Archived Ideas for ‘06 June’



Welcome to the continuing saga of the Up North House. This is the third post chronicling the inspiration, design and build of our multi family vacation house.

There’s one thing about building in the north. The weather is brutal. Winds to be reckoned with blow sand (in the summer) snow (in the winter) and ice, hail and rain all the other times of the year.

That’s why as we build a family place to last for many future generations, we are embracing materials that can withstand just about anything for just about forever.

The house will be sided in a material usually reserved around these parts for barns. It’s corrugated metal with a coating to resist rust. I read that it’s quite the thing in remote areas of Iceland. And why not use it?


I love the rural aesthetic for up here, and the design of the house is based on the lovely barns dotting this landscape. It will be a house. But we will try our best to honor the bucolic, farm-y feel of the area.

End view:


Side view:


The very first things we purchased for the house were two beautiful full-view doors with Douglas fir on the inside and a natty overcoat of barn red cladding on the outside.


We got these, used, for a song. And like everything about the design, they are simple, beautiful and since they will never need repainting, zero maintenance.

Typical for this area, our roof will be metal as well. You can see how the water beads right up, and with our 12:12 pitch roof, the snow will slide right off too.


One of the favorite choices so far are these beautiful barn lights we bought for over the doors. The galvanized metal has the dual role of not just weathering the storms, but looking just right: serviceable, with sweet barn character.


We’ve only just started, but as we continue to work, you can follow the progress of the build on Instagram #conboyhouseupnorth.




When your kids are living with you, it’s not terribly hard to make sure you are seeing each other on a regular basis. But when they leave the nest, especially when they move out of town, it can be a challenge to stay connected.

Many families have a tradition of vacationing at the same place every year whether it be a cabin they own, a resort they rent, or what-have-you. But what happens when the kids “outgrow” the family trip? The trip has to grow along with them. In our case, we are about to embark on something we consider a big investment in “Family Glue”. I wrote a little about it in the last post.

My childhood family of six (my parents, two brothers, sister and I) spent many summer days and nights in northern Michigan on farmland my father grew up on.

At its nearest point, the farmstead was about a quarter mile from lake Michigan. And if it weren’t for the apple and cherry orchards, the terrain of rolling green hills and bucolic farmland leading to high blustery bluffs formed by the crashing waves of Lake Michigan had to in some way remind the Irish transplants of their mother home.

As kids, we would trek back through the property to our favorite bluff that sent a straight shot of sand (with the occasional rock, plant and even glass) down to the pounding surf. We’d take off, flying from the top to land in the hot sand that only grew a little cooler as we descended with ever quickening speed to the beach below.

Once at the bottom we’d head north to a designated spot two miles up the beach where the bluff was lower, and some ancient sand-filled steps brought us back to the top where a parent would be waiting with the car to chauffeur us back home to the farmhouse. We’d arrive a little sunburnt, curly hair like dried snakes, and a rolling rhythm from the waves that magically stayed with us long enough to feel it’s push and pull as we lay in bed falling asleep.

This is where we went every summer. Every vacation. While my dad got busy repairing doors or windows and my mom brought ancient furniture out to the yard to strip and bring back to its original glory, we played.

When we began having kids of or own, we brought them to the farm. My dad was fond of saying every child born came to the farm by the time it was three weeks old. And I think that’s pretty close to the truth. Every new baby sat in the big oak rocker with Grampa Mike. And every child came to learn that the farm was where their Gigi served unending buckets of love, where they would come to know their cousins, where family happened.


Over the years, the old farmhouse began to feel the strain of the ever-enlarging family. We began bringing tents to provide more sleeping space, and tents became cabins. We created an outdoor kitchen, most of which got packed into a simple shack for the winter, and we cooked amazing meals and served them outside beneath a beloved open-air structure designed by my brother with huge logs from the land and a corrugated metal roof.


Most of the cabins were simple, with no running water, so the farmhouse was still the place to grab a shower and get out of bad weather. While each family created a cabin, the cousins just wanted to be with each other. So, although my generation of parents used our cabins, our kids tended to take over the farmhouse, many acres away.

The fact that there was a place for the teens and then twenty-somethings to get together has been key to making sure the young adults would continue to come “up north”. But the farmhouse was quite a ways away and we began to feel a divide. We also worried about the strain on the dear old house, and with the distance between us and our kids, connection was just more difficult. So, we’ve decided to build a Family House closer to our cabins.


