Pleasant Lake Camp: Waterfront Retreat for a Modern Family

Photo courtesy of Jeff Roberts Imaging

Sited on a former 1930s girls’ camp called Camp Truda and set along the shores of Maine’s Pleasant Lake, a family property offers the opportunity for three generations to come together in one enchanting destination. On this heavily wooded stretch of land, a Boston-based couple with young children wanted to create a four-season lakefront retreat that would ultimately share a common driveway and a large swath of waterfront with the husband’s parents’ existing cottage built 30 years earlier. The challenge? To design a contemporary lake home that would relate to the traditional style of the surrounding architecture yet also accommodate the needs of a modern family.

“It was a social as well as an architectural challenge,” says Rob Whitten, founding principal of Whitten Architects, who took on the project. “Both homes needed to relate to one another while honoring their own identities and affording both families their privacy,” he notes.

Deep Forest Allure

Photo courtesy of Jeff Roberts Imaging

A pair of stone piers and an alley of 70-year-old white pines leading to the waterfront welcome visitors to the property. “Because of the dense tree cover and our clients’ desire for daylight and lake views, we worked with a local arborist to site the camp around healthy trees while removing diseased evergreens,” says Whitten. “Our site-specific design planned for an open space between the camps on the inland side for family games and interaction,” he adds.

“We strived to maintain some of the big trees close to the house to honor the woods,” says Drew Bortles, a project manager at Whitten Architects who worked with Rob on the overall design. “It brings a level of age to the home, and we wanted this house to feel as if it had always been there,” he adds.

Camp-style Charisma

Photo courtesy of Jeff Roberts Imaging

Nostalgic about the lake life, the homeowners—both with Maine roots—love the relaxed feel here and the area’s endless opportunities to connect with nature. Actively involved in the design process, they drew inspiration from turn-of-the-century waterfront camps. They wanted their home to take on a traditional look—an exposed post-and-beam structure with warm wood finishes—compatible with the neighboring parents’ camp yet with a more modern, light-filled open floor plan. 

The home features an exposed timber frame with white cedar shingles on the upper portion and red cedar boards running horizontally around the first level. The rustic appeal of a fieldstone chimney is echoed in the terrace walls that surround a bluestone patio out back. Hand-split granite was salvaged from the site and repurposed as part of an entry bench, a fireplace hearth, and a screened porch bench.

“This house is very focused on the waterfront and all the solar exposures,” explains Rob. “The son and his dad share a common driveway, and their screened porches face each other but still offer each home privacy. They all share the lakefront space, which includes a dock and a kayak rack. Creating a direct connection from indoor living spaces to outdoor living spaces was a key part of our design,” he explains.

The wrapped and screened porches with exposed Douglas fir rafters extend the interior spaces outdoors and provide an idyllic spot for entertaining and a play space for the kids—rain or shine. The lakeside terrace offers a sunny oasis to unwind on long afternoons, and a fire pit invites marshmallow roasts on cool evenings. A long dock allows the family easy swim access to the area’s main attraction—the lake.

Sunny and Spacious

Photo courtesy of Jeff Roberts Imaging

The sun-drenched kitchen connects visually to the lake outside and features bi-parting sliders on the right side of the bank of windows that open to the front porch. To complement their home’s camp-style architectural design, the couple hired interior designer Krista Stokes to help them create a relaxed, down-to-earth aesthetic. Using a soft, understated color palette throughout, she gave the kitchen cabinetry an unexpected wash of Farrow & Ball Green Smoke paint—a shade they surprisingly discovered to be similar to the next-door parents’ kitchen. 

“The open shelving has a very campy feel,” Bortles comments, “and contemporary lighting fixtures take on a vintage look. The Macaubas quartzite countertop—a type of Brazilian granite—provides a nice textural contrast to the butcher block island topped in solid white oak plank,” he adds.  

Additional first-floor living spaces include a full pantry, mudroom, half bath, full laundry, and a getaway space with an office and TV.

