A turn-of-the-century lake house is restored to rustic perfection.By Matthew LeDuc |Photography by Christian Scully
Tear down or restore?
The property sat unoccupied for years as it succumbed to the elements and evolved into various states of decay. Stone walls fell apart, floors rotted, and invasive climbing ivy nearly swallowed up the house. Yet, the thought of tearing down the property never crossed the homeowner’s mind. After seeing it in person for the first time, her mind was made up. “I felt like we found a gem,” she says.
“I never wanted this to be a teardown,” she adds, noting that the home’s original black slate roof is what first grabbed her attention. “I just knew we were going to have to restore it,” she says. In fact, she was so fixated on authenticity that she sourced the exact material used for the original roof, Black Monson slate, which was quarried in Maine during the first half of the 20th century, and is only available today in salvage form.
The dream team
It was clear that to successfully pull off a project of this size and scope would require a builder and architect with a shared vision. Enter architect Dennis Swart and builder Tom Burke.
“I remember meeting Tom Burke and the homeowners on the property and seeing it for the first time and thinking, Wow, we can definitely do something here,” recalls Swart. Burke is a close friend of the homeowners and immediately jumped at the opportunity, having previously built a custom home for them down South.
Permits and process
As if there weren’t enough challenges already, the main house sits a mere 15 feet from the edge of Snipatuit Pond, which is a sure sign of a complicated town zoning and permitting process.
Fortuitiously, this is where the homeowner’s vision paid off. “Once the town learned that I didn’t want to tear it down, they were thrilled,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, the process took a very long time and all of the various departments involved were very thorough, but in the end the town was very excited to see the property was being preserved.”
In addition to preserving the property, their end goal also included adding a three-season porch and expanding the upstairs for larger bedrooms. “There are always trade-offs,” says the homeowner, citing that the permitting process is all about give and take. In order to satisfy the town, the homeowners agreed to install a Presby septic system—touted as the next generation in wastewater treatment—seeing as they were keeping the existing footprint so close to the water.
What’s just as impressive as the finished product is the fact that the homeowner acted as her own general contractor throughout most of the construction. “Our builder lives on Martha’s Vineyard and it wasn’t feasible for him to be here full time,” she says, so she shared the general contracting duties with Burke.
“Tom would come over and devote a couple months here at a time, and when he wasn’t on-site, I was the one vetting and hiring subcontractors, sourcing and ordering material, and just trying to keep the wheels turning towards completion.”
Focus on reclaimed materials
“I’m most proud of the fact that the majority of the home has been restored using reclaimed or salvaged material,” says the homeowner, who points out, in particular, the wood trusses in the living room. It turns out that one of the contractors involved was knowledgeable in local building history and observed that the parlor’s wood trusses most likely started out as the frame of a ship. “He pointed out all the very distinct mortising and tenon marks on the beams and said that it was quite common in New England for ships to be salvaged for their wood once they became un-seaworthy,” she adds.
With that information, she was further inspired to locate matching aged wood for the remainder of the project. “We purchased an old barn that had been dismantled and used the salvaged materials for flooring, shelving, walls, barn doors, even in the bar above the garage,” says the homeowner.
It may have taken three and half years to complete, but the finished product is a true testament to believing in your vision. It’s often during these journeys in life that we find our greatest joys.