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Home: The modern gem on Chipman Hill

THE CHIPMAN HILL House designed by McLeod Kredell Architects shares the same footprint as the 1940s ranch house it replaced. Features like the large, central skylight, below, earned it a Merit Award for Excellence in Architecture.

MIDDLEBURY — After more than five years, the “Chipman Hill House” in Middlebury still attracts admirers.
“A lot of folks come up the hill to look at the house and enjoy it,” said Sven Lapiner, who lives there with his wife, Janet, and their three children.
His family enjoys it, too.
“It’s unique in the landscape,” Lapiner said. “It’s nice to have a modern house in a non-modern-house neighborhood.”
Designing and building their house came with a number of challenges, however, starting with the fact that when they purchased the property there was already a house on it.
“It was a little ranch house, built in 1949,” said John McLeod of Middlebury-based McLeod Kredell Architects (MKA), who co-designed the Chipman Hill House.
Because the existing one-story home wasn’t quite large enough to accommodate a family of five, and because it wasn’t energy efficient, the Lapiners eventually decided to tear it down.
But not entirely.
“They wanted to save and reuse as many pieces of it as possible,” McLeod said.
One piece in particular posed a serious design challenge — the foundation. The Lapiners and their architects determined that the Chipman Hill House and its predecessor should share the same footprint.
“We had to do some gymnastics to build a bigger house on that foundation, but it gave us a fun challenge,” McLeod said. “It gave us a chance to invent and ‘pinwheel’ the new house to take advantage of the views and the solar orientation.”
Though they retained the location of the original house’s front door (and reused the original steps leading up to it), MKA pivoted the new house 90 degrees to orient the abode away from the street and focus on the eastern and southern views.
At the center of the “pinwheel” is an open vertical space that allows light from a large skylight to pour down through the whole house.
McLeod likened the open vertical space to a “toothpick” inserted into a “club sandwich.”
The “sandwich” consists of stacked horizontal elements — overhangs, cantilevers and canopies — that allow for more living space, contribute to the passive solar design and provide an interesting contrast with the sloping site.
In design terms, the “toothpick” holds it all together.
The Vermont chapter of the Architectural Institute of America (AIAVT) singled out the “toothpick” for mention in 2014, when it conferred upon the Chipman Hill House a Merit Award for Excellence in Architecture: “Nice light from large skylight at the center of house, which unifies the spaces at the core of the scheme.”
McLeod noted that the house was constructed by Sean LaFlam of Goose Creek Builders and the structural engineering done by Greg Sellers of Sellers Treybal Structural Engineers.
In addition to the central skylight, 50 windows create a warm space bathed in sunlight.
“The plaster walls capture and reflect the daylight and colors throughout, making for quiet and subtle changes throughout the day and seasons,” pointed out Fine Homebuilding, which featured the house’s kitchen online.
The design for Chipman Hill House was inspired in part by a previous MKA project — the Nature Preserve House on Pulp Mill Bridge Road in Weybridge.
“We really liked a lot of the elements and details from that house and we asked John to incorporate some of them into our design,” Lapiner said. “We have unfinished plaster walls and lots of interior wood.”
The result is both modern and warm.
“The simplicity of the exterior materials is appealing,” wrote the AIAVT jurors in 2014. “The restraint in simple and consistent material choices made for a strong overall design. (The house) features a well executed, clear and pleasing layout with a great use of natural light.”
The 2,100-square-foot home is also “totally energy efficient,” Lapiner said.
“We’re really happy with it.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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