Design Parti! Smith Mountain Lake Living

“No fish and no gum today?”

I was sorry to disappoint Pete for our design discussion, but I was indeed empty handed except for my notebook and pen. I reluctantly shook my head. With his usual cheer and chuckle, Pete continued, “That’s okay, Megan. Next time…both.”

I had sequestered Pete on the porch this sunny afternoon to learn more about a large lake home project the team had designed. It was raised late last year on Smith Mountain Lake and, rumor has it, is steadily nearing completion.

An early rendering of the Smith Mountain Lake project.

“I can’t say I’m feeling very linguistic today,” Pete admitted. It turned out he had been doing sheer wall calculations, which meant crunching numbers, all morning. Regardless of a head full of figures and formulas, we managed a good conversation diving into details of the design/build for this family vacation home. I even learned a new term:

“It all starts with a parti,” Pete began. I wasn’t aware of project parties, but that sounded good to me. This elicited a big smile and shake of the head from Pete. “No, not a party, a parti or parti pris—the central design idea we develop with the homeowners and then use to define, build, and detail a home. We constantly test our designs against this theme to be sure we’re creating in the right direction. In this case, the parti narrowed down to creating a home that sits nicely into the landscape, accepts and welcomes upon arrival, has great views and lake access while providing space where all of the family could be together comfortably under one roof.”

This parti included getting multiple generations comfortably under one roof.

Pete explained, “It is a large, detailed, and complex project: from the way the home is sited, to capturing views, to how the timber frame flows throughout, to how the volumes interact, right down to what finishes and materials went where.”

“Additionally, the homeowner is an engineer and enjoyed participating in the finite technical details from frame to finish which pushed our team to deeply dive into each component, each texture, all while the overarching parti guided us.”

Following the parti, details, including material choices such as the exterior stone, were discussed at length for this home.

What of the timber frame? Turns out the frame doesn’t function just as the physical load-bearing structure of the shelter. Pete looked off into space, envisioning the plans I was sure, before elaborating, “We use the frame to define spaces, to direct the flow of traffic through the home, to frame views, to create varying volumes. In this home the frame draws you in from the entry then turns to the lake and mountains beyond. It opens into gathering spaces and towards those views.”

The timber frame helps direct views. Here timber frame craftsman, Jake, paused to capture the lake and late Fall colors through the frame.

A three-level switchback staircase and glass elevator create a ‘mine shaft’ feel within the timber frame and work to connect/create the vertical circulation from the lower level to the uppermost level in this home. The elevator glass faces the interior of the home encouraging engagement with the spaces even when transitioning between levels. “The public or program spaces work around this vertical core, always keeping folks connected while allowing for away [private] spaces separate of the core.”

The timber frame “mine shaft” effect includes heavy cross members within the stair and elevator shaft.

With nearly 10,000 sq ft of space (including the lower level walk-out), the home will comfortably accommodate 20+ people. The master suites, guest rooms, bunk room, a movie area, pool room, and pub space are designed to encourage rest and relaxation. There is also encouragement to enjoy the outdoors and the lake as the line between “inside” and “outside” is blurred through open glass walls, screened porch, and massive open porches.

“We used 10×10” Douglas fir timbers for this project rather than the standard 8×8″ to better anchor the home to the land, to keep the frame from feeling spindly. A big, rustic but modern project…I’m not sure I’m using the right words…still too many numbers in my head…” Pete said with a smile. I promised to let him get back to his formulas shortly and he continued. “I enjoyed the detailing of this project. The planning of the house in a ‘kinked’ or ‘L’ shape allowing more views from all spaces and playing with the volumes to influence the feel and function. It already looks great. I’m excited see it completed.”

An aerial view of the foundation shows the “kinked” or “L” shaped layout of the home.

Before we returned to our respective spaces in the office Pete told me one final detail, “there will be a slide!” The plan is to build a slide to lead from the bunk room over the garage into the mudroom near the kitchen. It will have a small tunnel section and a few turns. I suggested maybe we need a photo of Pete taking a ride down. “Absolutely!” he agreed with enthusiasm. After a promise of some sort of snack for our next chat, I left Pete to his numbers again.

Lake and mountain views captured from the main porch.

Check back in with us as we’re sure to post again with final images of this project. If you’re interested in seeing current projects our design team is working on, check out our On the Boards and On the Sites. For finished project, our galleries may be of interest. We always like to hear from you–contact us today to talk about your project.