Makeover at the Water’s Edge
By adding several key elements to a lakeside property, landscape designer Daniel Bruzga turned a ho-hum expanse into a stunning yard with easier access to the lake and seating areas for admiring the water view.
“Location, location, location,” goes the old real estate adage. “You can change anything about a house except its location.”
The new owners of this 40-year-old lakefront home did exactly that, updating the interior for their needs, renovating the existing screened porch and three-car garage, and adding a new front entry. When it came time for landscaping, they turned to Daniel Bruzga of db Landscaping in Sunapee, a New Hampshire-based landscape architect known for lakeside projects throughout the state. A New Hampshire native, Bruzga grew up in Warner and now lives in Sunapee, so he is well acquainted with the lake. “Over the years we have become experts in waterfront design and the permitting associated with getting landscapes and houses constructed within the tightly regulated areas around New Hampshire waterways,” he says.
When tackling any home renovation, one thing leads to another. “The owners were hoping that the house just needed a paint job, but once the project started, they realized that the entire house and landscape needed updating,” says Bruzga. The construction process, undertaken by Bill Ostrom of C.W. Ostrom Builders, took about a year before landscaping could even begin, and that took another year
Steep waterfront lots are notoriously difficult to work on. “Challenge always creates opportunity though, and the site can start to dictate the design as opposed to a site that is more of a blank slate,” says Bruzga. “The work largely needs to start by the water’s edge and then we have to back out up the hill, leaving the completed landscape behind us.” His clients wanted a better way to get to the lake from the house since the existing stairs on the steep bank were hard to navigate and treacherous to use. Bruzga designed a new curving pathway that sweeps across the slope to make for a gentler descent to the water. “The meandering path lengthens the distance so it can have steps and landings and a longer flat pathway in the middle that creates a natural resting plateau between larger grade changes,” he explains.
It also provides access to the lakeview patio he built halfway down the hill on a small knoll overlooking the water. Here, the homeowners and their guests can sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the lake. “The patio was strategically positioned to provide a long view up the lake toward Mt. Sunapee and the gold coast of New London, while also meeting the State of New Hampshire DES setback rules that were 20 feet at the time,” he points out.
From the patio, more steps lead to the water. “The existing steps by the dock—that were in great need of reconstructing—were granite that was quarried locally years ago by the Stocker family of Sunapee Granite Works, so we chose to keep using granite and to fabricate more stairs to match,” says Bruzga. Large slabs of Goshen stone were used to pave the patio, landings and an area of dockside seating at the foot of the stairs. “I love this stone, because it naturally splits into large flat pieces and, due to it being granite schist, it fares well in our northern climate compared to commonly used sedimentary stone like bluestone,” he explains. Generous patches of wooly thyme, sedum, creeping juniper and other groundcovers carpet the spaces in and around the large rocks that form the edges of the stairway.
The lot had originally been clear-cut years ago by a previous owner and had grown up into thick brush. “The new homeowners wanted the view from the lake toward the house to look green and lush and less like a clear-cut,” says Bruzga. “They have a screened porch and expansive deck on the lake side of the house where they entertain their friends, so they wanted to maintain the view to the lake.”
Well-placed evergreens and small trees interplanted with shrubby understory plants including hydrangeas, rhododendrons, yellowroot, sweet fern (Comptonia) and red twig dogwood achieve that goal. Perennials such as goat’s beard, geraniums, catmint, anemones and daisy-like “White Bomb” chrysanthemums provide added interest. “We were aiming for summer blooming, since that is when the homeowners spend most of their time here,” he says. To fulfill the client’s wish for ornamental grasses, Bruzga planted clumps of Miscanthus sinesis “Adagio” in the garden just below the deck, along with dwarf mugo pines, hydrangeas and “Stella de Oro” daylilies. “She wanted to be able to see the grass dancing in the breeze,” he says.
A Welcoming New Entry
The existing driveway leading to the front entrance was red-colored, stamped concrete. “Hot and unattractive,” says Bruzga. “The new driveway is called a ‘chip seal.’ It’s an asphalt-paved driveway that has bluestone applied over the top, held in place by a thick asphalt emulsion, creating the look of a rural bluestone or hardpack driveway while eliminating the maintenance issues associated with winter plowing.” Due to the site’s sloping and wooded nature, there isn’t a lot of extra flat space at the front of the house that isn’t driveway court. The new architectural front entrance created the ability to have a welcoming courtyard and a nicer, more aesthetically pleasing entry, with plantings and pedestrian space.
Bruzga created an inviting entrance garden enclosed by a stone wall built from split local granite. The wall is just tall enough to prevent the homeowners’ dogs from wandering off while still keeping an open feel to the space. Although the area is small, it required many elements: the wall, a custom-designed and fabricated gate, the stone pathway, stone entry stairs, a stone bench, turf for the dogs, ornamental plantings and stone drip edging for water infiltration.
Planted within the walled space are a Kousa dogwood, low-growing juniper, hay-scented ferns, Hinoki false cypress, hydrangeas “Annabelle” and “Tuff Stuff,” and areas of turf surrounded by “Biokovo” geraniums. “Stella de Oro” daylilies, “Walker’s Low” catmint and “Bevan’s Variety” geraniums grow outside the wall and across the front of the house. Behind “Walker’s Low” catmint, are a fragrant “Korean Spice” viburnum, rhododendrons and more hydrangeas. A large river birch Betula nigra “Heritage” underplanted with ferns and stephanandra punctuates the corner of the front yard. Large granite monoliths accentuate the end of the stone walls and create the entry point for the Mondrian-inspired gate. “We drew dozens of gate designs to help our client reach her goals,” Bruzga says.
Start Where You Are, Use What You Have
These thoughtful updates show that you don’t have to tear down an existing house and demolish the entire site to create a wonderful property. “Many times older waterfront houses on New Hampshire lakes are torn down to make way for new cutting-edge architecture. While the existing house isn’t up to date in architectural style, by adding some key elements we could make it work for the new owners. In some cases it can be ideal to start over, but it is certainly less taxing on our environment to reuse and recycle, and hopefully less taxing on overall costs and length of the project,” says Bruzga. This makeover was an opportunity for adaptive reuse which extended the life of the structure for another generation.