Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Fall 2018 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
Ada Doerner once heard someone say, “I have everything I need and most of what I want.”
Now 85, Ada says she can finally say the same thing. But that doesn’t mean she still isn’t keeping her eyes peeled for treasure, whether it’s on the side of the road or at a garage sale.
Over the last several years she and her daughter, Pam Doerner, have scoured thrift stores, auctions, garage sales and flea markets for just the right pieces to add to Pam’s vintage cottage on the shores of Crystal Lake near Beulah.
Although the rustic cottage is now just about the way they want it, they never know when some little treasure will have to come home with them.
Pam bought the cottage around 1995. The owner, who was going into assisted living, left all his furnishings behind — from the old wooden water skis his daughter learned to ski on to the two vintage double beds tucked up under the eaves.
The white clapboard cottage with its interior wood walls and floors was originally a farmhouse that has been added on to over the years.
“The story is that it was up on the hill behind us and in the winter they put it on rudders with horses and slid it down the hill to its current location, probably back in the ‘30s,” said Pam.
The previous owner decked the house out in red, white and blue, so when Pam and her former husband bought it they decided to stick with the theme.
One of Pam’s first decisions was to replace the threadbare sofas left behind, so she and Ada headed to Traverse City where they found a “gently used” sofa at Riverside Resale Furnishings and another at Reclectia, a consignment furnishings shop.
When the pair hauled one of the sofas into the cottage they discovered that the blue-and-red upholstery they found so perfect was actually a slipcover over dated orange fabric.
“We had no idea,” said Ada with a laugh. “That was one quality piece of furniture — and that’s the fun part of what we do.”
Often when they see something that will work, they don’t worry about how they will get it home. Where there’s a will, there’s a way when it comes to this mother-daughter duo.
For instance, when they found the perfect French doors they somehow stuffed them into a Toyota Camry. And when they found a round, white table at a garage sale down the road Pam paid a couple of young men with a pickup to deliver it to the cottage.
“At the time I said, ‘I think it’s too big for the space’ and Mom said, ‘Pam, you need it,’” recalled Pam. “She was right; it fit perfectly.”
Ada telling Pam that she can’t live without something is a common refrain. The red metal cabinet in the living room is another example.
“My mother made me buy it,” said Pam, of her sidekick. “It was at the Armada flea market north of Detroit and it was beige and ugly and she said, ‘You need it.’”
So Pam bought it, had it powder-coated and it fits perfectly behind a door in the living room.
The pair say they like to “help out the little guy” when they shop by seeking out places like Benzie Friends Resale & Consignment in Benzonia, or a small restaurant or estate sale. They also love to poke around Colbys Hokey Pokey consignment shop in downtown Whitehall.
“It’s a great place for second-hand furniture, and I found my sweet little Blue Willow bowl there,” said Pam, who collects Blue Willow dishes.
The Doerners also look forward to the annual Crystal Drive garage sale the second Saturday in June, and check in regularly at the Habitat for Humanity Restore in Honor, as well as at Salvation Army and Goodwill stores.
“I found my chandelier at the Restore for $10 and spray painted it red,” said Pam. The chandelier now hangs from the garage overhang above a red farm table.
Pam said her brother, Kent, has been a big help as she and her mother have spiffed up the cottage. He helped them pry up the worn vinyl in the kitchen to reveal a wood floor and built a tiny detached bunkhouse in the back using those French doors they found. They dubbed it Peace and Quiet. There’s space for Ada to paint, and a loft where guests can sleep. An antler chandelier made by Kent and his sons hangs overhead.
Pam rents out the cottage during the summer, but when it isn’t rented she and Ada spend as much time there as possible, heading up from their homes in Lansing.
They say over the years the project’s been quite an adventure — and one both agree will continue.
“We’re never done,” Ada said with a smile.