An Elevated Experience

On Lake Winnipesaukee, a naturalistic modern home distills the essence of a beloved family camp.
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This four-season lakeside retreat is navigated by a circulation network of elevated boardwalks, stairs, decks and a bridge. On approaching the entry, the building dynamically wraps around a glacial erratic.

Glimpsed from the lake, this four-season camp nestled amid ancient boulders and tall trees nearly disappears into the landscape, its gray siding blending in with its surroundings. With a south-facing shoreline that provides 180-degree views, its minimalist structures are connected to the surrounding landscape through floor-to-ceiling windows. The wood, steel and glass construction, built only three years ago, is so in tune with its wooded setting that it’s hard to believe the home—known as the “Elevated Camp”—hasn’t always been there.

“The property has a fascinating history,” says the homeowner. “It had been enjoyed as a rustic camp by the previous family across four generations.

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The nexus of the house, the family room has southern panoramic views of the lake. A neutral interior palette, including a board-plank floating hearth and a board-plank fireplace, defers to the colors in nature outside.

“It was remarkably well built in the 1940s, and expanded in the 1960—with running water—and was a ‘camp’ in the best New England sense of the word,” he says. “It had lots of quirks and character, built on piles, often on boulders, and held in place with hand-poured concrete, which gave it the appearance of almost floating above the ground.”

The homeowners—a couple with three children, aged 15, 13 and 11—bought the property in 2017, and “wanted to live in the old camp for a year before doing anything,” he says. The camp had plenty of personality, and a slew of bunk beds and other furnishings, but no heat, no insulation, an ancient electrical system and only rudimentary plumbing.

“Making memories with the kids was the primary purpose for even considering a lake house,” says the homeowner. “In 2018, we asked our architect for ideas to preserve it while expanding it with a much more modern aesthetic, but that juxtaposition was a bridge too far.

“In the end, we saved as much of the character as we could, incorporating the oversized rafters into the new construction as benches, desks and shelving, retaining design concepts and colors, and framing some old charts and photos,” he says. “We even refinished an original hand-painted ‘No trespassing’ sign.”

That architect, Tom Murdough, owner and principal of Murdough Design in Concord, Massachusetts, says the homeowners brought in his firm “for our aesthetic and design philosophy.” The overarching goal, he says, was “prioritizing and strengthening the connections between buildings to the natural landscape and the natural site. We were very aligned on these objectives for the project.”

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The camp’s location on the footprint of a prior cabin allowed the new design to limit the clearing of trees and to embrace the landscape, which is reflected by the interior spaces.

“The single-story camp was elevated on piers, allowing one to see under the building to the lake, giving it a sense of hovering over the land,” says Murdough, noting the previous owner was an engineer. “It also had a very efficient plan, massing and a clear sense of construction—not to mention many inventive design details within the camp. Many of these features gave us clues to the final design of the new house.”

Once the decision was made to replace the existing camp, the homeowners, Murdough and project manager Rob Potish now had a blank slate. The next task was to create a design that was able to capture the essence and atmosphere of the original camp while providing a bevy of modern amenities.

The homeowners and Murdough worked together on a final design for a main home and guesthouse, totaling 3,115 square feet, which could be used as a year-round residence for the family of five, and welcoming friends and extended family.

“The new camp is, of course, quite different, but many elements and loads of inspiration were gained from the original,” says the homeowner. “Our vision was to create a place to bring family together—bedrooms are small, while communal areas are larger—and then invite everyone outside, with lots of glass, porches and ceilings that extend to the outdoors. It does that remarkably well.”

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The “common room,” comprising the kitchen, dining room and living space, enjoys views of the nature surrounding the house.

The design called for a primary suite, which overlooks the lake, and two bunkrooms (which share a bath) in the main house, and a separate suite connected by a boardwalk. The main house also has a mudroom, office, kitchen, laundry, pantry, roof deck, living room and two porches, one of which is screened in. The finished product is a striking lakeside retreat, combining a 2,733-square-foot residence and a 382-square-foot guest cabin.

“To us, the primary attraction of the place is the nature that surrounds it,” says the homeowner. “We enjoy a south-facing and a west-facing shoreline, and 23 acres of woods to explore, contiguous with some gorgeous public lands.”

According to Murdough, the house was conceived as an arrangement of private and semi-private spaces—bedrooms, bathrooms, office, support spaces—grouped as solid “blocks.” Those blocks are arranged to frame the shared open space of the kitchen, dining room and living space. This “common room,” he says, serves as the nexus of the house.

