Landscapes of the Month: Constructing a Lakefront Paradise - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Constructing a Lakefront Paradise

Photo: Chris Major

When the homeowners bought this Michigan property, it was just a tiny artist’s studio on a picturesque beach. Over the next couple of years, the team at TruNorth Landscaping LLC, based in Traverse City, Michigan, transformed the site into a stunning lakefront paradise.

For the whole team at TruNorth, winning a 2023 Gold Award of Excellence was truly special.

“Being a smaller company, we didn’t think we stood much of a chance against some of the larger firms,” says Heather Kortokrax, the head of marketing at TruNorth. “Our entire team put their heart and soul into this project. Our clients were so pleased with the end result, and it was so exciting for the project to be recognized by the judges.”

Outdoor Living Elements

Photo: Chris Major

At the time of purchase, the studio was the only livable building on the property, so the owners used the building as a guest house while the rest of the property sat vacant for a couple of years until they were ready to build their primary home. The family was eager to install the new landscape before the new house was built, so they worked with TruNorth to design a luxurious outdoor area to entertain family and friends. The scale of this project was immense.  

“The project was completed in phases, but overall took about two years to complete,” says Kortokrax.

One of the highlights of this landscape is the patio on the primary home, which has an outdoor kitchen and a large firepit.

The gas firepit allows the family to enjoy the fire without hauling wood back and forth. Extra heat was also a priority, so TruNorth installed a larger gas line to ensure everyone would stay warm into the late evening.

Photo: Chris Major

The outdoor kitchen includes a built-in grill, warming drawers, sink, fridge, and storage, making it easy to use and organize. Seating is also a priority, so the kitchen has an L shape to maximize space for sitting.

This patio is just one of four patios on the property, including three on the primary house, which are different sizes. The other patios have more privacy for small groups to sit outside and drink coffee or enjoy the scenery. Limestone was chosen for the patio material to match the house’s architecture and the beach’s color.

The homeowners have kids who love sports, so a custom basketball court was installed to add another fun element for the kids and guests.

Like any beachfront property, sand can be a problem when people come inside from a day on the lake, so TruNorth installed a foot washing station and showerhead to help people stay clean.


The rest of the property is a mixture of turf and planting beds, including 30 pallets of sod installed to let the family use the grass shortly after planting. Pathways with a herringbone design connect each part of the property, while landscape lighting is used along the driveway to brighten the entrance and assist guests leaving at night. Guests are welcomed with two large container plantings at the home’s front door, which are rotated with different annuals each season to provide color and texture.

Photo: Chris Major

The diverse planting scheme is based on the home’s color and architecture.

“The white, black, and gray color of the home called for some pops of color throughout the landscape,” Kortokrax adds. “We also left room for annuals to be planted so we can rotate color palettes for the client each year as they love annual flowers.”

The owners also prefer a neat and clean appearance for the landscape, along with traditional plantings, such as roses and hardy geraniums.

A noteworthy planting bed is the driveway island that consists of pink rhododendrons, grow low fragrant sumac, various astilbe, and rozanne geranium. After the home was finished, the island bed was flooded by runoff from the building, so a pump was installed to re-route the water away from the beds and hardscapes.

Photo: Chris Major

The back patio features small islands of weeping Japanese maple surrounded by a mix of groundcovers. Installing the plants was challenging, as underground lines were added before the plant material. These lines included electric and gas lines, irrigation, and landscape lighting, so TruNorth carefully mapped each line to avoid costly planting mistakes.

After two years of extensive work, the project was complete and the family could enjoy their dream retirement home.

“Our clients were absolutely thrilled,” Kortokrax says. “They appreciated our professionalism, transparency when things didn’t go as planned, the expertise of our team, and their quick work.

Since the installation project, TruNorth has continued to maintain the plantings, turf, hardscapes, and beach. The homeowners send weekly updates about the property, allowing everyone to be on the same page and hear the latest stories on how the site is being used.

“It has been so fulfilling to see and hear about all the beautiful events and parties they have hosted and how they now enjoy the space,” Kortokrax says.

Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Be sure to enter your projects when entries open in February 2024.

Matt Olson

Matt Olson is a freelancer for NALP.