As I write, the patch of land we designated is being scooped up and rearranged by a local excavator. We will have the shell built by a local contractor and spend the rest of this (and maybe next) summer finishing the inside ourselves. I’ll use this blog to communicate the progress. You can also track our progress on Instagram. Just follow #conboyhouseupnorth

Peace, love and good times!



My extended family has been congregating on our family farmland for many summers. And the highlights of the reunions are the beautiful big meals, prepared, served and enjoyed outdoors.


A handsome open-air structure, made by my brothers and cousins hosts the meals, and several years ago we replaced the mismatched tables and chairs with something sturdy enough to survive the northern Michigan winters.

Mark_tables and benches

My brother made the simplest of designs and all hands helped out to build the iconic tables and benches.


With all the materials (treated lumber and screws) coming from the lumber yard, the solution is smart, elegant and very cost effective.


Even better, each kid who put a bench together got to burn his or her name in the bottom, proof that they pitched in and deserve their place as a crucial piece of this family.


The otherwise humble tableau is dressed up with our well worn and faded tablecloths.


And, of course, lots of helpers make amazing food and natural decor.


It’s an annual ritual, that none of us could imagine going without. I say, take a stand. Embrace a tradition. And make your mark.



The decision to redecorate our entry wasn’t exactly a decision. Or at least, not one made by us.

One spring morning at the tail end of a particularly grueling winter we opened the interior door to the front vestibule only to find a waterfall coursing down our exterior front door. There had been an ice dam in our roof (a very Minnesota thing) and the springtime version of an ice dam is a (damn) waterfall just where no one wants one. In this case, it completely and spectacularly totaled the door. The good news is that while it was purportedly original to our 1912 house, our door wasn’t particularly wonderful. It was made with veneer, which in 1912 was about 1/4 inch thick. And even without the help of the waterfall, the layers had begun to separate and curl as if the door had been made out of giant potato chips.


What followed was one of those projects you would never bother to do, but end up being so glad you did.

If I were to prioritize all the things I would like to do to the house, redecorating that four by six foot space between the outer and inner front door would not be too far up on the list. But once there were huge holes in the walls (opened up to ensure there would be no trapped moisture), suddenly a little sprucing up seemed like a capital idea. The room had been wallpapered, so removing that was another project I never would have bothered with (but had to, because of said holes in wall).


In the end I decided to have some fun with the wall moulding. It’s like a chair rail, except at about eye-level. I painted the wall dove gray below and white above. And then decided I kinda missed my striped wallpaper (although after all the trouble to remove it, I wasn’t about to paper again). So I taped off some lovely wide stripes and painted them white.


Then I screwed hooks all around the room on that railing.


We ordered a new door, and this one was so gorgeous I stained it a deep color, such a change from the old door that had myriad coats of white paint on the inside.


Now our entrance is fit for royalty. Complete with plenty of cute hooks to hang up their cloaks.

Or, in the case of our visitors, hoodies.



After saving up for the kids, the house and the yard, like many, our next investment was the play-set. In my neighborhood, this means one or two swings with optional monkey bar, fort, sandbox or slide, all held up by a structure made of 4×4 timbers. The whole thing cost a ton and weighed about that much too.


My husband lovingly put the play-set together (cheaper than having it assembled by the play-set guys) and the kids enjoyed countless hours swinging, digging and holing up in their tiny room just above our heads.

Then one day we noticed that all our kids had become teenagers. Despite my youngest child’s opposition, talk of wanting to reclaim some of the yard turned to talk of getting rid of the play-set. It was a sad notion, until close inspection revealed that the bottoms of the beams had begun to rot, and although it hadn’t created a danger yet, prudence dictated it be dismantled before anything happened. And so, I took about 100 more photos than needed of the last fun day on the play-set, and it was taken down.


I’m not saying my husband (the gardener) had an ulterior motive, (he WAS the one who pointed out the rotten beams), but once the play-set was dismantled, he created the snappiest bunny-proof garden out of the lumber.


Full disclosure, he did have to buy some 2×4’s to complete the plan, but it was really nice that all those big beautiful beams did not just go to waste.


So, for any gardeners out there anticipating an empty nest, a little bit of DIY inspiration for you. Our resulting garden gives us so much beautiful bounty, we’ve never looked back.

Okay, maybe a little.