When last summer’s final sun set, Kyle Evans and Michael “Chet” Chetcuti counted the people who had passed through their home on northern Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. The list eventually numbered more than 500.
They came in groups of 10 to 15, ate farm-fresh meals, walked wooded paths and watched the sun slip into Lake Michigan. They started days on the patio, sipping coffee in their pajamas. They followed Kyle’s barefoot lead on walks to beachfront views of the North and South Manitou islands. They gathered by the fire pit, with tunes wafting from outdoor speakers and Chet ensuring that drinks never got too low.
The tile-covered oven turns out handmade pizzas in less than 90 seconds.
During this summer-long party, Kyle and Chet have found ways to keep their attitudes as chill as their guests’. “There’s no stress,” Chet says. “We don’t do anything when guests arrive except heat things up.” The secret: a home perfectly tweaked for entertaining.
The property came with a hunting lodge that started life as a one-room Native American schoolhouse in the 1930s. The first step after purchasing the land was turning the lodge into a weekend cabin. More recently, it became a dedicated entertaining space equipped with a kitchen and a dining room that seats 24. Letters on the wall spell out the cottage’s purpose: EAT. “We found the sign at a vintage store in Detroit, and it made sense because this is the mess hall,” Chet says. When they built the main house, Kyle and Chet blended the two structures with the same cozy cottage look. They call it a “Detroit patina”—a little worn and rustic around the edges so that nothing is too perfect or precious.
Michael “Chet” Chetcuti (left) and Kyle Evans named their retreat Chetonka after friends dreamed up the name around a campfire years ago. The name stuck for its nod to Chet and to the Native Americans who lived there years ago.
During their careers, Kyle (an architectural and industrial designer) and Chet (a restaurateur and entrepreneur) have designed cars, restaurants, homes and furniture. This time, Mother Nature provided the aesthetic cues. Knotty pine walls form the rustic backdrop for mix-and-match modern furnishings, and dark green exteriors blend with the outdoors. “We wanted the landscape surrounding the house to soften the transition between the natural and man-made elements of the property, between organic and hard-edge shapes,” Kyle says.
(Above left) Inside the cottages, sink-in seating invites guests to savor some solitude or catch up with one another between meals. (Above center) In the Eat cottage, wine and beer from the couple’s Baia Estate Wines and Arbor Brewing Company are always on tap. (Above right) Knotty pine walls, 18-foot ceilings and exposed rafters frame the backdrop for casual, comfortable furnishings. Above the fireplace, an industrial pulley raises the art to reveal a TV.
One key to the no-sweat entertaining approach is a restaurant-style setup. Commercial-grade sinks and dishwasher make cleanup easy. Clever innovations include a mechanic’s tool chest filled with utensils that rolls wherever the party lands. Even the furniture is flexible: Chairs and small tables easily move and blend in wherever they're needed.
Kyle and Chet’s love of cars provides another unmistakable influence. In the living room, the rear-view mirrors of an Oldsmobile Rocket 88 serve as fireplace sconces. Those industrial touches draw warmth from wood and other natural materials to create a casual atmosphere that clearly reflects the owners’ own style.
“We don’t do dress codes,” Kyle says. “Just come as you are, enjoy yourself and be comfortable.”
Friends frequently pile into the Jeep to cruise into the nearby village of Northport to hit the farmers market or try one of Kyle and Chet’s favorite local restaurants.
Repurposed vintage materials appear throughout the property. In the kitchen, salvaged washing machine drums provided the raw materials for suspended lights. A lofted bedroom above the kitchen houses four built-in twin beds for guests.
The 57-acre getaway houses two cabins and an Airstream trailer on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. A beach sits just steps down from the cottages and fire pit.
Let's go glamping
In addition to the cottages, a 20-foot renovated Airstream provides another spot for overnight guests. Tall plantings and a cinder-block screen keep the outdoor shower private.
The landscape around the cabins includes cutting flowers growing in galvanized container beds and a vineyard that supplies grapes for the couple’s wine.
Kyle and Chet share their shortcuts for laid-back backyard hosting.
Cater by the numbers “If it’s under 10 people, we’ll serve plated dinners,” Chet says. But to reduce prep and cleanup, larger groups share dinner family style or with a buffet. “Buffets are definitely the easiest, as long as you have everything planned out,” Chet says.
Set a simple table White dishes make for easy mixing and matching. Plus, white shows food in its best light—think how many restaurants use only white dishes. “Food can be the decoration of the table,” Kyle says. Get creative with oversize cutting boards. Pile them directly with snacks, or include an assortment of smaller dishes and bowls. “You can create a portable buffet with them,” Kyle says. “You can pick up the whole cutting board and bring it outside.”
Create a mood Never underestimate music. Chet and Kyle stream Radio Paradise (radioparadise.com) on speakers throughout the property from morning into late night. The listener-supported station features an eclectic mix curated by a couple in California. Kyle’s lighting advice: “Have everything dimmed down to a warm glow.”
Less is more Kyle and Chet skip mixing cocktails in favor of craft beer and local wine, served with a no-cook, prep-ahead platter of cured meats, cheeses, olives and pickled vegetables. “We concentrate on less variety and more high-quality items,” Chet says. They recommend serving soft, medium and hard cheeses, like goat cheese from Idyll Farms in Northport, Raclette from Leelanau Cheese in Suttons Bay, and Sweet Swiss from Boss Mouse Cheese in Kingsley. They also like the cured meats from Folgarelli’s Market and Wine Shop in Traverse City and bread from 9 Bean Rows bakery in Suttons Bay.
Work ahead Chet adds a little showmanship to the old idea of cooking everything in advance and heating it up when guests arrive. He throws pre-cooked meat on the wood-fired grill or into the pizza oven for a last-minute char “and a bit of show” for the guests. “I don’t like to prep, cook or clean when guests are here,” he says.