Charlevoix’s Thatched Roof House

“We had just come down for a trip and drove by this house and there was this little for sale by owner sight in the window,” Michael Seitz said. 

People who know Charlevoix know the Earl Young homes, and we kind of said this house isn’t exactly the mushroom house that one imagines. This house was the first mushroom home Young built, but I just imagined this house almost immediately with a different roof on it.

Built in 1917, this house was in disrepair and needed help.

Michael and Liz Seitz, who live in Houston, ended up buying the house and Michael had a vision.

“I knew that here were stone walls and everything was going to come out anyway. If I was lucky enough to have this property, everything was going to change and I didn’t really care. So that’s why the negotiations was possible because I wasn’t trying to salvage anything at all, I was going to tear the roof off. So you can image we get back to Houston and everyone said nice idea ah ha-ha you’re crazy because who really pulls a perfectly good roof off a house. Everyone agreed it needed to be remodeled the inside was bad but take the roof off are you sure?”

Michael, who has an engineering background, was very sure. He sketched the roof he had in his mind. Later he built his vision out of Legos.

“I had known him long enough at that point that I thought this is really going to happen because Michael is not only a visionary but someone who is able to execute his visions and that one thing I’ve always admired about him, it’s very exciting,” said Liz. 

The roof came off and almost everything inside started coming out. But how do you create this look? Enter master thatcher Colin McGhee.

“Thatching was the first roofing material when man came out the cave a simple lean to with leaves which is a thatched roof and it’s come a long way since then this is a reed thatch traditional to northern Europe,” explained McGhee.

“In the beginning, Colin thought I was a little strange because the idea seemed so big,” said Michael. “I would send him drawings but then he realized that what I had drawn was real.”

“It’s very labor intensive,” McGhee said. “It comes in bundles we put the bundles on the roof one at a time. It’s a slow process but once it’s finished it will last a lifetime.”

This age old technique is not easy but there are a lot of benefits, and a lot of onlookers

“It’s a great insulator and the roof is very steep so the water can’t penetrate it. It could rain all week it won’t even go in an inch. It’s a great material. It’s been around thousands of years, great insulation, great long life. These can last 70 years if you keep them dry in terms of no trees dropping mulch on them, pine needles.

“People think it’s full of bugs or animals — it’s not. It’s very tight, it’s not going to blow off. It won’t burn, it’s sprayed with a fire retardant, but even if it didn’t, it’s like trying to burn a barrel of hay.”

This roof is also an experience. Michael designed it to be touched.

“Everything is a wave,” Michael says. “No straight lines. So even here when you come so low, I’m able to literally lie on my roof.” 

And no detail overlooked on the inside.

“Your first view would be this beautiful, big staircase, and when you look to your right, you’ve got this awesome view of Lake Michigan.”

Millions of hollow reeds sculpted and shaped into a work of art.

“Also it felt though it was fitting keeping in the spirit of Earl Young whose home this was originally.”

“A tremendous amount of passion and love has gone into this and pray that people will embrace it and love it and be inspired by it as much as we are,” Liz said.

Learn more about thatched roofs at Colin’s website here