A North Country NH dream home

A mostly local team of talented professionals was crucial to creating a Lancaster, NH masterpiece.

The North Woods of New Hampshire might not seem a likely place to find a team of professionals to build and appoint a sophisticated country retreat. Yet many of the people who contributed to the creation of a 9,600-square-foot home in Lancaster a few years ago were either based in northern New Hampshire or close by: Steve Chardon of Chardon Construction, the builder and project manager, is from Franconia. Alice Williams of Alice Williams Interiors, the interior designer, is from Hanover. Leigh B. Starer, the landscaper, is from Franconia. Mitch Greaves, who custom-milled much of the woodwork, is the owner of Littleton Millwork in Littleton. Other key contributors—including Rusty Hubbard of Grafton County Masonry, Dan Kenerson of Salmon Hole Woodworks LLC and Mark Wirta of Crown Point Cabinetry—are all based in New Hampshire.

The homeowners themselves, as well as the architect and the landscape architect, hail from Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland, respectively. The homeowners discovered Chardon through a family connection. Chardon recommended Williams, and the Granite State connections continued. The end result is a beautiful, Shingle- and Tudor-Style geothermal house on 125 acres with views of the Presidential and Kilkenny Ranges.

Foundations for a long-term dream

Creating a retreat in this part of northern New Hampshire was not a spur-of-the-moment decision for the Virginia homeowners. One of them has ties to the Lancaster area, including a long family history and many vacations spent there from a young age. Later on, he and his wife found themselves spending time up north whenever possible. As the years went by, the couple returned more and more often, drawn by “the beauty and harshness of the North Country,” says the homeowner. They also began accumulating property. A few years ago, they started to consider the idea of “retiring” to New Hampshire and building a home there: “a long-term family retreat for us and for future generations.”

The variety of roof-lines and materials used in the Lancaster home are part of its visual appeal. The back of the house is primarily Shingle Style, with “a touch of Tudor,” in the words of builder Steve Chardon of Chardon Construction in Franconia.

Some years earlier, the firm Wnuk Spurlock Architecture had done a major remodeling project for the homeowners in Virginia. Partners Joseph Wnuk and Steven Spurlock worked with landscape architect Sandy Clinton of Clinton & Associates, PC in Maryland on that project, so these two companies seemed the logical parties to design the New Hampshire property.

Spurlock, Wnuk, and architects John Richards and Marcy Giannunzio collaborated on the New Hampshire project, working with Clinton from the beginning. The house was based in a clearing with long views of the mountain ranges. “One of the drivers of our design was to maximize the views,” says Spurlock. Clinton also noted that it was important to integrate the house into the landscape so that the structure interfered with its natural surroundings as little as possible.

One of the design challenges Wnuk and Spurlock faced was creating a house that would feel like home to its two full-time inhabitants, but still have enough room to accommodate visiting extended family. “It can be difficult to design rooms for a large house that still have human proportions,” Spurlock says. One of the ways this challenge was met was to integrate the outdoors with the indoors. The rooms have plentiful windows, and often doors, that merge the two spaces.
“Basically, off any room in the house is an outside component,” Clinton says. 

Building to plan, with flexibility

Shades of muted green show the details in the woodwork in the central parlor. Against the staircase is a Scottish courting bench that is upholstered with a floral crewel fabric.

Because the architects and landscape architect were out of state, Chardon and Williams—who joined the project just after the foundation was laid—worked from the plans but ended up making many on-site decisions themselves. “We had a lot of creative flexibility on the site,” Williams says. Although Wnuk and Spurlock specified most of the interior finishes, Williams revisited some of these and was able to choose most of the surfaces in the house, including the tile and wall treatments. Both Chardon and Williams put a great deal of thought into the finish work and other details, enlisting Littleton Millwork, Salmon Hole Woodworks and decorative painter Elisabeth Cadle of Flux Decorative Painting, who helped customize the interior.

The footprint for the house was changed once early on due to some nearby wetlands. The biggest challenge, according to Chardon, was maintaining the structural integrity of such a large building. He needed to make sure that it would remain stable throughout the seasons, including the numerous freeze-and-thaw cycles that are common to northern New Hampshire.

Another challenge was working with the wide variety of roof pitches and exterior wall heights—features that provide visual appeal. “Normally when you build a house,” Chardon says, “the first floor walls are all the same height. But that was not the case for this house.” Chardon and his crew worked out the details by making full-size sketches on the plywood sub-floors of every wall section, so that soffits would be perfectly aligned. “It made for a fun project,” he says. “Everybody took it on as a challenge, and since we install all interior and exterior finish work ourselves, we knew how important it was to get this part right.”

On the outside, the house’s shingles and peaked roof lines gently referenced a Tudor style, so Williams chose to bring some of that period inside. “I used some of the Tudor shapes—quatrefoils, for example—and tapestries, but I made it fresher,” she says. Although there is dark woodwork in some areas of the house (the flooring is all black walnut), Williams also used a soft color palette of gold, red, green and blue throughout the house, and incorporated elegant furnishings from different time periods.

Inside the home

The interior architecture itself makes a statement. One of the most striking rooms in the house is the sunroom, with floor-to-ceiling windows in a U-shape, and a spectacular, vaulted ceiling in Douglas fir. The sunroom has two sections, a sitting area with comfortable wicker furniture and a coffee table with a top that was painted by Cadle to look like the stone visible through the window. The floor in the dining area incorporates Ann Sacks textured ceramic tiles and a patterned rug.

The breakfast room looks into the sunroom (above), with its plentiful windows and vaulted ceiling of Douglas fir.

