Simply Special

Built on the footprint of a mid-century cottage, a family’s Lake Sunapee retreat retains the charm of yesteryear blended with today’s comforts.
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Once a choppy floor plan, the main level was opened up to become a blended kitchen/dining/living area with a view of the lake from wherever you stand or sit.

Diane and Tom Sullivan were destined to live by the water. Both grew up in Chicago just a few miles from Lake Michigan, where, as teenagers, she swam and Tom gave sailing lessons and cleaned boats. The couple’s first home together was on a pond in Illinois, and later they owned a home in upstate New York that had a beautiful lake view. It stands to reason that, when they moved to New Hampshire and bought their current home in North Sutton, they already had their eye on someday purchasing property on Lake Sunapee, just a 20-minute drive away.

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The new house is compatible aesthetically and architecturally with neighboring cottages.

It took some searching, but eventually they found and bought the property of their dreams on Lake Sunapee’s Chandler Cove. “We love the water,” says Diane. “This location is perfect. We’re sheltered from the strong winds and weather, plus we have beachfront, which is something of a rarity on the lake.”

As ideal as the property was, the house standing on it paled in comparison. Built at the turn of the century, the cottage had been poorly renovated over time so that the only vestige left of the original house was a stone fireplace likely built mid-century. “It would have been nice to have kept some of the original cottage structure, but that just wasn’t the case,” explains Diane, whose plan B was to build a new house and bring in furniture and other accessories that would evoke a nostalgic camp style. “I wanted the home to represent the old-time cottage feeling and blend with a modern outlook.”

With Diane focused on the interior design, the Sullivans turned to Bonin Architects and Bennett Builders to address the redesign and structural issues of the gut renovation. “We couldn’t enlarge the building,” says Chris Timberlake, project manager at Bonin Architects, explaining that most of the house sat within the town’s zoning setbacks, which limited what could be done to it. “We re-sided the building with vertical siding, all painted white, and added black windows and doors to give it a more contemporary look.” All the windows are new, some rearranged, others added, but, says Timberlake, the basic shape of the house—a simple, rectilinear two-story with a 6/12 pitch roof—remained the same.

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A new NanaWall opens up the entire lake end of the house to the magnificent view of Lake Sunapee. The Sullivans treasure their private beachfront, a rarity at the lake.

“We didn’t want to come in and put something in place that wasn’t compatible aesthetically and architecturally with the other cottages in the area,” says Diane.

Inside, the original choppy floor plan was opened up and other tweaks by the architect and builder had the effect of making the 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom home feel larger. For instance, a tiny shower was removed from the existing three-quarter bath downstairs and that space became a powder room. Upstairs, an existing bath was enlarged and a new master bath created.

Additionally, says Timberlake, “We took a three-season porch on the first floor and turned it into full living space.” Here, the ultimate flourish is a NanaWall that opens up the whole lake end of the cottage to the magnificent view. “It has a retractable screen,” says Timberlake, “so it can act almost like a screen porch that’s part of the living room.”

Off the powder room, there is an entryway mudroom and laundry area, then a kitchen/dining/family room. Throughout the home, built-ins were incorporated as space-savers. “It’s not a large building, so we tried to do some unique things to give it a little more space,” observes Timberlake. The expertise of builder Bennett and finish carpenter Ross Hastings is on full display in the home’s built-in benches, bookshelves, sleeping nook, and drawers. The nickel-gap wall and ceiling paneling also represents a notable feat of carpentry. With six-inch nickel-gap boards unavailable, “they needed to plane each piece of wood individually,” explains Diane, who was also impressed by the care taken to fit built-in cabinets on either side of the original stone fireplace.

To complement the painted wood paneling that gives the house its signature cottage look, V-groove paneling was applied to the primary bedroom’s vaulted ceiling, previously covered with drywall, and decorative wood beams were added as well.

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John Napsey of Shaker Hill Granite outfitted the crisp, bright kitchen with appliance garages on the refrigerator wall to store large countertop items and keep them from distracting from the lake view. The quartz-topped island features a farmhouse sink, a microwave drawer, and a double waste bin pull-out.

Always enviably close to the lake, the cottage opened up by the NanaWall rendered the inside-outside connection even more intrinsic to the interior design choices made by Diane, who has a certificate in interior design from the University of New Hampshire and years of experience decorating her own homes. “I enjoy doing everything myself,” she says.

Starting with her decision to give the home a blue and white color palette, Diane says “there are many subtle and not-so-subtle themes throughout the house depicting life on the lake.” For example, she opted for translucent glass light fixtures in the kitchen, dining area, and on the stairwell so as not to obstruct the view of the water. Likewise, an acrylic and glass table near a side window won out over a wicker one “so the view cascades seamlessly through the glass and windows.”

When it came to designing the kitchen, Diane reached out to John Napsey of Shaker Hill Granite. Again, she says, “I wanted to be able to see the lake and not have a lot of distractions.” Napsey responded by incorporating several appliance garages to hide the toaster, blender, and other countertop items. Long and narrow, the kitchen space accommodates a nine-foot-by-four-foot island, which is topped with quartz, as are the perimeter counters. The island features a farmhouse sink, a microwave drawer, and a double waste bin pull-out. Painted antique white, the beaded inset cabinetry sports bin pulls on some doors and subtly nautical roped knobs on others.

Additional decorative nods to the lake environment include cabinet knobs that are sailboat-shaped, basketweave tile in the primary bath, sailing-themed bed sheets and nautical prints throughout the home. “I started collecting and buying things over the course of a year,” says Diane, who acquired items from more than 100 different sources, ranging from thrift shops and auction houses to niche boutiques and high-end furniture stores. She shares that her tastes run to traditional, and she did not want “a very modern, coastal-chic home.”

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The big stone fireplace is the only feature that remains from the original mid-century house, but numerous antiques and other nostalgic items lend a personalized, lived-in look to the new cottage.

Diane injected bolder color into the blue-and-white palette by introducing pops of orange in items such as the dining bench pillows, a Dash & Albert throw in the family room and her daughter-in-law’s original artwork in the entryway. Upstairs, she incorporated some red into the scheme. In addition to being deliberate about her color choices, Diane purposely sourced as many items as she could from regional businesses. “I worked with as many local places as I could, and shopped locally as much as I could,” she says.

Indeed, there’s a thoughtful reason or a charming story behind every inch of this cozy home, from Diane’s love of milk glass instilled by her grandmother to the dining table the Sullivans used when their children were young. “I have at least one antique in each room,” says Diane. “My vision was to blend the nostalgia and romance of what was a turn-of-the-century cottage with the new spirit we have brought to our home.”


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Diane and Tom Sullivan whip up weekend brunch.

Bonin Architects & Associates
(603) 526-6200

Bennett Builders
(603) 456-8942

Shaker Hill Granite
(603) 632-9800


Weekender House
(603) 427-8658

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The stair and stairwell were custom designed with the intent of combining cottage style with a nautical flair.


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A guest bedroom’s reading nook has built-in drawers and bookshelves. Ecclectic vintage finds include an Eastlake table beside the Lloyd Flanders rocker, and an antique oak wardrobe that Diane refurbished herself.


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In the primary bedroom and bath, V-groove paneling was applied to the previously drywall ceiling and decorative wood beams were added. This treatment, says Diane, “really brightens the space and gives it a camp-like feel but in a modern way.”

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The “X” pattern on the custom blue vanity doors repeats a pattern seen in the hallway stair railing and a hallway bench.


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Sand and blue patterned tile in the guest bathroom enliven the space, which, though small, has room for a soaking tub and an Irish linen cabinet.

Categories: Architecture and Interiors