Historic Otis Harbor Springs in Harbor Springs Reopens as Upscale Lodge

Otis Harbor Springs in Harbor Springs, set on a bluff and located near the M-119 scenic route, also known as the Tunnel of Trees, has been restored and reimagined into a hotel with history stretching back nearly 100 years.
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Otis Harbor Springs has received a top-to-bottom renovation and reimagined into a hotel with history stretching back nearly 100 years. // Photo courtesy of Otis Harbor Springs

Otis Harbor Springs in Harbor Springs, set on a bluff and located near the M-119 scenic route, also known as the Tunnel of Trees, has been restored and reimagined into a hotel with history stretching back nearly 100 years.

The historic property, which has received a top-to-bottom renovation led by Israel Hernandez and Ty Humpert, honors the rustic charm of the property and ushers in a new era of service and design for the mid-century lodge. The cost of the renovation was not provided.

Opening to reservations on May 31, the resort will offer outdoor-driven programming and cocktail service.

Otis offers 31 guest rooms, each marked with a hand painted gold leaf room number. Ranging from studios to family suites, with patio spaces overlooking the central meadowlike courtyard, the rooms wind throughout a series of three connected buildings.

Mid-century inspiration remains at the forefront of the room design, with custom beds designed by Caudill and Humpert, luxurious Frette linens, Italian Artemide Tolomeo bedside lamps, and a selection of  original art from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.

Room décor includes glass waterfall desks paired with a vintage Knoll leather desk chair, along with vintage butterfly chairs. In addition to curated sundries available for purchase, colorful bar niches include handmade ceramic lamps and bar trays by New York City-based ceramist Shane Gabier.

The guest rooms feature a palette that plays off the mid-century colors of the original bathroom tile — pinks, yellows, and blues are offset with creamy off-whites and a deep, earthy ochre.

The bathrooms feature found and restored vanities with updated lighting and offer products by Flamingo Estate displayed on trays by Anastasia Home, repurposed from architectural marble alongside custom created Parachute robes, which are also available for purchase at Birchwood General.

Originally settled by Chicago banker-turned-farmer Joseph E. Otis in the 20th century as the Birchwood Farm Estate, the farm land was transformed by new owners into an executive retreat in 1958, which eventually became the Birchwood Inn.

“The original Birchwood Inn once served as the location of my family’s annual Fall road trip up the Tunnel of Trees some 25 years ago,” says Humpert. “We wanted to restore this legacy property and offer future generations of travelers the opportunity to explore this beautiful region, while creating their own lifelong memories.”

Drawing inspiration from the existing mid-century building and the surrounding natural beauty, the design was led by Humpert and Daniel Caudill who, as creative director of Shinola, also led the design of downtown Detroit’s Shinola Hotel.

“Kenneth Blasingame, whose talents have reached the White House and Camp David, was of counsel in the design of the lobby and the lounge,” Humpert adds.

As guests drive up to the property, they are greeted by the facade of the building — one of the few works of mid-century architecture in Northern Michigan — with original stonework outside and interior beam work.

Once inside guests are welcomed by calming gray-blue hues reminiscent of the waters of Lake Michigan and collected vintage objects from years past. Humpert scoured flea markets and antique stores, where he found vintage art, furniture, and pieces for the rooms.

“We wanted to create a space that honors the past and future of this historic land,” says Caudill. “The spirit and visual identity of Otis is grounded in a collection of experiences beginning in the 1950s and spanning to those of our present team, who are all local to the region.”

The on-site shop, Birchwood General, offers a selection of locally made goods, including ceramics, art, curated books, and vintage-ware sourced by Humpert. Guests can also find readymade charcuterie, small bites, and a wine selection. La Colombe coffee is served either from the café or from the service window overlooking the newly installed deck.

Grab-and-go café offerings will include small bites like Otis maple granola with kefir yogurt, sour cherries and clover honey, as well as daily local French pastries.

At the center of the main lodge is the Fireplace Lounge, a cocktail lounge designed to bring guests and locals together around its namesake hearth. Transporting guests back to the living rooms of the 1960s, the space features a collection of custom designs and vintage furniture, primarily sourced in-state by Humpert.

Varied seating vignettes center around oversized Parsons tables, including a restored tuxedo sofa original to the Birchwood Inn. At the heart of the space is the marble-topped bar, treated to feel like leather and look like petrified wood with a hand-painted mural by Detroit artist  Jennifer Haver.

The restoration includes a gallery wall of art along with custom wood credenza featuring a circular motif — a nod to the sunrise-inspired Otis logo — and brass hardware that will naturally patina.

The Fireplace Lounge cocktail menu will feature creations inspired by the region and history of the property, including sips like the Tapawingo, featuring London gin, Dolin Vermouth Blanc, Salers Gentian Aperitif and lemon bitters; and the Otis Fashioned, made with all local ingredients — from the Rye Bourbon to Michigan-sourced cherries and maple.

Inspired by the original tagline of the Birchwood Inn, the lounge’s happy hour will feature the Surprisingly Affordable, a simple, tongue-in-cheek classic local beer and bourbon shot combination.

Restored to an organic state with native plant life and early-stage meadow grasses, the winding pathways of the property gives way to both communal lounge spaces for socializing and intimate natural niches, encouraging guests to spend time outdoors.

In the courtyard, guests will find outdoor seating, bocce ball, and stone fire pits. Set under a canopy of old growth trees and overlooking the neighboring farms, The Grove offers another beautiful outdoor seating area where guests can enjoy the wide open space and future programming.

Planned for July, a yoga platform will be placed in the back edges of the property near ancient white pines, Michigan’s state tree, for yoga and meditation sessions, soundtracked by the surrounding nature and the waves of Lake Michigan beneath the bluffs.

“We’ve created this experience just as much for locals as for our out-of-town guests,” says Hernandez. “This is a very special place that has been part of the community for many decades, and we are honored to bring back this northern Michigan mainstay for future generations.”

Otis Harbor Springs is located at 7291 S Lake Shore Drive, Harbor Springs, and is near downtown Harbor Springs. Rates begin at $275.

For more information, visit otisharborsprings.com.