A New Angle on Home Design

Like many families from the Boston area, Tom and Ellen Draper were looking for quiet, natural beauty when they bought a small log cabin on a lake in the Monadnock region. As they settled into their vacation home, the Drapers were excited to discover the artistic resources of the area, such as the Monadnock Music Festival and the MacDowell Colony. When they needed to expand the two-bedroom cabin to accommodate their growing children, they were even more excited to find cutting-edge architect Daniel V. Scully in Keene.

Known for his eclectic, kinetic and environmentally sensitive designs, Dan Scully and his staff work on a variety of projects, including large-scale campus planning designs, urban centers, commercial buildings, and new residences. Scully’s notable projects include the Munsonville Elementary School, which pulls three generations of buildings together in the form of a train moving through a station, and the visitor center at Bellows Falls, Vermont, which transforms an old railroad yard. “I have a willingness to look for architectural inspiration in a wider range of places than simply in architectural history,” explains Scully. “Just as our culture brings all kinds of things together now, I try to bring a fuller range of images to the work.”

Scully was eager to work on the Draper project because of the challenging nature of the town’s zoning and setback limitations, the way living space is defined as opposed to guest room space, and the scale necessary for the outbuildings. Scully also looked forward to the project because he found the Drapers to be such an interesting couple. “Tom and Ellen wanted to hear the rationale behind our ideas, and were engaged in the intellectual dialogue that went along with the design,” Scully says. “You could take them beyond the places they expected to go and they were excited to be on that journey. They came with high expectations, which were great to try and satisfy.”

Tom and Ellen felt the same way. “It was so much fun to see Dan’s ideas take shape,” explains Ellen. “Some proposals, such as using the log siding of the original cabin to build Lincoln Log corners for the studio and porch, were so outrageous and wonderful that they made me laugh out loud!” Tom adds, “It’s a vacation house — a great opportunity to have fun with the design.”

Unique design is certainly what Scully delivered. Inspired by the Drapers’ energetic family, Scully conceptualized the cabin as having been “kicked out of square” by the kids. The expansion plan became a series of parallelograms highlighting views to the lake. While the exterior remains true to the log structure of the existing cabin, it is now accented by corrugated steel facades on two sides. “The silver metal slashes take their geometric cues from both the existing cabin and the discordant angle of an existing log storage shed by the entry,” explains Scully. “Each material dances to its own music.”

Despite few right angles, and plenty of playful exterior elements such as the Lincoln Log corners, tree branch door handles, and numerous chimneys, the Drapers’ cabin and outbuildings are firmly grounded in their wilderness setting.

“The house is clearly a response to the landscape,” says Scully. “As you head down the winding drive to the property, you can almost imagine bouncing off the boulders like the ball in a pinball machine.” When you arrive at the cabin, the main structure and outbuildings become gateways to the view of the lake.

With the help of inspired and architecturally sensitive Dublin contractor Richard Pisciotta, a guest wing was attached to the enlarged original cabin by a roomy, screened entry of stone and cedar that offers a view straight through the pines to the water beyond. On the other side of the original cabin, a separate log studio and stand-alone screen porch complete the expanded perspectives of the lake.

Inside the cabin, one begins to feel the leaps of faith that the Drapers took during the design phase. Long hallways with ceilings of corrugated steel end in glassed doors offering further vistas, walls converge at unexpected angles, and everywhere there is a sense of expectation and discovery. Additional design advice for the kitchen and bathrooms came from the Drapers’ longtime friend, Jeanne Vanecko, a Boston-based architect. Vanecko helped Ellen design a large kitchen, complete with an industrial-size Wolf stove, and bathrooms with handmade tiles of woodland animals and sea creatures.

One of Ellen’s requests was a master bedroom with plenty of space. The room Scully designed radiates out and up from a fieldstone fireplace and ends in a raised sitting area, bound by metal posts and cable, with expansive views of the lake. The contrasting angles of the main wall and ceiling are emphasized by a row of bare fluorescent light bulbs along the intersection of the wall and ceiling.

“There’s so much energy in Dan’s architecture,“ Ellen points out, “and yet our house guests describe the spaces as tranquil. It’s a testimony to the strength of Dan’s vision.” Tom concludes, “The Monadnock area has so much natural beauty and artistic richness — we’ve tried hard to renovate our cabin in the special spirit of the region.” NH