The emphasis on common areas underscores the importance of gatherings with family and friends, says the homeowner.

“I once spoke with the matriarch of a large family; she spoke of the ‘gravity’ their family camp had, even as her children and then grandchildren grew up and left home,” he says. “Those childhood memories brought them back for family reunions, or just time at the lake. It’s only been a few years, but I can already feel that gravity at our camp, and each year it’s stronger.”

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An elevated, galvanized steel boardwalk linking the guest suite to the main residence is one of the homeowner’s favorite features of the property.

Though the lot meanders across almost two dozen acres, the mature trees and protruding boulders made for another challenge, says general contractor James DePaolo Jr., owner of Denali Construction in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

“As I began the project, we had a site visit and the owner was very concerned about taking trees down and wanted to save as many as possible,” says DePaolo. “It was very difficult to not be able to clear cut and have a lot of room for the heavy machinery, but we were able to accomplish that.”

The buildings, linked via an elevated boardwalk, were built on the same spot as the previous cabin, allowing the new design to utilize the grandfathered footprint required by local regulations and limiting the number of mature trees that needed to be removed.

“I am very happy with the finished product, with the way the building strikes a dynamic gesture in dialogue with the landscape, wrapping around the large glacial erratic and bending to the shoreline’s edge while hovering above the landscape, touching the land lightly,” says Murdough. “We were able to preserve the forested condition of the site as well as the integrity of the lake’s shoreline, minimizing the visual impact of the house on the lake.

“I love that the house feels like it belongs to the site, the way it sits between the natural features and ties them all together to be enjoyed from inside and outside the house,” he says.

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Bedrooms in the main house consist of a primary suite, which overlooks the lake, and two bunkrooms, which share a bath.

Special features abound throughout the camp, but “one of my favorites is the bridge between the roof deck on the main house and the one on the guest suite,” says the homeowner. “It’s whimsical and fun, and it also frames some beautiful sight lines.”

The home, and its design, shine during every month of the year. No air conditioning was installed, and the building uses code-exceeding insulation, radiant floor heating and passive cooling strategies that include cross ventilation, tree shading and use of ceiling fans.

“I love that in each New England season, there’s a different favorite part of the house,” says the homeowner. “Coffee on the screen porch in the early spring. Yoga on the roof deck on summer mornings. Beers around the campfire in the fall, and a puzzle or some guitar-picking by the fireplace while the snow flies. It never gets boring.”

A creative design, however, can sometimes be difficult to put into practice. In addition to nimbly working in tight spaces, DePaolo says his “goals were to accomplish the design and intricate details such as steel finishes, board-plank floating hearth, board-plank fireplaces, and the galvanized bridge leading to the guest house.”

“These were extremely challenging finishes that I could have only done with my team and other skilled individuals,” says DePaolo. “Given the frame and steel requirements, I can only give credit to my crew of skilled carpenters to have accomplished such a difficult project.”

All three principals—homeowner, architect and builder—agreed that the project required a high level of collaboration.

“My wife and I are both fairly opinionated, but our design aesthetics are similar, and Tom allowed us enough rope to have a lot of fun, and never enough to hang ourselves,” says the homeowner. “Whenever my wife and I couldn’t agree, he would mediate—typically with a better solution—and whenever he saw us about to make a mistake, he’d gently course correct.

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“The camp was elevated on piers, allowing one to see under the building to the lake, giving it a sense of hovering over the land,” says architect, Tom Murdough.

“Tom and the team at Murdough Design were spectacular,” he says. “There’s the art of it, the engineering, project management, client education and management. We simply can’t say enough good things about the process and their expertise and support throughout. The house will always be as much his as it is ours.”

Mulling what advice he might give others planning a similar project, the homeowner suggests finding “an architect that ‘gets you,’ and a builder that cares deeply about both the vision and his craft. Of course, you also have to love their work, but it’s so important that you get along well with them.

“There will be issues and surprises. But the quality of the humans involved will determine whether those surprises are manageable, or stressful, or opportunities. With Tom and Jim, there were always opportunities.”

“On a project as big as a house, I expected to have some regrets,” says the homeowner. “But I can’t think of a single one.”


Murdough Design
(978) 341-4100

Denali Construction
(617) 694-4555

Categories: Architecture and Interiors