A Lake House revised with love
Everything old is new again in a renovated Arts and Crafts camp on the shores of Squam Lake.
When a couple from Long Island found the lakefront site of their dreams about six years ago, they moved—temporarily they thought—into the old house on the property. It was a big, rambling, unwinterized Arts and Crafts structure dating back to the early 1900s, with low ceilings and an unusual layout: two rectangles connected by a triangle. There were eight bedrooms, including one that could be accessed only from outside the house. The couple planned to build an entirely new summer home there on the shores of Squam Lake, but after spending some time in the old house, they found it had grown on them. “We started to love the quirkiness of the place,” the husband says. It was well built and well cared-for, with only three owners in the one-hundred-plus years of its existence. But “It hadn’t been ‘refreshed’ in a very long time,” the husband says.
So the couple decided not to raze or transform the home, but instead to refresh it with loving care. In doing so, they worked to balance their desire for a comfortable vacation home with the preservation of the look and feel of the original building.
Key to this vision of a rustic lake camp were the husband’s memories of New Hampshire. He began visiting the Squam Lake area as a young man, staying at the old family camp of a college friend. “I’ve been coming here for forty-five years,” he says. Later on, he and his family returned to the lake, staying with friends and also renting. Eventually, they started looking for their own lakefront house. “The longer we looked, the more specific he became,” the wife says, laughing.
The house today maintains the essential layout and the rustic look—there aren’t any painted surfaces or sheetrock in the structure, only wood and stone. There are still eight bedrooms, including the one that needs to be accessed from outside.
The homeowners retained and enhanced existing features, such as the house’s two stone chimneys and some unusual eight-over-three windows in the original dining room that were replicated for other rooms as well. The homeowners began working with architect Chris Williams, AIA, of Christopher P. Williams Architects, PLLC in Meredith. He understood their goals. “The original building had great views, but because the ceilings were low, you weren’t as aware of the sky,” Williams says.
Because the project involved restoration and preservation, Williams assigned it to project architect Norman Larson, AIA, LEED AP, who
enjoys working with historic buildings. Larson and Williams worked together on the project. Also key to the project was builder David Frost of White House Construction in Gilford. “David (Frost) was around from the beginning,” says the husband. “We had a common vision.”
To achieve the clients’ goals of more air and light, the architects converted the area that housed the living room with two bedrooms on top into a cathedral-style living room with large windows. By adding those two bedrooms to one of the house’s wings, they maintained the bedroom count, Larson says.
Another goal was to open up the house to allow better flow and more room for entertaining—the couple has two grown daughters with families as well as numerous friends. On the first floor, where there was a kind of sun porch with a pingpong table attached to the master bedroom, the architectural team created a master suite with a study and bathroom. A screened-in porch that opens to the dining room was added, and the kitchen was also expanded.
Although the original house was well built, according to Larson and the client, structural changes did need to be made and some materials replaced. The original structure was entirely wood framed, for example, but some steel was used for reinforcement. Heating and insulation were added for year-round living.
Granite State challenge
The couple stayed in one wing of the house while work was being done in the other.
Renovations always involve challenges, and this project’s was rock: the house is built on a truly enormous slab of granite. The project team eventually took up the house’s floor, broke up some of the rock beneath and cleaned it up so it was possible to get underneath the house. (All new plumbing and electricity were part of the renovation.)
“David and I had discussed blasting,” the husband says, “but we decided we wanted to respect this rock. So they chiseled by hand.” The rock is still visible, inside and outside the house. For example, there is a large section exposed in the basement. “The homeowners were very taken by that rock ledge,” Frost says.
Another challenge was also fun: reproducing many of the details of the house, right down to the tints of the stain inside and out as well as the unusual hardware on some of the casement windows. One of the house’s most noticeable quirks were its windows with eight over three mullions. “We had never seen that before,” Larson says. He and the homeowners found this detail appealing, so they replicated it in many other windows of the house.
Original to the house were two impressive stone chimneys, only visible on the bottom floor. As part of the renovation, the team opened up the walls so the chimneys were visible through the second story, where they wrapped the original brick with stone to match the lower portions. (Two small, gas fireplaces were also added during the renovation, bringing the fireplace total to four.)
The great room with its two stories of windows, lake views and comfortable furniture (both upholstered and wood) is the heart and soul of the house. Presiding over it is a huge custom- designed chandelier of perforated copper made by Dennis Sparling of Sparling Studio in New Haven, Vermont, which “sparkles” at night when lit from within. The chandelier was carefully designed so as not to block the view of the lake from the second-floor gallery overlooking the great room. Sparling also made the custom wall sconces in the great room. A comfy window seat along the bay window faces the lake.
Although the house is simply furnished—with wood walls, floors and ceilings being the dominant statement—there are some striking decorative touches, including a stained-glass window on a downstairs bathroom door that was custommade by Lyn Hovey Studio in Norton, Massachusetts, to mirror a lakeside painting on the wall nearby. The painting of the property’s original boathouse is by the artist Shelley Holtzman (who is also the wife’s sister). Steve Winchester of S. Winchester Furniture Maker in Center Barnstead made some appropriately rustic-style furniture, including a sideboard (designed by Williams working with Winchester) in the great room that is actually a stereo cabinet. (Audio was by Michael Bouthillette of Tucker and Tucker in Scarborough, Maine.)
