Serenity on Squam Lake
A renovated 19th-century camp retains its charm and nostalgia while fulfilling a couple’s dreams.
The moment they laid eyes on an old lakefront camp, Gale and Andy saw the potential in the house originally built in 1895. Native New Yorkers and longtime residents of Yarmouth, Maine, the couple had been coming to Squam Lake for more than three decades, since their eldest child was two months old.
“While our careers moved us several times, Squam Lake has always been a constant place of family time and adventure,” says Gale, a former president and CEO of a finance firm and mother of three adult children. (The couple requested their last name not be used.) “It has a very special place in all our hearts and is a place we know the children will always come back to.”
She also notes that they “loved the beautiful dirt road that brought us to this old camp, its various outbuildings, the amazing proximity and placement on the lake’s shore and the unprecedented length of sunshine hours on the dock.”
They bought the rustic retreat, wedged between stately evergreens in 2016, with the idea of eventually transforming it into a year-round residence. To turn that dream into a reality, the couple looked to architect Sonya Misiaszek, AIA, of Misiaszek Turpin Architects in Laconia, and then brought in Sharpe Construction in Holderness, to renovate the property. Those partnerships, says Gale, were “based on great communication, problem-solving and mutual respect.
“These relationships are what makes the entire process enjoyable and the end product something we’re all proud of,” she continues. “We welcomed each
other’s practical and creative ideas. Everyone felt heard and had a sense of ownership. And it was fun and creative.”
It was also a formidable project. The camp sat on stumps and dirt without any foundation. “The mechanical systems were all crowded into a closet off the kitchen,” says Gale. “There was one large, rectangular fluorescent ceiling light in the kitchen and the bathrooms were tiny and dated. But it had five bedrooms, plenty for family and friends, and a fabulous screened porch overlooking the lake.”
Since purchasing the property, the couple have made minor improvements throughout the property. “It was still being used as a vacation residence then,” says Andy, a former attorney and high school teacher who now teaches part-time at a nearby college. “We added structural reinforcement to the sagging ceilings, added barn board to the interior walls, and took down the existing faux ceiling in the original living room. We installed some new appliances in the kitchen, and added a fireplace insert because the original stone fireplace wasn’t fully functional.”
Misiaszek began her design work in December 2019, guided by the couple’s request to expand the camp’s living area and improve traffic flow while retaining the charm and nostalgia of the original structures.
“The camp was in good shape but was lacking in insulation and a foundation,” says Misiaszek. “The homeowners had started some work to make it a bit more livable, but they needed more space and wanted to create a better thermal envelope—insulation, doors and windows—and create a better foundation for the building to sit on.”
“We had to work the addition into the buildable area of the site so it was a conforming addition,” says Misiaszek. “It was also a challenge for the construction to occur, because it was difficult to maneuver around the site and protect the trees and existing vegetation.”
Beginning in the fall of 2020, brothers Jason and Eric Sharpe oversaw the crew that accomplished those goals, expanding the footprint of the camp with a new two-story addition. The overall living space, which included the original five bedrooms and three baths, increased from 2,326 square feet to 3,351. The addition—connected to the original camp by a new entry with double walnut-and-glass doors that look straight through to the lake—consists of a downstairs den, featuring a fireplace and large windows facing the front and back of the room, and an upstairs office with a recessed deck overlooking the lake.
“Our primary goal was to evolve this camp into a year-round, full-time home for us, our children, family and friends to gather and enjoy each other and this special place,” says Gale. “We needed storage, updated mechanicals, a place for movie watching—we never watched TV at Squam before—and an office.”
Contractors employed cribbing—large steel beams—to elevate the original cottage and barn in order to install proper foundations underneath both buildings. Those foundations added structural support, more storage space, and room for improved electrical and heating systems. But the overall height of the building was kept to a minimum.
“We wanted the house to be bright and light and pretty as well as warm and inviting,” says Gale. “A very important factor was to maintain the integrated living spaces among the home, the screened porch, the dock and the lake. So, although we were going to lift the house, we only raised it two feet, so that the home didn’t feel perched above
Her husband agreed, noting the barn was rotated and moved closer to the driveway, allowing it to be used as a one-car garage during the winter. “We didn’t want to lose the intimacy with (the cottage’s) proximity to the lake by making the home too much higher,” says Andy. “There was a good amount of grading work to be done for landscaping purposes, both on the lake side and driveway side of our home.”
“The original living room and new den give us two different spaces to hang out in, both for just Gale and me, and when we have family and friends here,” he says. “The additional storage space and new insulation also were keys to being able to live here full time.”
To ensure the project met environmental standards, the camp’s septic system, which ran underneath the cottage with a leaching field near the lakeside, was moved. Now, the system features a pump that sends waste under the driveway and across Mountain Ivy Lane and uphill to land the couple owns.
The key for the full renovation, says Misiaszek and the homeowners, was to upgrade the property without losing its special sense of nostalgia, even if the camp didn’t represent any specific architectural style. Great care was taken to use materials that mirrored and celebrated the camp’s cherished history, maintaining “the lower ceilings and exposed framing, original wood floors and cozy character of the cottage,” says Misiaszek. She credited Gale’s “impeccable taste” in making those material selections, which also included rustic barn board paneling, painted wood cabinets, tile floors with inlaid detailed tile to look like a rug in the center of the tile floor, and existing wide pine flooring.
“The muntin pattern in the windows also picks up on history with the heavily gridded windows in some areas mixed with windows that have the 2-over-2 window patterns,” says Misiaszek. “The exterior included existing cedar shingles and horizontal clapboard that was matched at the new addition. Architectural asphalt roof shingles were also used.”
The homeowners also praised the work of landscaper Don Brandin, who Gale says was “a wonderful design partner. He and his crew worked an amazing transformation of previously barren ground.”
The completed project, says Andy, confirms the potential that he and his wife first envisioned for the camp.
“We love our home,” says Andy. “We think it maintains the charm and history of the original camp and its intimacy with the lake while simultaneously melding the new construction of the addition into a more functional and comfortable home that allows for year-round living.”