he setting sounds ideal: six acres on a midcoast lake, set on a peninsula with a view of the mountains. It sounded so good, in fact, that the owners, a couple from outside Boston, purchased the property sight-unseen, trusting the instincts of their Realtor. A psychologist and a real estate developer with two teenage kids, the pair had been visiting this big lake for years — he's an avid fisherman — and they knew it was where they wanted to build.
Beautiful as the site may be, though, with its quiet woodlands, babbling brook, and lawns sloping down to the water, it posed some serious challenges.First was the double-wide trailer on the property. "I think the guy raised spiders for a hobby," says the husband. "The place was a mess."
More difficult was the fact that while the parcel has a lot of acreage, it is very long and skinny, with only a small sliver of frontage on the water. Other cottages, old vacation homes that had been on the lake for generations, flanked it on either side — close enough to see right in the windows.
"All houses are site-specific, but this house had to be exactly the way it is," says John Morris, the Camden-based architect the couple hired to do the design work and manage the contractors through his ancillary company, Morris Construction Services. "The house is on a ledge, and the property goes down to thirty feet of water frontage in a pie shape.Com
plicating matters was the fact that there are houses very close on both sides. If the house was slid down a bit, the other cottages could feel it right down their neck."
Rather than building down by the water, then, the couple opted to put the three-bedroom summer home back up on a hill. The house also had to be designed to fit into its surroundings, another challenge that so many cottages, especially on this lake, fail to overcome. "I was nervous because all of the cottages nearby are very modest," says the owner, pointing to his neighbors. "That one is seven hundred square feet. That one there is five hundred. My biggest fear was to come here and build this cottage that dominates everything and makes everyone miserable."
The couple worked with Morris on a 2,700-square-foot design that would evoke the traditions of lake houses. "We wanted something modern and livable, but that had a camp feel," the owner says.
Morris' firm specializes in cottage and coastal design, and the architect drew his inspiration from the rustic escapes of the past. "This is one of the best examples of what I call 'lodge style,' " the architect says. "It has more in common with the vernacular popularized in Adirondack lake houses, and doesn't have much to do with the Shingle Style." Morris also brought some of the decorative elements of the Arts and Crafts movement to the design — the detailing of the gables, for example — and added touches of the Maine farmhouse, too. "The roof pitches are very steep, like a lot of the farms in the northern part of the state," he says.
To give it the informality of a camp, Morris and his colleagues, Peter Edwards and Joe Russillo, used white cedar shingles for the exterior. They also called for painted floors throughout the house, Douglas fir rafters in the great room, and a small screened-in porch. The amenities that make it comfortable for a modern family include radiant heating in the floors, a discreet mud room, bedroom suites that allow the owners and their guests to have their own spaces, and a porte cochere and circular drive out front — ideal for winter visits.
And even though the house was so deliberately set back from the water, the lake is still ever-present. It fills windows in the master bedroom, the great room, and the guest bedrooms. Decks are terraced all around the waterside of the home. "Part of the main view is right across the neighbor's lawn," says Morris. "But it works."
Each step of the way the owners considered the house's impact on the neighbors. "I didn't want to overpower with outdoor lights," says the owner. So they integrated step lights into the deck and put only a single light on the exterior of the cottage.
This type of sensitivity, and some clever design, resulted in a lake house that seems perfectly suited to its space — and its neighbors. "When the dust settled, everyone in the neighborhood was very pleased," says the owner.
And the couple were perhaps most pleased of all. "We love it. It's just perfect. I go into a massive depression every time we leave here to go home."