Small Footprint, Big Drama: Northport’s Chameleon House


Near the town of Northport on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, The Chameleon House rests gently atop a hill overlooking cherry orchards and a dramatic vista of Lake Michigan beyond.  Like the sun glistening on the water, the unique façade treatment of the house changes with the season, weather, and sunlight.  The home features an exterior of corrugated metal siding surrounded by a framework that supports vertical fins of recycled transparent polyethylene.  Restoration of the hilltop to its preconstruction meadow-like state gives the home an otherworldly presence, as if it had been simply dropped onto the site.

The home was designed in 2004 by San Francisco based firm Anderson Anderson Architecture. The architects’ skill at incorporating pre-fabrication and green-building practices is on full display and resulted in accelerated construction and the protection of the surrounding ecosystem.  The footprint is a diminutive 15 feet by 30 feet, creating a tower effect with eight floor levels occurring at each landing of the central, switchback stair. The steel moment-frame structure lends an industrial edginess to the interiors which is softened by the warmth of the exposed plywood panel walls.

The Chameleon House illustrates that even small spaces can be dramatic and interesting.  The home’s sculptural form, minimal footprint, and captivating façade provide a striking contrast to the natural surroundings and make the scenic drive along rural highway M-22 that much more captivating.

Photos © James Haefner Photography

See more photos of Chameleon House in our Must See Buildings gallery.