Cozy and Casual

Photo courtesy of Jeff Roberts Imaging

To invite spaciousness and light, Whitten designed open-plan living and dining spaces that emulate the look of traditional camp cottages as well as the neighboring parents’ house. Horizontal nickel-gap white pine boards outfit the walls and ceilings in a natural matte finish, and knotty white oak floorboards lend a gracefully aged patina. Oiled Douglas fir ceiling beams display a subtle red hue overhead, creating a tangible and satisfying warmth within. 

A slipcovered sofa and a built-in window seat are among the family’s favorite hangout spots for reading or snuggling in front of the fire. A Moroccan rug anchors the seating area and complements the solid fabrics with a bold graphic pattern. 

“This area is a haven of outdoor recreation with many lakes, spectacular fishing, a nearby ski resort, and ATV and hiking trails,” says Whitten. “The family visits every week—even in the winter—so we made sure to implement energy-efficient features including high-performance windows, spray foam insulation, and radiant heated floors. There’s also a home office where the couple can work remotely,” he sums.

Effortless Elegance

Photo courtesy of Jeff Roberts Imaging

Backdropped by an open staircase, the adjacent dining area is kept airy and light with minimal clean-lined furnishings, including a reclaimed pine farmhouse-style table from Restoration Hardware, hand-crafted Shaker-style chairs from O&G Studio, and a black iron chandelier from Ballard Designs. Unobtrusive yet ample cabinetry hugs the back wall and creates even more room to breathe.

Scenic Stairway

Photo courtesy of Jeff Roberts Imaging

A nickel-gap pine-board accent wall creates a glorious window to the woods atop the staircase leading to the second-story master suite, two guest bedrooms, a bunk room that sleeps five, and a generous Jack-and-Jill bathroom. Hudson Bay wool blankets draped over the stair rail give colorful texture to a cozy nook at the top of the stairs.

Find Your Niche

Photo courtesy of Jeff Roberts Imaging

Perhaps some of the home’s most inviting features are the cozy built-in nooks made for reading, sleeping, and daydreaming. Upstairs, cocoon-like bunk beds give the kids a secret alcove all their own, and the living room’s reading nook offers the best seat in the house for watching a summer rainstorm or the first winter snowfall. 

“We enjoyed designing all the built-ins, and I especially enjoyed having a hand in the bunk beds and all the finishes in that room,” says Bortles. “Throughout the property, we worked with the homeowners to create spaces that encourage little pauses—special moments—where you can just take it all in. The bunk room conjures memories of staying up late into the night and chatting, and the breathtaking views from the window seat and the terrace outside inspire you to ponder the beautiful natural environment and the refreshing lake beyond.”

Green Lake Grandeur: A Wisconsin Lake Home Feature

Photo courtesy of McCormack + Etten;
Architectural design by Wisconsin firm McCormack + Etten Architects

Built for a family who loves to live large, this roomy lakeside home nestles along the beautiful shores of Green Lake, Wisconsin. Avid boaters and entertainers, these homeowners are the life of the party all summer long and always attract a house full of family. So, when it came to designing a lake-dwelling that would ultimately become a blissful haven for their children, grandchildren, and host of friends, the owners went big and bold to celebrate their surroundings and the joys of lake life. They called on interior designer Summer Thornton to walk them through the process and make their dreams a reality.

Headquartered in Chicago, Summer is especially known for her fearless use of vibrant color that infuses life into all her spaces. Working on projects nationwide, she steadfastly believes that every home should be a true reflection of the owners’ personal style—their soul, their passions, and their quirks should be found on the walls and in the furniture throughout the entire home.

Bring the Outdoors In

Photo courtesy of Summer Thornton Design

“A lake house is not a beach house,” says Summer, “and a lot of people make this mistake when designing a lake home in the Midwest. I always try to keep a sense of place and climate in mind,” she explains. To her, this means mixing bright colors with some moody rich tones that envelop the spaces in warmth on chilly nights. It also means mixing textures—fabrics that feel light and breezy in the summer combined with plush textiles and rugs that offer a cozy touch in fall and winter. Plus, it almost always means a generous dose of greens. 

