Architect Pi Smith admits to being skeptical as to whether she could comfortably accommodate everything on her clients’ wish list. “They wanted three bedrooms, three bathrooms, three studies, a good kitchen, generous entertaining space, and a significant library,” the principal of Smith & Vansant Architects says. Then she adds the clincher. “In just under 2,000 square feet.”
Homeowners Giorgio Alberti and Michael Wyatt assured Smith and project manager Stephen Branchflower that the rooms needn’t be big — they needed to be efficient. The couple, and the family member who lives with them, are all literature professors who spent significant time in Europe (Alberti grew up there). They are accustomed to what Americans might consider cramped quarters.
Although originally dark and depressing inside, the trio’s new home, a 1960s Acorn Deck House in Lebanon, New Hampshire, had great bones. Deck houses have exposed structures that exude character. They also grant strong indoor/outdoor connections. “Beams and boards run from inside to outside the building and large windows run from beam to beam, right up to the ceiling,” Smith explains. “The surrounding landscape brings a sense of spaciousness.” Plus, the existing layout closely suited their needs.
Cleaning up the shell was key in transforming the dreary interior. Radiant heat beneath Baltic birch floorboards replaced clunky baseboard heating. A new roof allowed for ceiling lights, plus extra insulation. On the lower level, the team added drywall to install lighting there, too. Then, they painted the walls and ceilings white and the beams soft gray, leaving the rich mahogany millwork visible. “Light bounces everywhere,” Smith says.
Removing the fireplaces’ raised hearths eased circulation, while covering the chimney with raw plaster maintained some texture and helped reflect light. “A center chimney is a deck house trademark,” Smith says. “It’s the organizing element that defines the spaces; the red brick was bringing everybody down.” Visual interest comes from the books — the trio moved in with 250 boxes worth — and a robust art collection.
While the spacious living room met the trio’s needs — once floor-to-ceiling bookshelves were built — the kitchen did not. Smith cut a skylight into the ceiling and installed streamlined cabinetry that pushes into the dining area, doubling as a sideboard. Then she redesigned the wall that separates it from the kitchen, thickening it to contain the fridge, pulling it down from the ceiling, and wrapping it in mahogany. The ceiling floats above the new feature wall, which is covered in a collection of brightly-colored mosaics.
The large first-floor bedroom was ideal for the third family member. Besides renovating the bathroom, Smith only needed to rework the front part of the narrow space so they could slot in a desk. “I highlighted the little wall for definition between it and the bed,” she says. “It feels like an alcove now.”
On the lower level, Smith rejiggered the hallway, filling it with functionality after borrowing a few feet from the guest bedroom/TV room. The primary suite doubled in size, absorbing an empty storage area beside it. It now includes a nicely sized study, along with a walk-in closet and a new en suite bath. And about that third study? Smith created it by partitioning a 4-by-6-foot corner of the bedroom’s sitting area. Not only does the tiny gem face the forest, it boasts an interior window that pulls in light from the other side of the house.
The home has every space the clients asked for, along with a high level of craftsmanship they appreciate. They’ve even forged a friendship with the woodworker. Smith, too, is pleased with the results. “We incorporated many strategies for managing small spaces,” she says. “Some of the best are the subtlest of moves.”
Architecture: Smith & Vansant Architects, smithandvansant.com
Contractor: George White & Company, georgewhiteandco.com
Kitchen cabinetry and bookshelves: Watershed Fine Furniture, watershedfinefurniture.com