Beyond the Box

The owner said to the designer of his lakefront mansion — “Impress me.” And so he did.

By Leeann Doherty
Photos by Roger Wade

You’d never suspect what awaits you at the end of the winding gravel country lane in New London. Certainly not a 10,000-square-foot home on the shores of Lake Sunapee. And certainly not one that blends so effortlessly into its environment for being so substantial. “It’s like entering another world,” says Everett Pollard, owner of Northcape Design of New London, the company that designed and built the home.

Part of an old estate on Sunapee that was broken up into three waterfront lots, this new home is situated on the southernmost parcel, which also contained the original boathouse. The house is a summer residence for a retired couple and their family, chosen not only for its waterfront locale but also for its proximity to stellar golf courses in the area.

The outside design of the home is subtle and natural looking. “We wanted the house to sit quietly on the landscape,” says Pollard. Approaching from the road, you only see one and a half stories of the three-story home. From the shore, the house sits back far enough in the woods so that the trees shield it from the lake, adding to the owners’ privacy. “We only took down a couple of trees in the shoreland area,” says Pollard. “From a boat on the lake, the views are primarily pocket views of the house, but from the inside they have gorgeous views of the lake.” The colors chosen for the roof and siding also make the residence recede into the topography.

Though the outside is low key, Pollard says the owners wanted something inside that made a strong dramatic statement. They challenged Northcape’s designer to “come up with something completely outside the box.”

“‘Impress me with what you can come up with,’” was what [the owners] told my designer,” says Pollard. He adds that the couple, who own a winter home in Arizona, wanted the space of a timber frame but not the rustic feel. “They wanted anything but a lodge. They are very used to the contemporary Southwestern architecture. We’re so programmed to think of lakefront Victorians to pay homage to the older homes of Lake Sunapee. The designer was actually quite challenged.”

To make matters more complicated, the owners wanted two support posts that were originally included in the design to be removed. The result is a relatively unique curved timber frame great room with a vaulted ceiling that spans 46 feet at its widest point — about the length of an average suburban home with attached garage. In place of the support post, the ceiling contains steel I-beams encased in Douglas fir to match the beams in the truss system. Again going against the grain, mechanical fasteners on the timber frame were used in place of the traditional wooden mortise and tenon joinery, and then made to look aged by applying a patina to them. (The patina was also applied to the stair railing balusters made by a local blacksmith to match the fasteners.)

The first thing visitors see when they walk into the raised area of the entryway is probably not the schist floor, a sort of slate-looking sedimentary stone from Vermont. To be fair, the floor is gorgeous. But the great room with its soaring ceiling and massive stone fireplace demands attention right from the start. Structured post and beams are replaced with gorgeous curves. The curved wall of glass straight ahead and an eyebrow glass area facing the lake at the ceiling’s pinnacle allows sunlight to stream in during the afternoon hours and adds to the dramatic, almost church-like feel. The red birch central floor complements the timber frame structure above.

To give a sense of scale, the great room alone has 1,600 square feet of open space. Directly ahead in the front of the house is the dining room, off to the left is the kitchen with its contemporary cabinets and granite countertops, as well as the sitting area. To the right is a wet bar.

The three-floor home is what’s known as a hybrid: a timber-frame structure for the great room area, with the remainder of the house built in conventional construction methods. The master bedroom suite on the first floor has collar tie beams on its ceiling to echo the great room. The suite consists of a large study, the master bedroom, walk-in closet and a bathroom. Upstairs, over the garage wing, a sitting area at the head of the stairs leads to a central corridor with three bedrooms and two baths. On the lower level is a family room with 10-foot ceilings and a guest suite.

The home has an automated system controlled by touch pads throughout the house, controlling just about everything that runs on electricity, including the heat and air conditioning of the six zones in the house, the audio visual system and the home-theater system with its 100-inch projection screen and automatic closing doors. The owners can even access the security system from their home in Scottsdale. While complete design freedom can be challenging, this home was a challenge that Pollard and his team relished.

“This is probably the neatest house we’ve designed and constructed,” he says. NH