A Hilltop Dream House
Working with Jason Aselin, of JAD Design Group Inc. in Amherst, Dana and Tom Boucher designed a modified classic Cape perfect for its Bedford site.
The Bouchers’ New England vernacular home sits above a meadow with a classic red barn and grazing farm animals, a serene view often enjoyed by the family and guests relaxing around a fire pit placed at the edge of the lawn.
It was their dog, Moe. Without him, Dana and Tom Boucher might never have realized their dream of building a house on a hilltop in Bedford.
The town doesn’t have many hills, so the chances of finding a hilltop property on the market were slim. Ever slimmer if it had a stunning view.
But one summer day four years ago, Dana found just that. Moe had extra energy that morning, so she drove him to doggie daycare, taking back roads.
On the way, a sign—“Lot for Sale, Build to Suit”—caught her eye. It was for an undeveloped hilltop. Not only that, it had trees as well as a view of a classic, New England red barn sitting in the middle of a meadow with cows and donkeys grazing nearby.
Dana calls it serendipity. “If I hadn’t been driving that day,” she says, “this lot would have been gone.”
Putting research into action
Dana and Tom bought the land, and began to create the home they had dreamed about. Dana had a three-ring notebook bulging with ideas for each element of the house-to-be, right down to the hardware for the cabinets. Her vision had been informed by her training as an artist, her experience at a high-end furniture company, and her love of texture, color and other aspects of design. “It’s my passion,” she says. “It’s fun for me.” She had just finished designing the interior of the Copper Door in Bedford, one of several restaurants that the couple owns.
Perusing Dana’s notebook, the home’s architectural designer—Jason Aselin, of JAD Design Group Inc. in Amherst—found that he and Dana had similar design sensibilities. Both loved New England vernacular homes that were, as Aselin puts it, “timeless, interesting and well-crafted without being overly trendy.”
With that in mind, he designed a modified classic Cape with steep, gabled roof pitches; dormers; porches; white-on-white trim and clapboard; and rich detailing, such as corbel arched brackets under a subtly curved roof over the entry.
The horizontal aspect of the house, which allows it to hug the hill, borrows from the Shingle style. “I really don’t like to see a tall house on a hill,” Aselin says. “It seems pretentious and insensitive to the topography.”
Unusual for a Cape is the number of windows on the front, but the beautiful view they display dictated the need. The windows—Shingle-style six-over-one double-hung with transoms—create a light-filled living room.
Design accented by color
The many windows throughout the house continue the open, airy look, which is enhanced by woodwork and walls that are white as well as furniture fabrics and carpets that are gray, white and beige. “I wanted the whole house to have a neutral feel, so the artwork and architectural elements would pop,” Dana says.
Her plan, reminiscent of Swedish design, worked. The artworks, mostly bright paintings of farm animals done by artist friends, attract the eye. As do the architectural elements, especially the coffered ceilings, the inset cabinetry and the switchback stair. All this was handcrafted by Larry Tighe, of Tighe Cabinetry in Mont Vernon.
“The lines are clean and simple,” Tighe says. “It has a Shaker feel. It harkens back to an older look.” Tighe adds that older look was strengthened by Roland Cere, of R. Cere Quality Painting in Manchester, who hand-painted the elements Tighe created, including the kitchen cabinets and the V-groove paneled walls in the vestibule. Adding warmth and pattern to the room is a herringbone brick floor, and a curvilinear chest and mirror.
The vestibule flows into a generous hallway. Off that is a dining room with a large, round table with a cherry top and black base; six cushioned chairs upholstered in a gray-and-white geometric fabric; and an antiqued brass chandelier. No carpet—instead six-inch-wide plank white oak crafted in Amish country was installed by Goedecke Flooring & Design in Bedford. “I wanted to have an informal room where you can sit and see everyone because you’re sitting in a circle,” Dana says. “It’s important to me that it’s not stuffy. It’s almost like a kitchen table.”
Adding a punch of color is a built-in cabinet with a plate rack that holds Dana’s collection of Astier de Villatte plates, cast from antique French molds, which is like a piece of artwork to her.
A double-sided fireplace separates the kitchen area from the step-down living room, where four large windows frame the hilltop view.
The dining room is one of the few rooms with a window treatment and is the only room that has a double-swing hinged door with a porthole window—a signature for the home of a restaurateur.
Behind the door is a butler’s pantry. Notable is the wallpaper, which is used, sparingly, in other rooms. “To me, having a passion for art, I appreciate textile design,” Dana says. “I could spend hours looking at wallpaper books; it’s like Christmas for me.”
The mahogany-topped cabinets and lighted glass shelves that line the room provide considerable storage space, enough to allow the kitchen design to eliminate some upper cabinets.
That, in turn, allows for a bank of five windows over the farmhouse sink and a Jet Mist honed granite countertop with the look of soapstone without the maintenance. There are yet more windows framing the banquette (called a “booth” in this restaurant family) that has a Tighe-made trestle table as its centerpiece.
A double-sided fireplace with a Jet Mist granite surround divides the kitchen and the step-down living room. The fireplace is gas, not wood—something that Aselin has grudgingly grown to like. “I’m a Yankee at heart; I like real wood,” he says. “But I’ve become a bit of an advocate for gas fireplaces because they can be used every day.”
With the fireplace as a focal point, the living room and kitchen area creates a perfect setup for the entertaining Dana and Tom like to do. And one element, usually unseen, adds some fun: What looks like a closet in the adjacent hallway is actually a wet bar. Opening the doors reveals mahogany-topped cabinets with a sink and small refrigerator. Above are glass shelves that are backed by a striking, large-patterned wallpaper.
