This modern take on a lakehouse delivers intriguing spaces and immersive views.
Having spent most of his youth in Europe, and specifically his childhood summers on a Swedish archipelago, Marcus Gleysteen felt an immediate connection to the atmosphere surrounding Lake Sunapee. “The geographies of New Hampshire’s big lake districts and Sweden’s isles are almost identical,” notes the Boston-based architect. “They share a similar architectural vernacular and climate, and even tree species.”
Tapping into his fondness for and understanding of summering in a northern clime, Gleysteen successfully executed two modern houses on Sunapee that turned (and continue turning) heads. He owes the firm’s third Sunapee lakehouse, featured here, to the clients’ 16-year-old daughter, who noticed one of the existing projects while kayaking. She brought the house to the attention of her parents, who in turn approached the half-Swedish, half-American architect about transforming their own slice of shore.
The clients, native New Englanders, whose two children are now college aged, had been visiting the lake for nearly 20 years. Their one-acre lot, situated on a southern point of land at the entrance to Sunapee Harbor, posed a unique set of challenges. It was narrow, with a discernible grade change between the elevated road in front and harbor to the rear. The lake’s high water level coupled with potential runoff from the hill meant a basement wasn’t feasible.
Contending with various setbacks, Gleysteen and firm principals Chandon Georgian and Robyn Gentile developed a linear layout oriented on the point like the base of a triangle. Its central volume reaches out farthest toward the lake (and point), while partnering sections shift backward from this projection in vertical and horizontal directions, reacting to the shoreline while maintaining privacy and views.
Orientation was one of the project’s greatest challenges: the home’s lake views are primarily due north, opposite the coveted southern exposure. Encouraging light into the home from the facade proved tricky, considering the road’s proximity.
“We were very careful to organize the glazing in such a way that the occupants never felt exposed to neighbors,” explains Gleysteen. “We placed windows strategically in areas that don’t require a high level of privacy, like hallways and the kitchen. Over time, the plantings will help screen the windows as well.”
In programming the house, the architects designed its 5,900 square feet to feel comfortable in relation to how many people are in residence. When the clients are home alone, they occupy the central volume, with kitchen, dining area and living room below and primary suite above. When the kids arrive, they expand into their respective bedrooms in a western wing, which culminates in a rec room. For guests, there is a set of top-to-bottom suites in an eastern wing.
Built by North Branch Construction, based out of Concord, Massachusetts, the completed house boasts five bedrooms and five and a half baths. “What keeps this house from feeling overly large is the lack of any formal living spaces,” relays Gleysteen. “Every room is used daily; there’s no Great Gatsby-type living here on the lake.”
For the main living spaces, a “layered” floor plan delivers a feeling of openness as well as clear sightlines, while still giving each destination a sense of autonomy. “These clients hail from a well-lived-in house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and wanted spaces that are more clearly defined,” says Gleysteen. “We find that it’s an emerging trend to see more structure and layering in the primary living spaces.”
“During the pandemic, people retreated to the refuge of their homes. After experiencing all the family functions like homework and cooking and TV happening at once, homeowners are now desiring rooms that are more self-contained,” elaborates the architect.
The progression from arrival at the street to the entry, through the house and out to the lake was very carefully considered by the architectural team, according to architect and firm principal Robyn Gentile. A weather-shielding canopy over the descending entry stairs maximizes guest comfort while defending against ice accumulation in the off-season.
Once inside, a voluminous entry vestibule prefaces the central volume, which culminates in the living room, where two walls of extensive glazing form a mesmerizing glass corner. A tray ceiling overhead reflects the geometry of the furniture layout beneath. Crafted from local Barre granite, the gas fireplace, installed by Stone Mountain Masonry’s Joe Rolfe, is a “beautiful feature that serves to physically anchor the house to the site with its monumental presence,” describes Gleysteen.
In between the fireplace seating area and the front door lies an unexpected “Harry Potter” library tucked beneath the stair leading to the primary suite. “The stairs form a canopy. Here, you are on the edge of the living room and can see what’s going on there but do not necessarily have to be a part of it,” notes Gleysteen. This unexpected bookworm’s destination is charming, with floating fir shelves and light flowing in through two corner windows.
A second main living volume contains the kitchen and dining area. Since both clients enjoy cooking, the design team placed the range in the island, so that the active chef can continue appreciating the natural setting. “It’s always a debate, but I encourage anyone with a really nice view to face it while cooking,” contends Gleysteen. “The sink is another option, but when you’re washing dishes, you’re looking at what you’re doing and loading the dishwasher, not enjoying the scenery.”
Setting the island at a standard table height of 36 inches, instead of the more common bar height of 42 inches, established it as an inviting social space. “It was designed to draw people around it,” notes the architect. Practical Tahiti quartzite graces the perimeter countertops and backsplashes while a thick, decadent slab of Aliveri marble gives the island extra significance. Overhead, the stainless-steel vent hood was custom crafted by The Iron Garden in Sunapee.
The cabinetry — by Plain & Fancy and sourced from LaValley Building Supply in Newport, New Hampshire — features vertical grain Douglas fir. Painting the upper cabinets in Farrow & Ball’s “Lamp Room Gray” makes them recede into the background, leaving the warm wood tones on the lower cabinets and island to draw the eye.
In fact, Douglas fir, one of Gleysteen’s favorite woods, is used throughout the house on walls and ceilings. The wood’s warm tone nods to Scandinavia’s extraordinary culture of woodworking but also evokes the feel of a traditional New England lakehouse.
“What characterizes this house is the very dynamic compositional setup between what’s brown and what’s not,” explains Gleysteen of the thoughtful application of woodwork.
“We used three components — glass, wood and drywall — to organize spaces and control how big or small they feel.” On the lake side, huge panels of glass create an effective interface between the home’s interior and the glory of the outdoors.
As a firm, Marcus Gleysteen Architects continually pushes clients to use local craftsmen and materials as well as sustainable materials and systems. Some of this home’s sustainable features include the Boral TruExterior siding made from fly-ash, which is a byproduct of coal combustion. All the exterior stone, including the stoops, steps and patio, is local field stone. Without a basement, the main level handles all the storage and mechanical needs and rests on a concrete slab with hydronic radiant heating.
Naturally, Gleysteen’s Swedish roots influence his work in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Says the veteran architect: “Our goal for this house, while dealing with climate change and changing available materials, was to reinterpret traditional northern architecture through the lens of modern architecture. But the mediating force is Scandinavian modern design.”
In his own words, the Scandinavian modern approach goes beyond its hallmarks of craftsmanship and inventiveness. More so, it’s about how a house is used and enjoyed. “It’s a very humanist, lifestyle-oriented form of architecture based on creating delight and prioritizing comfort. It’s all about providing simple pleasures,” he says.
North Branch Construction
Audio Visual Design Group (formerly Maverick Integration)
La Valley Building Supply
Stone Mountain Masonry
The Iron Garden