A Family Cottage Comes Full Circle
Renovated and ready for a new generation, this 1900s fishing cabin called Little Green was awarded the 2018 New Hampshire Home Design Award for Excellence in Interior Design.
Once only for summers, this rugged cottage now welcomes people in all seasons, thanks to Chris Williams and Matt Daughdrill, of Christopher P. Williams Architects, PLLC in Meredith.
For generations, their family had stayed at the husband’s family cottage, and over time, family members added a cabin or two along the shoreline. With a new generation on the way, a new perch was needed on Lake Winnipesaukee.
“Our whole family loves the lake,” the homeowner says. “We’re all here over the Fourth of July. Of course, we love the old family cottage where my husband spent his summers growing up, but we needed four bedrooms. When we found Little Green, we knew it could work and we wanted to keep it in the style of old Winnipesaukee. We especially loved the old birches in front of the house and the porch that just seems to float over the water.”
To renovate the 1900s fishing cabin, the homeowners turned to Christopher P. Williams Architects, PLLC, a Meredith firm renowned for designing and restoring lake houses. Chris Williams’s work has been featured in Cabin Fever—Rustic Style Comes Home by Rachel Carley; Rustic Revisited by Ann S. O’Leary; and several books by Ralph Kylloe, an award-winning furniture designer and authority on rustic style and design. As an architect, Williams has an intuitive sense for the overall concept and an exacting eye for design down to almost invisible details. At Little Green, these skills proved invaluable.
Matt Daughdrill, a staff designer at Christopher P. Williams Architects, PLLC, worked with Williams to develop the design on Little Green, and together they managed the detailing. Previously, Daughdrill taught at Boston Architectural College and designed in the local vernacular on the Maine coast.
Given the complexity of the woodworking requirements to create an old camp with modern amenities, the homeowners chose woodworking expert Kurt Clason of K.A. Clason Fine Woodworking in Gilford, to be the general contractor. Clason, too, has strong ties with the Maine coast. For many years, he worked for the U.S. Coast Guard overseeing the maintenance, repair and renovation of lighthouses off the New England coast. But, he comes from a generational line of woodworkers, and that passion finally won out.
Chad Sanborn, of Stone Age Design, LLC in Gilmanton Iron Works, and John Stephens, of Stephens Landscaping Professionals, LLC in Moultonborough, completed a truly extraordinary team. “I’ve talked with European architects,” Williams says, “and they ask me, ‘How did you find people who could build this way?’”
Decisions that form the home’s basis
Work on Little Green began from the ground up. As it turned out, achieving “simple” results took a good bit of engineering.
The main part of the house was built in 1910. In the 1930s–’40s, a small bedroom was added. Then in the 1950s–’60s, another bedroom was added. Always, of course, there was the front porch.
“The oval pier footings that supported the house were circa 1920,” Daughdrill says. “When we lifted up a portion of the floor, we discovered a lot of rot. Still, we found we could preserve two walls, so were able to satisfy the town’s requirements to renovate and build. We also went to great lengths to preserve the existing trees.”
The trees included tall evergreens surrounding the house as well as three birches on the shorefront. The evergreens were mulched and marked to protect them from heavy equipment.
As for the birches, Williams quickly sketched out how concrete cantilever beams were designed to support two levels of porches without disturbing the trees’ roots. The beams are a well-disguised bit of modern engineering to preserve an old- fashioned vista.
With room to add on to the original footprint, the design called for squaring off the corners of the house. The first-floor rooms were reconfigured to include a large kitchen/living room or great room, bedroom and bath. An upstairs floor was added that includes two guest bedrooms with a shared bath as well as a master bedroom with bath. A balcony porch was also added.
An old-fashioned wicker rocker and footstool fit perfectly into a corner on the first-level porch that seems to float over the water. This furniture belonged to the home- owner’s grandfather.
To wire and winterize the house, Daughdrill explains: “The house is super-insulated. It’s all outboard framing, so it has a continuous thermal wrap. Normally, the wiring is in the walls, but in this project, the wiring is outboard as well. We used rigid foam insulation, and in total, the walls have an insulating value of R-28.”
In addition, the homeowners chose Pella windows with low-E thermal protection and filled with argon gas. “The windows are designed to withstand gale-force winds,” Daughdrill says. “We also worked hard to line everything up to get good views of the lake from every possible vantage point.”
In particular, the homeowner wanted to see the mountain range at the head of the lake. Again, engineering ingenuity was in order. “We took measurements,” Daughdrill says. “The mountains are fourteen miles out, and their elevation is about four thousand feet. We took the elevation of the lake, then drew how high the windows needed to be, while also accounting for the height of the house to make everything proportional. Once you know the angle, it can work.”
The details come together
This decision affected other considerations in the house, especially in the great room’s fireplace. “A raised hearth in a small room just doesn’t look right,” Sanborn says. “When you have a flush hearth, it gives the appearance of more room. A flush hearth was a great decision for this house. I especially like how the chimney tapers up. I was glad the long, granite mantel in my bone yard found its home.”
Sanborn built the fireplace using a concrete block base and then fit it with fieldstone to a seven- inch depth. For the chimney, he created a recessed rectangle to showcase a handsome, mounted deer head—one of the homeowner’s own trophies.
