Vermont Forever Home
February 3, 2023
This Vermont house manages to be both modern and classic while honoring its hillside location.
Text by Robert Kiener Photography by Jim Westphalen Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent
“One with the land.” It’s a phrase that popped up frequently as retired businesswoman Patricia Pomerleau drew up a list of must-haves when planning her strikingly modern new home on a wooded hillside in Burlington, Vermont.
“I grew up in this very neighborhood, and after my father gave me this beautiful lot, I knew that when it came time to build, I would do it sympathetically,” she explains. “I wanted my home to fit in naturally among the landscape as well as with the rest of the homes on this street.”
Describing Pomerleau’s goals as “a challenge,” architect Rolf Kielman of TruexCullins Architecture + Interior Design worked with her and with landscape architect Keith Wagner to design a three-story home and landscaping that, as he explains, “could accomplish the seemingly contradictory feat of being both unabashedly modern as well as being of—not merely on—the land.”
With input from Pomerleau, Kielman proposed a vertical structure that had a much smaller footprint than a longer horizontal home. “It allowed us to nestle the home into the steep hillside,” explains Kielman. The glass-fronted design also takes full advantage of dramatic views of nearby Lake Champlain and the distant Adirondack Mountains. Spacious, partially covered terraces and balconies on the front of the two-bedroom home offer drop-dead close-up views of the lot’s rich landscape.
Wagner selectively thinned trees in front of the house to enhance the views. He added evergreens and birches to the front and trees and shrubs to both sides of the lot to increase privacy. Wagner and project manager Cynthia Silvey planted native species like river grass, low-growth sumac, and sedge throughout the property. “We like to use plants in a painterly way,” says Wagner. “Instead of using one of this or one of that, we used wide swaths of plants, much like an artist works with a broad brushstroke. We also took our cue from Rolf’s architecture, complementing the way he broke up the mass of the house instead of competing with it.”
Because Pomerleau has an extensive art collection, including much of her own photography, Kielman chose expansive triple-paned windows to help fill the high-ceilinged interiors with natural light to better showcase the artwork. A slab roof extends upward and out to provide shade and keep the interiors comfortable in the summer.
Throughout the house, trim was employed sparingly, says builder Ric Santa Maria of Roundtree Construction. “Not using trim demands more exacting work, but it gives the home a contemporary, clean look,” he explains. “Also, with views like these, no one wants window trim to detract or get in the way.”
Each of the three floors has an open plan and can be accessed by either a glass-fronted elevator or a floating oak, steel, and glass stairway; both are housed in a vertical glass-enclosed tower at the side of the home. “I added the elevator so it would be there if I or my guests ever need it,” says Pomerleau. “I like the idea of staying here a long, long time and aging in place. That’s why I call this my ‘forever home.’ I love it!”