Visit of Cathy Chapman Lake Champlain Vermont House

A wooded plot on the shores of Lake Champlain in Panton, Vermont, captivated a couple from Texas, who hired Houston designer Cathy Chapman and Burlington, Vt-based architecture firm TruexCullins to transform the original farmhouse from 1927 on site. Cathy spoke to House Beautiful about how she brought the outdoors inside, bringing light into a dark old house, and how she created cozy spaces that didn’t feel confined.

Snow-capped Vermont is a far cry from gentle Houston, where you and the customers are based. How does a Texan get into a New England mindset?

Much of the design inspiration came from the landscape. The property, a 125 acre wooded peninsula jutting out into Lake Champlain, really wowed guests. The woman fell in love with it while visiting her daughter in college in Vermont.

Was the palette influenced by this Nordic landscape?

Yes! The interior colors came directly from what she saw through the windows – the soft, chalky blues-grays of the lake and the distant Adirondacks; the sky with these pinks, purples and golds. She wanted the interior colors to match the view.

And the materials? They too seem to bring the outdoors in.

They do. The house has been pretty much down to the studs, and everything is local. For example, the stone used for the living room walls comes from a quarry a few kilometers away. The trees that were to be cut on the property were pruned and made into paneling for the new walls. We also reused materials from the original house: old wooden floors became ceilings, and sinks and tubs were renovated and given new life.

Guess the excellent craftsmanship was also locally sourced?

Absoutely. Supporting the local artists and artisans was very important to these clients: the builder, stonemasons and carpenters are all based nearby, and they were some of the best I have ever worked with. Much of the furniture was also custom made in Vermont.

When it comes to the furnishing of the rooms, you have avoided the aesthetic of the quilt and the butter that can often prevail in this area.

The woman loves beautiful old things and she wanted a firm feel. We would go shopping together at antique stores whenever we were in Vermont. But we also aimed for a mix, nothing too scenic or artificial. We researched well-proportioned sculptural pieces and introduced some modern furniture, such as the sling chair in the living room.

The rooms are comfortable but still seem open, in part due to your restraint.

Unlike a modern house with giant spaces, this house has a lot of comfortable rooms, and I was aware of that. For example, the dining room is small, so I bought small, but strong and comfortable chairs. The table was custom built. It is round but widens to an oval. The two chandeliers above slide on a rod so that they can stay centered when the table is open.

Annie schlechter

What are the other tips to keep “comfortable” from feeling “confined”?

Throughout the house, we’ve kept the fabrics really clean and simple, so as not to compete with the rich textures of the building envelope – walls, floors, ceilings – or with the views. The curtains are all mounted above and outside the window openings to maximize openness and light. And window seats allow you to snuggle up to the scenery. I also brought a lot of shimmers – mirrors in almost every room and brass accents. And because the ceilings are low, we painted some of them in high gloss to promote the play of light.

Speaking of light, old houses can be quite dark. How did you go about lighting these spaces?

There is not a single recessed light throughout the house. These are all chandeliers, sconces and lamps, a mix of old and new. We spent a lot of time selecting them and then arranging them to provide just enough light. The result is that the light in the house is very pretty; there is no harsh glare anywhere.

1805 Maison Belle Hopper T13422

Annie schlechter

This project lasted four years. You must have known Vermont well during this time.

Actually no. I’ve only been there five or six times in total. We did most of the planning here in Houston, choosing colors, cabinetry, and lighting during the marathon design sessions. Then we shipped it all on our moving trucks and did a huge setup.

So you are the only thing that has not been purchased locally?

The client and I had worked together in the past and we had so much fun. When you get that feeling of connection and trust, it can travel with you anywhere.


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