In addition, Sanborn built the stone steps going up to the screened-in porch. His enthusiasm for stone is contagious. “My first job was building the fish pond at the Flume in Lincoln,” he says. “Eventually, I worked all through Franconia Notch building granite box culverts and headers. That’s all gone by the wayside and now it’s all concrete.”
When Clason talks about re-creating the look of an old camp for Little Green and his collaboration with the homeowners, it’s impressive. For example, the interior doors downstairs are antique and slightly off kilter; Clason built the doorways to fit. For the exposed studs, which are structural, Clason spec’d white pine to a true two-inch-by-four-inch size, which was the standard in the early 1900s. Over the winter, he and his crew cut all the studs and beams, which are Douglas fir. Everything came into the house notched, labeled and stained. As for the stain, Clason developed three to match the boards from the original house; the homeowners picked the winner.
The floors have radiant heat, and the wood is heart pine from Georgia. “It’s twice as dense as yellow pine,” Clason says.
This well-orchestrated room captures the ease of an old camp through texture, color and innovative use of space. Note the window seat, flush hearth and select mementos.
Throughout, the house feels solid and the stairs are ample, especially at the landings. The stairwell itself, lit by stacked windows, feels like a column of light. Patterns of woodwork from V-board, to novelty siding, to tongue and groove vary almost imperceptibly throughout the house. The beams also have a structural rhythm from room to room that gives a dynamic feeling to each space.
The bedrooms all have closets, a rarity in old camps, and each guest bedroom has its own small sink. Bedroom sinks were a feature in the homeowner’s old family cottage; the same convenience and efficiency was incorporated in Little Green.
To find vintage sinks, Clason and his wife scoured antique stores before discovering Pete’s Place in Hollis, Maine, which specializes in them. All the sinks were reglazed. The texture and soft contours of the old porcelain anchor the house in its time period—the early 1900s.
Three comfortable window seats in the great room and two in the upstairs bedrooms add another nice touch. The kitchen cabinetry is custom; throughout the house, there are numerous small touches and perhaps twenty shelves. “The homeowner would send us pictures with a note, ‘I love this door,’” Clason says. “We were able to build everything she asked for.”
The homeowners wanted the landscape to be unfussy and fit in with the lake. Stephens designed a landscape of native plants, such as blueberry sod, summersweet clethra, winterberry, dogwood and viburnums. Stephens installed Dauer fixtures with LED lights high up in the pines for soft downlight on paths.
To decorate the house, the homeowner—drawing inspiration from the historic Castle in the Clouds in nearby Moultonborough—searched for lighting fixtures that would have that late Victorian feel. “I found a lot of them on eBay, and they tended to be French,” she says.
On the porch, the dark green wicker chairs once belonged to the homeowner’s grandmother. The chest that now holds the life jackets was her husband’s old toy chest. And because they had so many fond memories of leisurely time spent on the old iron porch swing at the family cottage, Sean Byrnes of Sean Brynes Welding in Thornton, made a duplicate for Little Green.
Inside, an old clock from an estate sale, a bowl from a lifelong friend, a slew of old books from Alcott’s Little Men to Zane Grey westerns, and small antique Winnipesaukee souvenirs set the tone. Upholstery, cushions and curtains were sewn locally by Sandy Graham, owner, and Marie Colbath, of Eden Tile in Meredith. The shop also provided tile for the master bath.
As for a dining table, the homeowner says: “We really don’t need one. In the colder months, we enjoy eating in front of the cozy fireplace. While in the summertime, we much prefer dining on the porch only seven feet from the shoreline, enjoying breathtaking views of the Sandwich and Ossipee ranges. All the while, it’s not unusual to hear the calls of passing loons.”
For the homeowners, their time at Little Green is all about being with friends, family and new generations in what they call the “laid-back” fashion of old Winnipesaukee.
Architect Chris Williams notes that with the addition of a second story, the steep roof keeps the look of this cottage well grounded. Snow slips off the roof easily as well. The landscaping emphasizes native plants, which will mature over the next few years.
Right: Exposed studs and beams are part of the cottage look. These are structural, but this super-insulated cottage has outboard framing. The many built-in features here include bookcases, a liquor cabinet and the interior incorporation of an original window. Throughout the cottage, the light switches are all new, “turn-of-the-century” push-button style.
Right: A small desk in the master bedroom creates a quiet place to correspond via text, email or old-fashioned postcard.
Members of the design team include, from the left, John Stephens of Stephens Landscaping Professionals, LLC in Moultonborough; Chad Sanborn of Stone Age Design, LLC in Gilmanton Iron Works; Kurt Clason of K.A. Clason Fine Woodworking in GIlford; and Matthew Daughdrill and Chris Williams of Christopher P. Williams Architects, PLLC in Meredith.
Right: This guest bath with its fresh, mint green and white color scheme doesn’t compromise on either comfort or style in a narrow room.
Right: The guest bedroom has a dynamic mix of woodwork. V-board defines the corner closet, and overhead ceiling beams fan out from that corner. The chimney includes Stone Age Design mason Chad Sanborn’s signature touch: a handy little shelf by the bedroom sink.
Right: Old houses often accumulate various window styles over time. Here a pleasing stack of windows lights a stairwell. Nearby, a smaller window with similar proportions lights a storage corner.