Story by: NIKI CONTE
Photography by: CHRIS CONTE
(Owners of Northshire Living)
In Andover, just past Weston’s Vermont Country Store, there’s a very steep mountain road. At the top? This beautiful home. It’s a gorgeous spot, with panoramic views of Vermont’s west side—and on a clear day, you can see New York in the distance.
Though this project was the exact opposite of terrible (It’s actually one of our favorites!), we ended up lovingly calling it the “Terrible Mountain Job”, because there were many hiccups thrown our way thanks to its remote location and one of the snowiest falls I can remember.
Our assignment? Update this typical kit log cabin, including its very dated kitchen. Our client wanted to bring in more light and update the interior aesthetic, refinish the existing floors, and reconfigure the staircase into a showpiece. We also added some new carpeting and a generator for the home onto our scope of work. Our client had already invested in some gorgeous iron fixtures with a simple, rustic European Farmhouse feel she loved. They set the tone for our design.
Our first obstacle to tackle? The kitchen layout! The space was cramped, poorly-lit, and non-functional—with awkward appliance location and minimal counter space. We removed the range from the island, placing it on the kitchen’s back wall and making it the focal point of the room. We moved the sink from underneath the window into the island, allowing for better storage space and plenty of counter space on each side of the range. We pushed the fridge as far as we could (to the kitchen’s edge), with a small countertop next to it that works as a great landing zone with groceries. It also was a great spot to put the microwave. By tucking the microwave in a base cabinet near the fridge, it allowed easy access for the client to quickly grab some food from the fridge and warm something up.
Once the layout was dealt with, visually, it was time to have some fun! These particular clients were a dream to work with. They didn’t know exactly what they wanted, but they were open to our creative ideas and knew they wanted to create something unique and special. I got to test out a few ideas I’d been dying to use, like a custom plaster hood, a two-tone island with open cross-end panels, and oak cabinets in modern grey-toned finish.
We designed a custom hood using a reclaimed wood wrap around the base. By giving it a slight curve, we were able to provide a hint of that French country feel (without going over the top). We also incorporated some of that vibe via our selections for lighting, faucets, and hardware. All were done in a rustic copper tone to compliment the iron chandeliers’ raw metal in the adjacent space, but with a classic profile to help tie the two styles together.
The pendant lights might be my favorite element of the project. They have a fantastic glow in person thanks to the copper interior of the shade, and they feel 100 years old (even though they are brand new fixtures!)
Another big concern was durability and ease of use, as the owners often rent the home during Ski Season. They didn’t want to skimp on the beautiful natural materials they wanted, but they also didn’t want to be constantly dealing with damage from renters - or be forced to provide a long list of instructions for them. For this reason, we used open shelving for everyday dinner & glassware, so there was no confusion about where those were located. We wrapped the back of the island in plaster to coordinate with the hood, as they’d had damage to the island in the past from “kicking feet”. This finish is super-durable. As a bonus, the plaster helps to brighten the space by bringing in some more white. We also stuck with stained cabinetry, which doesn’t show wear as quickly as painted cabinets will—and is easier to touch up.
Though the client wanted marble or soapstone counters with an integrated slab sink, they were concerned about durability, as both are very soft stones. We ended up settling on Barroca Soapstone. Though it is soft and can scratch like marble, it is far less susceptible to staining. When you oil or wax the counters (part of normal maintenance with Soapstone), most scratches will disappear. Over time, this creates a beautiful patina.
The staircase was inspired by a favorite local spot, Stemwinder, in Ludlow. Our clients loved their staircase’s simplicity and heft and wanted to create something similar for their home, but with a little bit more polish. (Stemwinder’s stairs are rebar and rough-cut lumber.) We sourced hand-hammered raw steel rods for the balusters, Douglas Fir similar to the existing beams for the railing and posts and created a 3D design to build from. Once we removed the existing carpet and treads, we realized the existing staircase was built improperly, so we rebuilt the stairs and added a post to support the loft landing.
We brought in a refinisher and formulated a custom stain for the floors, mixing the perfect tone to complement the existing log walls and the new kitchen, which was no easy feat. The log walls were a warmer tone than the client liked, but resurfacing on that scale was out of budget, so we had to make them work. For the kitchen, we had selected a light brown oak with a lot of grey in it. We created a stain very similar in tone to the cabinetry with a bit more grey in it and diluted it significantly. It ended up being the perfect hint of color to keep the space feeling cohesive.
As with any home project, there were several last minute details to finish. The final coat of plaster went up while we did the final walkthrough with our client— which was only one day before renters were due to arrive! Although it was down to the absolute last minute, the house pulled together beautifully, and it became something really special and unique just like our clients asked for.
Northshire Living 5081 Main Street
Manchester Ctr, VT 05255