A house with views all around
In Stowe, Vermont, a 12-sided vacation home with lovely mountain vistas takes its cue from Shaker barns.
AS HE DROVE HOME from work one evening along Vermont’s Route 100, Andrew Volansky noticed flames from a massive fire. The next day, when the architect arrived at his office in Stowe, he learned that the fire, started by a propane tank, had destroyed a house his firm had renovated in Sterling Valley, some 10 miles from Route 100. Fortunately, no one was harmed.
“The homeowners showed up at our office the morning after the fire, wearing brand-new clothes — because they’d lost everything — and asked us to help figure out the best thing to do,” says Volansky, who works for Cushman Design Group. Ultimately, the owners decided to build a new home based on the original structure: a 12-sided form inspired by the architecture of Shaker barns.
When design on the new house began, most of the collaboration between the architects and homeowners was done electronically — the family, which lives the better part of the year in Bermuda, embarked on an around-the-world sailing trip during construction. “We posted progress photos online and e-mailed drawings,” says Volansky. “The fact that we communicated remotely for most of the project is pretty incredible, but it all worked out very well.”
While the owners wanted to re-create the exterior and to play up the barn aesthetic inside, they also wanted the interiors to have a modern feel. And they had a budget. “In terms of spending, the homeowners wanted to put the most emphasis on the common spaces — the entry, kitchen, living, and dining areas,” Volansky says.
Located on the main level, the kitchen, living, and dining areas aren’t divided by walls, yet each is a clearly defined space. Multiple columns — necessary to support the 12-sided structure — help separate the areas. “We moved some of the columns off-center along the beam line to give the rooms a sense of enclosure and to create natural circulation paths,” says Volansky.
Throughout the home, which was completed in 2009, oversize windows capture soaring vistas: to the west, Madonna Mountain, and to the east, the Worcester Mountains. Knotty wide-plank Eastern white pine floors enhance the structure’s barn-like essence, as do copper light fixtures that Volansky had made by California company Baselite.
“The fixtures are clean and simple, made of raw copper that will patina over time,” says Volansky, who points out that they are also relatively affordable. There’s more copper in the kids’ bathroom, where a deep soaking tub made of the rosy-hued metal is a standout, along with sinks fabricated out of stainless-steel milking buckets — another play on the barn vibe.
The homeowners wanted the house to incorporate natural materials — sourced locally whenever possible, such as the flagstone floor in the entryway and the fireplace’s massive fieldstone surround. The home’s stunning steel and wood staircase was crafted by area metalsmith John Bornemann.
Inlaid in the floor at the base of the stairway is a compass rose made of stone, steel, and wood. “While the homeowners considered buying a pre-made compass rose,” says Volansky, “we encouraged them to let us design one for them that really felt like it belonged to the house.”
Another element that was tailor-made for the home is the Douglas fir barrel-vaulted ceiling above the living room fireplace, an idea that came about during construction. Volansky says he thought the rounded detail — inspired by a boat hull — would serve as an arresting focal point. “And it was a perfect fit for the house, since, at the time, the homeowners were off touring the world on a boat.”