Naturally Modern in Vermont

September 14, 2017

Modern but certainly not cold, natural but hardly rustic, a Vermont getaway nestles contentedly into its mountain environs.

Text by Robert Keiner    Photography by Nat Rea

It was time to move. After more than a decade in their funky ski house in Vermont’s Mad River Valley, the Swampscott, Massachusetts-based couple decided it was time to sell and build their very own dream home. As the wife explains, “We found a piece of land we fell in love with and said goodbye to our Brady Bunch house with its gold shag carpeting and see-through fireplace.”

Enter Boston-based architect Colin Flavin. “The couple showed me the richly wooded, sloping, sixty-acre lot they had bought near Sugarbush ski resort and explained they wanted a place that reflected—and blended in with—the beauty of the region,” he says. “I remember them saying what they didn’t want was ‘the romantic farmhouse look’ with lots of gables.”

Taking his cue from the owners’ tastes and the lot itself, Flavin designed a modern, elegant, yet modest three-bedroom dwelling that is tucked neatly into the landscape. “We loved everything about Colin’s design,” says the wife. “We especially loved the way he used so many organic materials like stone, wood, and even steel, and the way the sloping roof lines blended in with the topography of the lot.”

Flavin chose exterior materials that will weather well and age naturally: red cedar shingles with an oil finish, an Italian-made resin composite cladding, Douglas fir beams, and a roof made from a durable membrane that has a standing seam appearance and sheds snow easily.

Instead of hiding the structure, the design celebrates it. “We knew our clients didn’t want a ‘look at me!’ house, but we did make an effort to make its structure visible,” Flavin says. For example, while roof beams are covered on the interior, they are left exposed on the exterior. Trim is minimal. Flavin used resin cladding to offset the wooden shingles and trim to prevent the house from looking overtly rustic.

This natural look continues inside with features like a massive fieldstone fireplace with a bluestone hearth, exposed steel beams, concrete floors, and lots of spruce and other locally sourced wood. Brendan O’Reilly, owner of Stowe-based Gristmill Builders, described the residence as a challenge and a delight to build. “Because there is a minimum of trim work, our work had to be exact,” he says. “We like the fact that our craftsmanship is on display. We love the way the house celebrates its materials and its structure.”

While some owners may have cut down trees to open distant vistas, Flavin was thrilled to learn that his clients wanted to leave the lot as pristine as possible. “They are real stewards of the land and opted for more intimate views,” he says. Although there are potential distant dramatic panoramas to the north that would have involved removing trees, the house is largely oriented to the south, and most of the rooms, including a three-season, screened-in porch, look out onto more modest views. “We love the feeling that we are cozy and tucked away here, but that the home is also filled with light,” says the wife. The roofs slope up to the south to maximize passive solar heating in the winter, and roof overhangs block harsh summer sun.

Burlington-based landscape architect Keith Wagner describes his work on the home as “bringing the clarity of the architecture to the landscape.” Among his touches were a subtle redesigning of the bluestone-capped granite walls to align with the front facade, filling an existing stream with river rocks, and using a slab of stone as a bridge, all of which give the grounds a simple, Japanese-inspired feel.

Wagner used a lot of native ferns, grasses, river birch, and serviceberry trees. As he says, “We took our cue from the landscape and approached the house like it was a sculpture that Colin was inserting into the woodlands. We wanted to create a feeling of being nestled in.”

As visitors approach, they are greeted by a Flavin touch that has come to delight the owners. The front door is discreetly hidden (a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright) and topped by a waterfall/scupper that directs water from the main roof into a water garden. “It’s a small touch, but it is an elegant one that seems to be welcoming us home every time we arrive,” says the wife.

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