When the couple moved into the house, a great deal of older furniture, much of it painted, had been left behind. Many new homeowners would have discarded these pieces, but this couple decided to save them. So the homeowners had numerous chairs, chests and other pieces stripped and stained by Jim Currier of Hillhurst Fix and Finish in Moultonborough, with many of the pieces revealing themselves to be handsome and entirely suitable for the house.
For framing artwork and mirrors, the homeowners used Will Lehmann Frames of Center Sandwich, who has done work for the couple for many years. “If you want to keep using things, it’s so easy to figure out how to do it,” the husband says.
The kitchen is similar to the original but enlarged, updated and opened up. “It was totally closed off from the other spaces, but now it flows,” Larson says. Although a center island was added, the couple was adamant that the “camp feel” of the kitchen remain unchanged. They worked with Sue Booth of Vintage Kitchens in Concord to achieve this. “He [the husband] is a wonderful steward of the property,” Booth says. The resulting kitchen’s center island has stools along one side, and a cooktop and sink on the other. This setup means cooking and socializing can happen at the same time. “Sue was fantastic, off the charts,” the husband says. Booth also designed the range hood, in copper and steel.
In the dining room, a massive table stands between the original stone fireplace and the view of the lake. Pocket doors were installed between the new screened-in porch and the dining room, so that in nice weather, the space can be completely open.
The bedrooms are still numerous, but there are now two upstairs suites for the grown daughters and other guests. And the unusual bedroom with outside access is still that way. “It’s a cool space, like a guest house that was attached. It has the benefit of exceptional privacy,” Larson says.
In keeping with the camp spirit inside the house, the homeowners wanted the exterior to be as natural and native as possible. Connie Maata of Design Plus Landscape Services in Plymouth designed the landscape and was right on board with this aesthetic, the husband says.
“There was so much beauty there,” Maata says. “We wanted to make sure there were areas that were not disrupted.”
In addition to the native evergreens, there were mature rhododendrons and mountain laurel that had, in Maata’s words, “a timeless feel.” These plants remained and were supplemented with nursery stock. Scott Burns Landscaping in Center Harbor did the installation, and Dallas Wrath of Donovan Tree Experts in Meredith did the tree work. There is one small area of lawn near the house, but other than that, native plantings, boulders and pine needles make up the landscape.
The house has six hundred feet of west-facing shorefront— consequently, the sunset views are terrific. There’s also a pleasant, sandy beach that is unusual for this lake, notes the husband, but is a result of the winds the shore receives. There are two lakeside structures. One is a boathouse with room for just one boat. Rebuilt to be basically the same as the boathouse that formerly occupied the spot, the new structure has some dormered windows to allow more light. The other is a painting studio, which also occupies a spot where a small “shack” previously stood between two trees. Sliding doors open the entire lake-facing wall to the lake.
The new/old house has a camp feel, minus the darkness and mustiness. It’s a place for relaxation and fun rather than formality. A lively crew of extended family and friends keeps things hopping, and hikes and boat outings are the order of the day. In the end, the homeowners, and their family as well, are very pleased with how it all came out. One of their daughters says, “This has been such a labor of love for my parents.”
The team—from the clients to the architects to the contractor— all worked together to keep the best of the old while bringing in the best of the new. They shared a common vision. “When that happens, it changes how a house feels,” Williams says. “It’s a wonderful house throughout—every room has a special feel.”
Very few projects offer the combination of ideal clients, architects and other team members that this one did, Frost says. “It was a joy to go to work every day,” he says, “and that was for four years.”
The husband says, “We couldn’t have been more grateful to the two families that lived here before us and to the people who participated in this wonderful process.” Both he and the architects are proud that when people who know the house well (including former inhabitants) visit, they usually say, “It’s different, but the same.”
The house features the dark-stained wood and natural stone of a typical North Country lake house. At the request of the homeowners, the color of the stain is a close match to the original.
The boathouse was rebuilt to resemble its predecessor, except that dormered windows were added to create an airier interior.
The kitchen’s center island features a cook space on one side and seating on the other so that diners can observe meal preparations. The main cooking area with a full-size range is along a wall.
The shower in the master bathroom features tile that harmonizes with the rest of the natural elements in the house. The master suite features more of the camp’s windows with eight-over-three mullions.
Members of the team who worked on the house include in the front row, left to right, architects Norman Larson and Chris Williams of Christopher P. Williams Architects, PLLC in Meredith; and builder David Frost of White House Construction in Gilford. In the back row, left to right, are stonemason Benjamin P. Billin of Benjamin P. Billin Stone Masons in Plymouth; Scott Burns of Scott Burns Landscaping in Center Harbor; John Hackler, Nathan Spaulding, Kristen Currier, Etta Hackler and Jim Currier of Hillhurst Fix and Finish in Moultonborough; project manager Sarah Lussier of Vintage Kitchens in Concord; Dennis Sparling of Sparling Studio in New Haven, Vermont; Steve Winchester of S. Winchester Furniture Maker in Center Barnstead; and Will Lehmann of Will Lehmann Frames in Center Sandwich.