Summer loves the heavily wooded areas surrounding most lake locations, and she wanted to bring this palette of verdant hues inside with fabrics, fresh flowers, plants, and paint colors. The designer believes the key is to have options. There are huge windows and plenty of comfy first-row spots to take in the dreamy views. Yet, there is seating focused on the fireplace for when the sun sets and the air becomes cooler. “The giant stone fireplace that anchors the great room is quintessentially midwestern and screams I’m in Wisconsin,” she laughs, “not to mention the taxidermy elk above it.” 

Scale and Proportion

Photo courtesy of Summer Thornton Design

One of the biggest challenges when working with a large-scale lake home is making sure your furniture proportions befit the magnitude of the space. “It is essential that you size up your selections, so they don’t look or feel like doll furniture,” Summer jokes. Case in point? The coffee table measures six feet by four feet—the size of a typical city dining table.

She also incorporated wood paneling to the ceiling and giant wood beams to visually diminish the great room’s grand scale and make it feel more intimate. She then took patterns to another level, swathing the pair of giant sofas with a blue-and-white ikat print and layering them with bold animal-print pillows. Armchairs upholstered in a bright red floral create a colorful punch and complement the overall palette.

Reclaimed Materials

Photo courtesy of Summer Thornton Design

An advocate of using reclaimed materials, Summer loved the idea of this custom-made walnut dining table made from a huge fallen tree. She intentionally scaled it extra-long and narrow to allow plenty of seating for large group entertaining and family gatherings the homeowners host regularly. The bright green painted latticework was a special touch created by the designer to introduce visual interest and an eye-grabbing splash of nature’s favorite color.

Colorful Kitchen

Photo courtesy of Summer Thornton Design

“I truly believe color hides a multitude of sins and puts people at ease,” Summer laughs. “It not only makes a home feel livelier and more lived-in but also it’s great for holding up to wear and tear and the occasional spill.” In the kitchen, she took her color cue from the owners’ love of clear and happy colors and based the palette on their love of blue and red. She started with a marble-topped island painted in Benjamin Moore’s Slate Teal and accented it with a pair of gleaming brass pendant lanterns lined with a rich pop of red.

Texture and Warmth

Photo courtesy of Summer Thornton Design

“I’m a fan of blending textures to create a sense of coziness,” says Summer. “Throughout, you’ll find the typical lake-house suspects like cotton and linen, but I made sure to mix in a bit of wool and mohair to add depth and texture,” she adds. Enveloped in dark gray paneled walls, the cocoon-like den stands in striking contrast to the designer’s lighter approach for the rest of the home. This inviting space is dark yet comfortable, with lots of leather, mohair, tweeds, and rich reclaimed woods.

Cocooned in Comfort

Photo courtesy of Summer Thornton Design

Bathed in pale aqua hues and soft, sumptuous fabrics, the master bedroom takes a departure from the home’s brilliant color palette, offering a restful private sanctuary. A white tufted headboard creates a pleasing backdrop for a layering of luxurious bedding and a stunning Balinese art piece hanging overhead.

Cheerful and Charming

Photo courtesy of Summer Thornton Design

“Everyone will agree that porches are a big deal in lake culture,” says Summer. Designed to invite the natural beauty of this waterfront setting inside, the cheerful color-drenched porch offers a place for casual meals. It serves as the main dining room throughout the summer. 

It includes plenty of seating around the table and heaters built into the ceiling for a little extra warmth. Green-and-pale blue floor stripes painted with Benjamin Moore’s Buckingham Gardens and Forget Me Not emanate a cottage-style charm. “I love it when people give me the green light to go crazy with color,” says Summer.

Want to infuse some bright color into your own lake life? Get out your creative paintbrush and go for it! We’d love to hear your ideas and see your results.