Snowbound in Bethel


By Joshua Bodwell

Photography Darren Setlow

A Ski Getaway in the Heart of Maine

The Weekend House. The Getaway. The Camp. The Ski Lodge. Call it what you will, a second home is a place to peel away everyday responsibilities and allow yourself to play. The ideal second home is both cozy enough to encourage serious relaxation, yet refined enough to be easily maintained and quickly transformed to entertain family and friends.

bethel1.jpgCut into a hillside across a little valley from Sunday River, and only three short miles from the ski lifts, the weekend ski getaway of Karl and Kymberly Wadensten feels like an archetypical second home. Ridge House, as the Wadensten’s have dubbed it, rises up from the hill with a surprising blend of rustic and contemporary aesthetics.

Nearly every inch of the Ridge House offers a commanding view of Sunday River—you can watch the low clouds blow past and cast shadows onto the mountain that make it appear to ripple like ocean water. There is not another home in sight. At night, the bright lights of snow machines grooming the ski trails twinkle like stars that have fallen to Earth. Inside, the house brims with a rugged organic quality that is tempered by modern stainless-steel and polished-granite highlights. More than anything, the house is a consonance of wood, rock, glass, and sunlight.

Karl and Kym began by building a Lindal Cedar Home that they then meticulously customized to fit their needs and those of their four children—Tatum, their 14-year-old daughter, and the three boys, 12-year-old Sven-Axel, 11-year-old Lars-Anders, and seven-year-old Magnus. Today, the Wadensten clan regularly makes the four and a half hour trek from their Rhode Island residence to live the good, snowy life in Bethel.

Love at First Sight

In Rhode Island, the Wadensten house overlooks the picturesque Narragansett Bay. Karl works nearby as the President of VIBCO, a company with offices in Rhode Island, Florida, Arizona, and Ontario that manufactures industrial and construction vibrators.

For years, the active family—they surf, snowboard, snowmobile, and ski, among other pursuits—considered building a ski lodge in nearby New Hampshire or Vermont. However, when Karl’s cousins invited the family to visit Bethel in 2000, the Wadenstens fell in love with the area. Within a few years, they had bought their own lot.

bethel2.jpgThe Wadenstens broke ground in 2003 and moved into their ski getaway two years later. Durin the building process, the couple often made daytrips from Rhode Island to Bethel—a roundtrip of nine hours—to oversee progress. It is undeniable that their close attention to every detail of the perfectly appointed 2,300-square-foot home paid off. “We wanted a ski place, but we didn’t want it to be too country,” says Kym, summing up the couple’s overarching plan. And they achieved just that.

Ridge House

The home’s openness is dramatic in every sense—in fact, as you approach the double half-glass front doors you can look right through the entire first floor and out onto the squiggle of Sunday River’s legendary ski trails. The home’s post-and-beam design allows for the interior to have long, unbroken expanses of unobstructed space. “That’s the beauty of it,” says Karl, “only the exterior walls are load-bearing.”

“Basically, all of the colors inside are based on the rocks we found outside,” explains Kym of the interior color scheme. Outside, soft-needled, tri-color fir and Queen Anne cherry trees dot the yard. Lush spirea hugs the driveway, and hand-split slabs of granite form the pathways and stairs. Little pools of Mexican river rock flank the entryway, as do a pair of young birch trees. And, indeed, as you turn the cast-bronze doorknob and enter the Wadensten home, the interior echoes the surrounding land with a flowing, natural palette of browns and greens that bring in overtones of moss, bark, and chocolate.

The home’s poured-concrete floors—stained green and finished with an acid wash—strike a perfect contrast to the massive Douglas-fir beams, Florida-cypress ceiling, and bright white-birch trim. With radiant heating snaking beneath the floors, they are “green” on the inside, as well. “We tried to make the house as green as we could,” says Karl. “That was important to us.” And who says that green design can’t be elegant? Just consider Ridge House’s handsome green roof made from long-lasting metal, and the striking garage doors made from recycled cypress. But the ultimate “recycled” wood has to be in the Wadensten’s two matching foyer tables: Karl bought a 300-year-old piece of standing dead California redwood, and then had a local craftsman slice it down the middle and build simple cedar bases. Each table’s rippling, natural edge begs you to run your hand along them.

