Home on the Range
An aerie for an active family in the mountains around Sunday River
Sixteen hundred feet up on a steep peak, Bob and Laurie Potter’s Newry home rises like a monument to its majestic setting. Stone pillars conjure elaborately constructed cairns that appear to spring forth from the granite ledge as you approach. Between the columns, massive windows allow you to see straight through to the layered crests of the Mahoosuc Mountains, which wrap around three sides of the structure. The upper panes also reflect a familiar scene: the sweeping, white-streaked Sunday River range. Reversed on the glass, the squiggly trails seem even more intriguing, as if they comprise miles of never-before-seen terrain waiting to be traversed.
Since 2003 the New Hampshire couple has hiked to this skyscraping hilltop five miles from Sunday River. “We came here with our kids and dogs because it’s private and has the most incredible views,” says Bob. Initially, the family stayed on a lower ridge with friends, then rented nearby for seven years. But they were always looking for a place to buy. After learning that Bruce Lilly of Clearwater Builders in Bethel, who built their friends’ home, owned the lot they liked to hike to, “I would tease him about it every time I saw him,” says Bob. Eventually, Lilly, who had sold 55 lots in the area but kept his favorite one for himself, decided to part with the land; he also became the couple’s contractor. “I ended up building somewhere else, but I still love this spot,” he says.
The Potters had recently closed on another property and briefly contemplated settling there instead. “But where we are is so uniquely situated among these different peaks with forest all around,” says Laurie, who heads out on the logging trails behind the house most afternoons to hike or cross-country ski with friends. “We never considered being at Sunday River, because we love the woods, but we really enjoy the community here.” For years, they traveled to the resort with their son and daughter, who were in the racing program, every winter weekend. Now that their children are in college, they come weekly throughout the year and “our kids want to be here whenever they have time off,” says Laurie. “For us, this mountain is a major family glue.”
Magazine photos of an Idaho home with stone pillars and a low-pitched shed roof inspired the exterior design. “We didn’t want to build this look-at-me thing on top of the ridge, so we went with as much glass and natural material as possible and a roof that has a lower profile,” says Laurie. To make the interior feel as open as the surrounding landscape, Lilly and his son, project manager Jason Lilly, framed the ceiling with 18-inch-wide glue-laminated beams. Composed of strips of wood bonded together, the robust joists allowed the team to span distances of up to 34 feet with very few supports. Gazing through the expanse of glass that lines the kitchen-living area, you feel as if you’re perched inside an eagle’s nest, tucked into the highest tree.
The couple started planning their dream home during their first year at Sunday River. “When you have young kids you don’t have a lot of time, so it was fun to think about the house we’d design someday, without having to do anything,” says Laurie, who carried a tape measure with her everywhere and would jot down the dimensions of passageways, countertops, and windows in houses she liked. When she was traveling for work, she sketched floor plans on graph paper on the plane. “We see this place as potentially being our full-time home, so the details really mattered to us,” she says. The final drawing they presented to New Hampshire architectural designer Lucy Gorham is “largely what we ended up with,” says Gorham. “There were adjustments, of course, but all of the main elements they envisioned are there.”
A prime example of the couple’s meticulous plotting is the kitchen. Working with Celeste Keith and Charlie Reiss of Bethel Kitchen Designs, they carved out a long, galley-like space with a generous four-and-half feet between counters to “accommodate the breakfast rush when we have guests,” says Laurie. The two- level island is 39 inches tall on the stool side—shorter than the typical 42-inch raised bartop, but the right size for Laurie, who is five-foot-three. Diners at the counter look past the lower food- prep surface and through an enormous window, which frames a stretch of Grafton Notch, with the scalloped slope of Puzzle Mountain on the western side. “A higher tabletop would have taken away from the view,” says Laurie. The team eschewed upper cabinets for the same reason and installed a walk-in pantry instead. Other clever solutions include a recessed nook for the toaster oven, so you don’t see the crumbs, and a pair of dishwashers. “At a ski house, you don’t have time to unload the dishwasher, so we have one unit for clean dishes and one for dirty and virtually nothing goes into a cupboard,” she says.
Curving “pathways” worked into the abstract patchwork motif on the stained concrete floors lead you around the home. Cliff Calentine of Seacoast Concrete Design in South Portland pulled the muted rusts and ochres used on the surface from a pair of rugs in the living/dining area. The colors, combined with the gold- en walls, tawny fir trim, and beige-flecked granite on the fireplace, island, and pillars that jut in from outside, make the space feel like it’s bathed in a sunrise, even in the cool, flat light of a winter afternoon.
The concrete also has physical warmth, soaking up the radiant in-floor heating and the rays that stream in through the windows. (After discovering that their gear dried quickly on the floor, the couple abandoned plans to put in a boot and glove dryer.) The home’s three-foot-deep roof overhangs are precisely sized and angled to let in light during the chilly months, when the sun is lower, and provide shade when it’s warm. “We were afraid the house might be terrarium-like in the summer, so our friend, who is a high school physics teacher, offered to check our overhang calculations with his class—they confirmed that we didn’t need a cooling system,” says Laurie.
Most mornings, the couple rises with the sun, which beams through the kitchen windows and into their bedroom, which is painted a fiery, red-orange shade. “It’s a strong color but it works because the house is already so bright,” says Laurie. During ski season, they meet up with friends and get on one of the first chairs gliding up the slopes; at 10 a.m. they gather with a larger group for cinnamon buns at the North Peak Lodge. After lunch, they switch to Nordic skiing or snowshoeing, staying out until the western Mahoosucs turn purple in the late afternoon light.
When the wilderness views fall into darkness, Sunday River, twinkling like a tiny city in the distance, commands all the attention. On weekend evenings, the South Ridge trails, lit up for night skiing, form a giant glowing ring on one side of the mountain. Later, fireworks often explode in rainbow-colored bursts over the same peak—a final display of exuberance for a family that is (at last) too tuckered out to muster any more.