Regional Feature: J. Cesario Builders, Kelly Paulsen Interior Design

WRITER | RACHEL WHITE
PHOTOS | PHOENIX PHOTOGRAPHY

Sometimes they’re called “bungalows” and sometimes “casitas,” but whatever you call them, these 1,080-square-foot homes are pure luxury. Built by James Cesario of J. Cesario Builders and designed by Kelly Paulsen, you can find them at Hearthside Grove in Petoskey. It’s a first-class gated community that gives motorcoach owners a space to come home to while they’re on vacation in the heart of the north. “It’s a great community to be involved in,” says Cesario, “people are more relaxed here.”  They have every reason to be relaxed: they have all the amenities they could desire at their fingertips, in a gorgeous outdoor setting.

People love RVs because of the outdoor living and adventure. Here’s the concept: pull a Class A motorcoach right up to a bungalow that has two 16-foot door walls that open completely to the outside, creating a continuous living space and unparalleled comfort. It truly brings the outdoors in and offers both heated and air-conditioned room in which friends and family can stay. Some residents work during their stay and use the space as an office. The bungalow also gives people a place to come with their motorcoach in the winter, for snowshoeing or snowmobiling. The park has made so many “best of” lists that it draws people who may not have heard of Petoskey before. The clientele is from across the country; for some, it’s their first time visiting Michigan. The homes that Cesario and Paulsen have built are a large part of that. “James understands the lifestyle these people want to live,” says Kirk Rose, one of the developers of the resort, “He helps them envision exactly what they want from their home.”

Cesario was first brought in to complete the luxury clubhouse that offers things like movie screenings and cooking classes. When Hearthside Grove began offering oversized lots and 22×46-foot bungalows with all the comforts of home, Cesario was asked to build the first spec house. It was a natural progression from there. He did such a great job that he became the exclusive builder for all of the bungalows. “We’re not just building these homes,” he says, “we’re building client relationships, we’re building family.” He enjoys coming in every summer and seeing the places he’s built and visiting with homeowners. Paulsen has been part of the design team at Hearthside Grove from the beginning, Rose noted. “Kelly has vision as well as great experience with spatial layout and maximizing space.” Paulsen says she “loved being involved in every step, from placement on the lot to interior paint colors.”

The homes are definitely not cookie-cutter. Paulsen’s forte is in the architectural side of design, so unique features are what she does best. She calls the general style “mountain modern,” but here in Michigan some like to call it up-north modern.  “I love to work with the builders, architects, and clients to come up with the perfect result for the client,” says Paulsen. Cesario feels the same, which is why they make such a great team. “It’s important for me to capture the vision of what the client sees so that they can put their own spin on things,” he says.

When it comes to exteriors, think wood beams and stacked stone, custom bars, and natural colors of soothing greens and rich browns. The outdoor kitchens are really something special, and they cater to each owner’s needs and wants. They start as gazebos covered in a pergola-style roof, for shade or the occasional rainy evening. From there, the sky’s the limit.  For the folks from Louisiana, there is a special burner for Low Country boils; for a younger client from Grand Rapids, a disco-quality lighting and sound system. There are smokers and warming drawers, grills, and heat lamps. It’s a surefire recipe for entertaining and outdoor fun.

“We wanted a place where people could come and enjoy life,” says Rose. It’s obvious that Paulsen and Cesario had fun with these projects.  Homeowners can choose either a hip roof or a flat roof design. There are gorgeous circular fire pit areas on stone pavers. Just picture yourself in a rocking chair next to a fire on a cool Northern Michigan night. Paulsen adds custom touches like covered porches to make each bungalow unique, or beautiful garages to hold “toys” like motorcycles, kayaks, or golf carts. The landscaping is elaborate as well, with charming ponds and gardens.

Paulsen’s favorite feature is on the inside. “I love the fireplaces in the main living area,” she says, “They create such a feeling of warmth.” There’s so much variety in the homes. Some of these fireplaces are stacked stone from floor to ceiling. There’s one flanked with custom shelving units. Most of the bungalows have sleeping lofts, complete with ladders – a kid favorite. Paulsen worked with one homeowner to create a more rustic look, with unfinished timber accented by a gorgeous piece of wood they used for a mantel. She added color with deep teal cupboards. Exposed beams add finishing touches to 12-foot vaulted ceilings in some of the casitas, while shiplap adorns others. The homes can have one or two bedrooms and one or two baths. Kitchens have anything from farm sinks to hammered copper. The glass-walled showers have room to stretch. Paulsen used sliding barn doors for one home’s interior. All are outfitted with full-size washers and dryers. “I think the biggest challenge has been finding storage space,” says Paulsen. “I needed to tuck things in, like on a boat or RV.”

Just because the homes are small, doesn’t mean the kitchens are. The countertops are sumptuous granites, marbles, and quartz. Creamy ceramic subway tiles are the perfect backsplash. Full-size Viking appliances, side by side with wine refrigerators, fit perfectly in cherry or maple custom cabinetry. Some of the kitchens have a more modern farmhouse feel, with raised-panel cabinets and scraped oak flooring in wide planks.

Not in the market just yet for a luxury motorcoach? This dream team collaborates on lots of other projects in the area as well. “A lot of people who see the plans say, ‘That’s the perfect design for a little retirement home, that’s exactly what I want,’” explains Paulsen. She keeps busy with new builds, kitchens, and other remodels. ”Kelly has a true gift for creating beautiful spaces and helps us achieve something ‘awesome’,” says Cesario. He also focuses on custom residential and high-end remodels.  His business philosophy is simple; it’s what his dad always said: “Be honest, and everything works out.” It seems that this philosophy has indeed worked out well, for both his thriving business and the homeowners who love their homes.

J. Cesario Builders, 3408 Aurora Drive, Petoskey (231) 838-8774 l JCesarioBuilders.com
Kelly Paulsen Interior Design 224 Park Avenue, Petoskey l (231) 737-4005 l KellyPaulsenID.com