it was just cosmetic work. Tons of money might have been spent, but not in the right ways: rather than dealing with the structural issues, it was like, let’s apply a new finish or put in a new bathroom. So we stripped it down and got it back to the bones.”
The guesthouse is a living gallery of AP Shop goods, Prewitt’s own personal collections, and her favorite succulents.
That was just the beginning, though. And for a while, every fix, Prewitt says, only revealed another problem. “We had to take up all of the rotting floorboards,” she explains. “Then we discovered that the house was built on rock and logs, which had rotted away, so we rebuilt the foundation, which made all of the doorways crooked and short. And so we had to redo all of the doorways. It was never-ending. Just crazy.”
The renovation ended up taking about a year. “Thankfully,” Prewitt says, “it was done mostly during our off-season. We worked all winter long. But, still, when we opened, the walls weren’t even painted. We were just like, ‘Well, let’s go,’ and we kept finishing it as the season progressed.”
The Prewitts also own a house in Oak Park, Illinois, and a summer home in nearby Sawyer, Michigan, “a 1920s farmhouse that we’ve had for 16 years.” But the Lakeside cottage, Prewitt says, “is for AP Shop and who’s coming and going,” a place where designers visiting for trunk shows or other events at the store can stay.
“When we first bought it, I wasn’t sure how we were going to split the house up,” Prewitt concedes. “But the space in the front had the best light and felt the most welcoming, so I decided to use those front three rooms, and only those rooms, for the store.”
I like old things, and I also like contemporary things, and I like when contemporary things become old things.
Still, there isn’t some hard line dividing AP Shop from the visitors’ quarters—just a door that, when open, makes it clear how Prewitt’s showroom collection can come alive. “The living space is kind of like an accidental extension of the store,” she says. “It feels like AP Shop. I’m using things from AP Shop to furnish it. And often, friends and clients will look through the space and say, ‘Oh, I love the way this looks!’ and they get an idea of how something from the store would work in their own home.”
It may even be more accurate to say that the store is nested inside a home. There are signs of real life all around AP Shop, surrounding it, cutting right through it: The barely tamed wildflower gardens nearly overwhelming the white-picket fence. The hammock on the front porch, swaying in the wind, as if somebody just rolled out of a nap. The kettle screaming on the vintage gas stove. The entire place, both those front rooms and the guesthouse, is suffused with a casual, lived-in elegance, in which simple everyday realities shape the carefully created spaces.
“We throw parties with people all the time, and that’s a good example of how life creeps in,” Prewitt says. “You just grab an extra chair, pull it up, and it stays where it’s left. It’s just an easy, sophisticated way to live.”