Littleton Millwork created the sunroom ceiling as well as the house’s numerous wall panels and the decorative trim around windows and doors. The firm is well known, and does work all over the country and sometimes outside of it. “For me,” Greaves says, “what was unique about this job is that it was in the North Country. Most of our work is done in places like Boston or the Cape.”

Another North Country craftsman who contributed his talent was Kenerson, owner of Salmon Hole Woodworks in Sugar Hill. In addition to other projects for the house, he did the woodwork in the study, which included cabinets and a mantel, both in quarter-sawn walnut.

Cadle was another specialist who added finishing elements. She owns a decorative painting and pottery business in Vermont, but ended up doing so much work on the house that she moved to the area for a few months with her small daughter. Cadle estimates that she added special touches to most of the rooms in the main living areas with work that includes a faux-marble mantelpiece in the living room and a leather finish in the study. Her involvement began when she was hired to paint the white study doors a faux-grained dark walnut to match the rest of the woodwork.

Cadle’s talent was also instrumental in the dining room, Williams says. This room proved a challenge because the furniture—lovely family pieces belonging to the homeowners—was somewhat overwhelmed by the size of the room. Williams and Chardon brought down the scale by creating a recessed “tray” ceiling with rounded corners. Cadle then painted the ceiling with metallic golds and bronzes to make the ceiling seem lower and the room more intimate. Williams carefully chose a shaded chandelier that was large enough for the room but not too large for the table.

Color variations

Williams used color as one way to differentiate among the rooms in the house. For the large central parlor, the homeowners requested green, which Williams worried might be overpowering in such a large space. She ended up using three shades of green in muted tones that convey elegance and an earlier, if indeterminate, time period. A Scottish courting bench upholstered in a floral crewel fabric adds an Old World feeling; the herringbone-patterned wood parquet floor and enormous, graceful chandelier take full advantage of the grand space.

A formal powder room uses color on a much smaller canvas. The gold wallpaper is picked up by gold designs on the vanity that Cadle painted. A glass sink and crystal knobs add a bit of sparkle. In the master bedroom, shades of mauve and soft blue convey a restful environment, which is framed by embroidered floor-to-ceiling curtains.

Williams used a great deal of tile in the overall design, most of it from Trikeenan Tileworks, formerly in Swanzey and now based in Hornell, New York. Even the laundry room has its own tile scheme in green and tan. The butler’s pantry has tiles decorated with water and martini glasses. All over the house, Williams used tile to create what she calls “an Old World look with new colors.”

In the kitchen, a decorative “picture frame” tile inset on one wall makes a definite Tudor statement. The kitchen is painted a straw-colored shade and features cabinets made by Crown Point Cabinetry in Claremont. “It’s basically a very traditional style of cabinetry, with a bit of flair in terms of detail,” says Mark Wirta of Crown Point. The kitchen’s granite-topped island, also made by Crown Point, is in natural walnut with a baked-on finish. Moss-and-white upholstered stools at the island make it a cozy eat-in kitchen, with the fabric providing a hint of softness.

A “picture frame” tile inset on the kitchen’s far wall was chosen to reference the house’s Tudor styling.

Should there be more people for breakfast, an adjoining breakfast room with lots of windows and plentiful natural light seats twelve on chairs that are upholstered in shades of gold and rose. The breakfast room has a fireplace surround of luminous brown and gold tile from Trikeenan. The mantelpiece was decoratively painted dark brown by Cadle to complement the tile.

In nature

Clinton, who designed the landscape for the house, says her intent was to keep the setting as natural and undisturbed as possible. “We didn’t do much sculpting of land,” she says. Stone walls around the property, built by Rusty Hubbard of Grafton County Masonry, embrace the more “designed” gardens closest to the house.

As you move away from the house, the plantings become more natural. “Walls become boulders; it returns to nature,” Clinton says. The homeowners requested a very low-maintenance landscape, and she obliged them as much as possible while keeping in mind the long, cold winter, heavy snow and inevitable mud season.
She tried to use plants that had three-season interest, including ones with peeling bark, berries or the ability to hold snow.

Starer did the actual installation of the landscaping and now handles the ongoing maintenance. The geothermal design of the house turned out to be a boon for her. A great deal of earth had to be removed in order to get below the frost line, and this soil was available for landscaping. “I was very fortunate,” Starer says. The house was built in a clearing among tall, standing pines, so there wasn’t a great deal of tree-felling to do. In fact, about forty trees were added, Clinton says. Around the house, Starer’s company did all the dry-laying of stone, including the eight patios. “That stonework will age beautifully,” Starer says.

Closest to the house, Clinton & Associates designated and Starer installed the bulk of the thirty thousand perennials used in the project. These included echinacea, rudbeckia, neptia, persicaria, epimedium and astilbes. Planted trees and shrubs included native maples, hawthorns, oaks and birches. Farther away from the house, the plantings segue to ornamental grasses and native ground-cover plants that require little or no maintenance. Starer cuts the grass at the end of the growing season and uses it for fertilizer. In a climate and setting like this, “Mother Nature really rules the show,” she says.

Northern accomplishment

The finished property, while large, merges beautifully with its setting, which includes several miles of walking trails, a lakeside cottage and a barn, and a tennis court. A natural pond is in the planning stages. And as such, present and future generations will find plenty to do. The home-owners are dedicated to protecting their local environment, and recent changes include the addition of a solar-panel system that should meet half of the property’s energy needs, and the donation of 116 acres to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests as a conservation easement.

The parties involved in the design and building of the house agreed on these two things: First, the house is beautiful and unique. “It is the most lovely house. It has such character,” Chardon says. Second, everyone enjoyed working together. “It was a really nice project,” Greaves says. “The owners were great to work for, and it was a good team. I think it shows in the end.” 

More photos from this feature story

Categories: Architecture and Interiors