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Thinking outside the box: A Vermont architect reimagines a Lake Dunmore camp

LEICESTER — The most innovative architecture can come from solving complex problems: tiny lots, stringent setbacks, limited views, the need to survive winters sitting empty, and a preconceived notion of what a “camp” is.
Say the word “camp” and you might envision a deer camp in the woods above Lincoln, or a cottage on Fern Lake.
When Brian Mac, the principal architect behind Birdseye, a design and build firm out of Huntington, was set to the task of building a “camp” on Lake Dunmore, he thought about it very differently.
The house bears as much resemblance to what sat there before it as an iPhone does to a teletype machine. Entirely contemporary, minimalist and stunning, its two buildings seem to cascade down the steep hillside—steps of matte black metal framework and glass walls, alternating like slabs of rock and reflecting pools.
The size of the main house, 2,300 sq. ft., is masked by the fact that it is recessed into the hillside. The living area is on the lowest level with a giant kitchen that opens out to the deck and western views of the lake. Two smaller bedrooms and bath sit on this level too. Upstairs, the main bedroom looks right out on the lake, with a master bath and closet behind it and a screened in porch to the north, in the overhang. 
Up the hill behind the house sits the studio, stacked atop the garage and accessed by a spiral staircase. With views out through three towering pines and treetops, the house does feel like a camp in the woods, or perhaps a treehouse. Landscape architect Keith Wagner of Wagner Hodgson in Burlington kept the landscaping clean and simple, with a focus on the  enormous pines that rise at the lake front.
In building what has come to be called the Cantilever House, Mac had to deal with a long narrow lot where an old camp had been, tight setbacks and limited views. “The cantilever design was a way to maximize the views of the lake,” says architect Jeff McBride who works with Mac at Birdseye. And from the driveway and garage you can see right down to the water. The house’s overhangs also provide a lighted cover for the entrance way, and, most importantly allowed it to extend beyond the original footprint.
“With the garage and apartment above it set high on the hill and then the two floors below it you essentially have three stories that look out on the lake,” McBride notes. 
In 2012, when it was completed, the Cantilever House won the highest award in Vermont architecture — the American Institute of Architecture’s Honor Award. 
In presenting the award, the jury wrote: “This is a well done minimalist box and sometimes these approaches are hard to do well.  The interiors are as clean and well thought out as the exterior. “
Five years later, that “box” remains a supremely functional home that can be locked up for the winter or lived in year-round. The metal sheathing is weather-proof. The concrete floors (with radiant heat) flow easily out to a concrete deck — all easy to clean with a sweep of a broom. With high-efficiency windows and a “the wood stove that can heat the entire place,” says McBride, it’s a camp that could easily be a year-round home.
And a box that thinks outside the box. 
   The large oval table offsets the modern, surfaces and provides dining area with a view. 

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