Nestled in the foothills of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, on the shores of Kezar Lake, Boston-based interior designer Heather Wells is putting a fresh spin on a family tradition...
I grew up coming to New Hampshire. My parents have had four different houses up here since I was little.
About 12 years ago, I said to my mom that it would be nice to have a vacation house of my own up here someday and so we did a drive around the area. I have aunts and uncles on a different lake nearby, and then my parents are on this one. So I knew that if I were going to have a house up here, too, it would have to be on one of those two lakes.
I had an idea that I would get a little cottage, like a tiny cottage, and then this came for sale. It’s actually very substantial. It’s about 2400 square feet on the inside—not massive by any means—but it has this huge porch and roof, and a very stately presence.
It was sort of like a haunted house, really. It’s located down this driveway, surrounded by trees, and it was in a fairly precarious state. It had been in the same family for forty years, and it was not kept up very well.
I asked my dad, who is educated as an architect and landscape architect—and who ended up helping a lot on the house—if he would go take a look. Because it was scruffy and not winterized at all. So he went in and called me. I kept asking, ‘Dad, how is it?’ and he was being very coy. ‘Do you or don’t you like it?!’
Finally, he said, ‘‘Heather, it’s fan-fucking-tastic.’’ And he was absolutely right.
I’m only the fourth owner in 110 years. In the attic, I have a corner for all of the stuff that’s original to the house. I have the original drawing set, which is amazing. I have dishes from the ladies, two sisters, who first owned it. I have papers from the last owner, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.
When I was in the eighth grade, I wrote a report about being an interior designer. I interviewed one of my mom’s friends who was a decorator and it was so funny, because I had no memory of it until I found the report in a box of mementos that I had obviously kept for some reason. I think I thought I would be an architect at that point, but the decorating—being a designer—is much more my personality. And, really, being a designer is also so much more personal, too, when you think about it—the whole idea is having to understand personalities, including your own and that of whatever space you’re creating.
This house has a grumpy old man personality. It was a moody brooder, sitting here, old and tortured, and I feel like I’ve brought it back to life. I thought I was going to leave it as a summer home. But it’s such a great house and eventually I thought that was too short a season, so I wanted to winterize it in a way that was very careful and didn’t take away from that original spirit of the house. And we managed to figure out how to do that.
The house is still very dark outside, but when you come in it’s light and happy. And, above all, it’s friendly and cozy. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but the people that relate to it, love it.
I never thought I would have an all wood house, that’s for sure. I thought, if I’m going to have a vacation house, it’s going to be light and airy and fresh and breezy. This is totally not that. When I first bought it, I thought I would paint the inside. And now, I love the orange-y wood, which I thought I would never like in a home.
Slowly, over time, this house sort of told me what it wanted from me. I would say I’m a color and texture person. I definitely like color, but here my sofas are neon green! They don’t look like that in the room they’re in but if you took them out in the sun, you would be like, ‘Why do you have neon green sofas?’ In the room they’re in, they make sense. That’s what decorating this house is like.
A lot of mountain houses have large spaces and tall ceilings. Having big lanterns, or big shaded fixtures or chandeliers balances out the space. Putting light up there draws your eye in and creates a beautiful layer. And then sconces create that essential next layer of lighting I really like, right at eye-level. I have sconces in several rooms, but not as many as I would like just because the architecture wasn’t asking for it. I also think I have thirty lamps in this house. I want every room to have that glow.
Being up here and creating this place of my own is—for me—all about family and friends and hanging out. We cook here. We stay in our pajamas and talk all morning. There’s a lot of reading, walking around the lake, going swimming, lying on a hammock, playing cards and games and just chatting. I do have one TV, but I don’t turn it on if I can help it. It is truly a retreat design-wise, too. It’s compelling visually, and very beautiful.
Honestly, it’s everything I need. Take the Ladies Lounge, for example. It was originally a bedroom, the maid’s room, so it’s halfway up the stairs. It was a uniquely separated space—sunny and well-lit—and since I didn’t really need another bedroom, I ended up turning it into a hangout room. My living room is really big and it has a porch on three sides and can get a little dark, so I wanted something that was just smaller and higher.
The Ladies Lounge has a couch, a couple of chairs and a bathtub in it. And the colors...yes! It’s painted an avocado green, with a dark green rug and a teal blue sofa and a dark teal tub. When I’m in there alone, it feels cozy and intimate, but there’s also room for friends. In the winter, it’s where we have coffee in the morning and where I might go to take a nap in the afternoon. It’s more like a family room or a library, and it’s always sunny.
I don’t really know how it got labeled as the Ladies Lounge, but it did, and it’s perfect. Once you land on a golden name, the perfect thing, you just keep it and own it.