In addition to being environmentally sensitive, Ridge House is also technically advanced. While it is wired throughout with a digital audio-video system, the smart house is also outfitted with nine tiny cameras that the Wadensten’s can access remotely. “I put a yard stick on a porch railing in the winter,” Karl explains, “and then I can login to the house cameras during the week and see how much fresh snow has fallen!” In addition, Karl can monitor the home’s utility room and see that the oil tank is topped off. He can even ratchet up the heat so that the house is already toasty when the family arrives for the weekend.

Supping and Snoozing After a Day on the Slopes

In the kitchen, the American-cherry cabinets seem to grow out of the grassy Brazilian Tropical Green granite countertops and backsplashes. The natural colors and materials are balanced by sleek appliances. The Viking refrigerator and range, industrial sink and faucet, the glass-doored wine fridge, and built-in espresso machine all have a decidedly commercial-grade quality to them.

bethel3.jpgThere is one other, perhaps more subtle, kitchen detail that was custom-designed for the Wadensten family. Perhaps due to their hearty Swedish stock, the entire Wadensten family happens to be a bit taller than average. To accommodate their height, all of the kitchen counters were built three-and-a-half-inches taller than standard, while the washer and dryer were placed on a base that elevates them more than five inches off the ground.

With another bit of personalized ingenuity, the Wadenstens had to solve the dilemma of having a sprawling first floor, but no actual dining room. Karl designed a large stainless-steel table base with an industrial caster on each leg, and then had some of his employees fabricate and weld it right in the VIBCO shop. Topped with a huge slab of the same Brazilian Tropical Green granite used for the countertops, the entire table can easily roll away from its home against the kitchen bar and into the wide entry hall. With seating for ten around the table, and room for another five at the bar, the Wadensten’s can host sizeable after-skiing dinner parties.

Ridge House also has a full guest room on the first floor and two massive pull-out couches on the lower level—one on either end of the red-felt pool table—that can accommodate an army of overnight guests. The rest of the lower level is taken up by the children’s rooms. Tatum has a chic young lady’s bedroom to herself, while the three boys bunk together in a bedroom replete with a full-size arcade pinball machine. “We put ten-foot ceilings down here so it wouldn’t feel like a basement,” says Karl. And indeed it doesn’t. With a wall of windows and views of Sunday River as stunning as those from the living room, plus lightly acid-stained floors and bright walls, the “basement” feels like anything but.

As for the home’s master suite, Karl and Kym have a cozy loft all to themselves that is open to the main floor. With an overstuffed leather chair in the corner, a gazelle head above the bureau, and an American buffalo rug on the floor, the room feels like an exotic retreat. When it comes to the woods used in the master suite, it’s another diverse menu: the stairs to the loft are American cherry, the floors are Brazilian cherry, and the trim around the room is cedar. Not only does sunlight pour into the bedroom from all four sides of the house, but when the Wadenstens lie in bed at the break of morning, they can take in the grandeur of Sunday River.

The Sound of Silence

Every inch of fine, well-chosen detailing aside, it is Ridge House’s rare setting that makes it such an extraordinary getaway. It epitomizes tranquility. You can imagine finding fresh deer tracks in a blanket of morning snow, or watching hawks and falcons circle in the blue sky above on plumes of cool, mountain air.

“Do you hear that?” Kym asks rhetorically, standing in the side yard and craning her ear toward the dense woods. “That’s peace.”

Behind the scenes: Visit to see Associate Editor Joshua Bodwell’s pictorial of his drive to Bethel and back one sunny Sunday in November.

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