Feature > Lakeside Retreats for the Whole Family

Lines play an important role in the story of two houses designed by architect Dan Scully for a family compound on a lake in New Hampshire. Interior walls are cedar plywood accented with half-round clear pine molding that “pops,” making the eye pick up other, more subtle horizontal lines such as the stair treads. Trim and other horizontal exterior design elements help convey a close-tothe-ground look that harmonizes the structures with their surroundings.

Lines of another sort, the ancestral variety, are what prompted Scully’s clients to renovate and expand along the lakefront occupied by their relatives for nearly one hundred years. With Scully’s help, the current generation hopes to have created homes that will last at least one hundred more.

Expanding a Cabin

The clients hired Scully to design the first house in the early 1990s. This project involved making a small lakeside cabin larger and more livable. Exactly when and where the cabin was built is unknown, but according to the family, it had once served as an icehouse and had been moved across the lake to its current location in 1951. Scully’s task was to update the interior, expand the overall space and enable better views of the water, while still retaining some of the old “summer camp” look. This renovation consisted of adding three upstairs bedrooms; a large, screened-in porch; and a garage to store rowing sculls during the winter.

One of the challenges of this project was that the old cabin was closer to the water than the setback regulations allowed. The cabin could stay where it was, but all new construction had to be fifty feet or more away from the water. As a result, Scully renovated the old structure where it stood and added the new sections to the rear of the house in an L shape, running parallel to the shoreline.

Views of the water were an important part of the project. In the new main room, Scully opened up views of the lake by changing the window heights. He also created an open breezeway, so that the sparkling lake water is visible upon the approach to the house via the driveway. “The house is like a gateway to the water,” he says.

As requested by the clients, many of the interior and exterior details of the original cabin were preserved or referenced as part of the renovation. The ceiling beams in the main room, for example, are the originals. And the home’s wavy, “bark-edged” clapboard is similar to that on the original building.

Creating a Multifamily House

In 2004, Scully tackled a more ambitious project on the family’s grounds. The focus this time was a larger cabin that had been occupied by the clients’ grandparents for more than fifty years. The grandparents had passed away, and the clients hoped to renovate the building into one that the extended family could use for gatherings throughout the year. Scully’s goal was to create a much larger, multifamily, all-season house with four bedrooms, including two master suites. He also planned to create a space where different families could congregate at mealtimes and for socialization, but could retire to separate areas as need be.

This cabin, like the earlier project, had a setback limitation (although by this time, the distance for new construction had increased to seventy-five feet from the water), and again Scully built the addition parallel to the lake, creating an overall L shape.

Since this home was designed for family get-togethers and entertaining friends (eleven people stayed there in August), one of the first big changes to be made was to the central living area. “It was not a nice space,” Scully says. “It was dark and damp. You couldn’t see the lake through the kitchen.” Now the lake is visible from all the rooms in the house, including the screened-in porch. A lawn slopes down to a dock where kids and grandkids can fish or swim, while an adult can keep an eye on things from inside the house.

One of the design challenges was to create a big house that did not feel especially big. “Part of the goal was to make sure that everyone could be accommodated but not have the house feel like an empty nest later on,” Scully says. To that end, he designed a main living area that is substantial but not overwhelming. The windows to the lake and a cathedral ceiling convey a sense of airiness and room to move. But he also added intimate spaces throughout the home. For example, tucked against the wall near the kitchen is a window seat where children like to curl up and read.

With regard to interior design, the clients were fortunate that their daughter—an interior designer who worked with Scully’s project manager, Curtis Taylor—chose the colors as well as found antiques and other pieces that worked with existing family furniture. Most of the pieces harmonize with nature. In the living area of the house, for example, the walls are painted a soft green, and a stone fireplace rises above comfortable furnishings and wood floors.

Executing the Architectural Design

The clients said they chose Scully for the initial project in the 1990s because they liked the playful design he created for a local elementary school. For that project, Scully added a long, low addition to one side of the preexisting school building and painted the other side to match, designing the addition to give the entire structure the appearance of “the Little Engine That Could, for kids to identify with,” he says. Scully—the son of Vincent Scully, the well-known professor of art in architecture at Yale University—is based in Keene.

As an architect, part of Scully’s signature style is the way his buildings relate to the land. Houses look as if they are part of their surroundings, rather than having been “plopped” there. For these lake houses, Scully emphasized the horizontal in order to give them a feeling of belonging rather than fighting with the earth or the nearby lake. The resulting exterior trim lines—and the different architectural elements such as windows and porches that also serve as horizontal indicators—meant hard work for the builder, Richard Pisciotta, owner of Richard Pisciotta Builders of Dublin.

“Dan likes that horizontal line,” Pisciotta says. “To get that to travel around the house in a building of that size [the second house] was difficult.” An attention to detail—such as curved walls outside and moldings that travel around corners inside—added to the challenge.

Garage Follies

Scully is especially proud of the two garages on the property, which he describes as “follies.” The garage he built for the smaller house has a buttressed look. The lines are subtly twisted and, in Scully’s words, the structure “warps into the land like arms.”

The second garage was designed to reference the red “follies” buildings in architect Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette in Paris. The clients wanted the garage to be windowless for winter security, but Scully added a glass basketball backboard that would provide a bit of light from high up. The driveway is paved into the garage, so that in bad weather, children can be under cover and still draw with chalk on the floor, or play hopscotch and four-square.

Ties That Bind

Everything in the compound has been designed to work with the trees, rocks and water surrounding it. The front of the bigger house, for example, looks onto an impressive rock ledge. “We were forced to have a great dialog with the rock,” Scully says. Instead of fighting the granite, he worked the home’s footprint along the rock in much the same way that he worked the footprint of the new house around the old cabin.

The two houses and the garages also harmonize in terms of color and design to create a comfortable, intimate feeling on the lake. Although the family members have permanent residences in other states, the New Hampshire property is a home away from home through which the ties of many generations will resonate, hopefully, for years to come.