Tour This Vibrant Lake Champlain Family Escape

Tour This Vibrant Lake Champlain Family Escape

With all due respect to Tolstoy, it is a dubious proposition that all happy families are alike. They certainly don’t all live the same way. And the couple that built this house in Vermont wanted to live large—large enough, in fact, to encompass an extended family of 23—siblings, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and their numerous children.

In the main stair hall, hand-painted 19th-Century side chairs flank an antique English oak cupboard. Hand-blocked wallpaper 
by Marthe Armitage.

Eric Piasecki

Rejuvenation counter stools custom painted in Benjamin Moore’s Feather Down surround the carrara marble-topped kitchen island. Wolf range; custom hood and pot rack; pot-rack lights by Ann-Morris; backsplash tile by Waterworks.

Eric Piasecki

The clients, who spend the rest of the year in Florida, had long owned a somewhat ramshackle ranch house on the property, which has stunning views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks in the distance. The husband grew up in Vermont, where so much of his family still resides. For years they intended to build a proper retreat, but the timing was never right. Until they met AD100 architect Gil Schafer.

The encounter was engineered by their friend designer Patti Smith, who was overseeing a revamp of their house in the Florida Keys when she encountered a few architectural issues she couldn’t quite resolve. She was taking classes at the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art and had been particularly impressed with Schafer’s work. “So I said, ‘Let’s call Gil,’ ” Smith recalls. “We all flew down to Florida together, and we fell in love with him. Plus, he had such clever ideas. I had no idea what I was starting.”

A Loro Piana fabric slipcovers the family-room sofa. The vintage bottle vase lamps are topped with Blanche P. Field shades.

Eric Piasecki

The ranch house was sited on a point that jutted into the lake. But due to zoning regulations, the only way to build that close to the lake was to retain the original footprint. “It was both fantastic,” says Schafer, “and terrible, in that it was such a challenge. The house is now three times as big, but no part could be any closer to the water. So we ended up with a peculiar, zigzag footprint.”

Schafer’s pinwheel-like floor plan never seems unwieldy or askew, with wings for guests on either side of the main house that can be closed off when only the couple is there. Between the main house’s six bedrooms, the guest cottage, and the bunkhouse atop the attached carriage house, the property easily accommodates 24—and that’s not counting the nearby lake barn or the “Beach Haus,” where the family assembles to barbecue, boat, or just take in the activity out on the lake. “The place is like a high-end summer camp,” says Schafer.

The layout may be complex, but the detailing and materials are firmly rooted in local traditions. “We did a lot of research,” says Schafer, “especially at the nearby Shelburne Museum and its collection of historic buildings. Some of my friends questioned the crazy-quilt stone masonry on the façade, but, in fact, it is exactly the same as on one of the houses there. We looked to the big, old summer houses of the later-19th and early-20th centuries for inspiration. That’s why the living room and entry are paneled with vertical boards, why we decided on knotty pine for the library.”