Areas that work
Walk down the hallway, and you’ll find what Dana calls her “busy center.” (It’s one of three rooms—the mudroom and laundry room being the other two—that were done later. The design of those rooms, and the dining-room plate rack, was a collaboration with Whitney Nelson of Capital Kitchen & Bath in Concord.) The busy center is just seven-feet-by-five-feet, so the challenge was to make the best of the space. “We created small nooks to display art and hide office supplies,” Nelson says. They also added a large message center with a painted cork board. And again, a wallpaper accent was added.
There is also wallpaper—a bold flower print—in the mudroom. It is definitely “not your typical close-the-door-and-hide-the-mess” kind of mudroom, Nelson says. Instead, it is a welcoming space with extensive cabinetry with bold, brass hardware; a bench stained to match the wallpaper; and a rugged slate floor. The use of decorative warm brass mesh in the cabinet doors “harmonizes with the hardware on the cabinets and adds another level of texture to the space,” Nelson says.
Upstairs is an “airy and whimsical” laundry room that Nelson says “should make anyone want to do laundry.” Indeed, it is elegantly wallpapered (even the ceiling) and accented with painted cabinetry that’s a beautiful match. Tucked away are a drop-down drying rack, ironing board and a pass-through from the master closet for dirty clothes. “If laundry is part of your life,” Dana says, “let’s have fun with it. Make it a happy place. I’m comfortable with taking risks.”
The home’s builder—Kevin Doherty of Kevin Doherty Builder Inc.—thought Dana was taking too much of a risk by wanting a Dutch door in the kitchen. His company is well known for energy-efficient building. The Boucher home is another example of his attention to the insulation envelope and air sealing, but he was worried about heat loss with a divided door. But his protestations didn’t persuade his clients. Saying “this is one time form comes before function,” Dana got her Dutch door—with a pull-down screen.
Outside, the property, which had been owned by Doherty, had all the charms and challenges of a hilltop. The biggest challenge, Doherty says, was building the driveway: “You have to make it as safe and logical as is practical.”
.The landscaping challenges were handled by Randy Knowles, then of Knowles Design, now of The Dubay Group Inc. in Windham. His goal was to make the outdoor spaces an extension of the home. “They are designed as rooms or entertainment spaces that build on each other,” Knowles says.
The Dutch door in the kitchen opens to a small porch, which steps down to a fieldstone patio that is surrounded by a landscaped slope of native plants. Steppingstones lead from the patio to a fire pit at the far end of the front lawn. “The fire pit was pushed to the front of the slope to take advantage of the views to the neighboring farm and hills,” Knowles says. Plantings were kept low to preserve the views.
The hardscape—done by Greg Rousseau, of GPR Masonry in Bedford—includes an entry path that is flanked by reclaimed granite hitching posts and a decorative wood fence at the guest parking area. The path is a mix of materials—brick in a running bond pattern with a soldier course edge that ends in a cobble landing and granite steps at the front door.
The front-yard plantings are meant to remind of a country house or Cape Cod retreat. “Hydrangeas, roses, evergreens and grasses soften the front of the house and line the walks,” Knowles says. “The transition from manicured lawn to meadow along the top of the slope is done using ornamental grasses and low, evergreen ground cover.”
Because of the placement of the house on the highest point of the hill, it was a challenge to maintain a buffer between neighbors to the side and rear. Native evergreens and deciduous shrubs were added to create an understory and screen the yard, which includes a large, flat lawn.
Also outside, you see a small area with a high, white fence. That’s for the dogs, Moose and Brady—though not for Moe, who has since passed away. Inside that enclosure is specially made artificial turf and a pet door to what Dana calls “the dog zone.” It’s a room off the mudroom just for the dogs, with their beds, food and a tiled shower. “It’s so convenient to have a ‘zone’ designed specifically for the dogs,” Dana says. “With our lifestyle, we need that convenience. We need things to function well.”
Happy at home
To have things function well was the Bouchers’ aim from the start. Now—thanks to the team of what Dana calls “rock stars”—she and Tom happily have 3,600 square feet of exactly what they wanted, every space thought out, every space used (no parlors and such “for when the Queen comes to visit,” says Aselin), with a décor that’s a rich blend of antique and new, with a touch of whimsy.
What makes the whole team happy is what they see as an unforgettable collaboration that produced an amazing house. As Aselin says, “It was an absolute blast.”
Neutral fabrics were used on the furniture so the living room’s architectural elements and artwork could stand out. Moose, then fourteen weeks old, naps on the rug.
Right: In the hallway near the dining room is a bar with a refrigerator and sink that accommodates the entertaining the Bouchers like to do. With the door closed, it appears to be a closet.
Right: The master bathroom has a large shower at one end and a bathtub at the other. The motif of a neutral palette accented by brightly colored artwork is continued here.
Right: At the top of the stair is a bright, comfortable place to relax. The flooring, a random-width white oak that is used throughout the house, provides the “older look” the Bouchers wanted.
Right: The view down the hillside from the Bouchers’ front door includes a New England red barn sitting in the middle of a meadow.
A fieldstone patio off the kitchen and living room acts as another space for entertaining. A landscaped slope of native plants surrounds the patio. Container plants are by Bedford Fields Home & Garden Center in Bedford.
Tom and Dana Boucher (right) enjoy an evening on the patio with Amy Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Framing in Bedford, and Randy Knowles, now of The Dubay Group in Windham, who designed the Bouchers’ landscape, yard and patio.