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2 Heartbreak Hill, Ipswich

Heading for California, an Ipswich couple bids farewell to their dream home and one of the most architecturally significant houses on the North Shore. By Andrew Conway

It all started with a casual stroll in the country. “My husband had a day off and nothing to do, which doesn’t happen very often, and decided to go wandering around Ipswich,” says Larraine, co-owner of 2 Heartbreak Hill, recalling the serendipitous morning in 1996 that laid the foundation for the next 16 years of their lives. “He stumbled across this piece of land up here on Heartbreak Hill, climbed on a large boulder, looked at the views, came home, and announced he wanted to build a house.”

The fact that they were only then just putting the finishing touches on a home they’d bought in nearby Essex a couple of years earlier did nothing to faze the couple. They quickly bought the land on Heartbreak Hill, hired a local architect, and began planning their dream home. The result was one of the most distinctive and architecturally significant private residences on the North Shore, a strikingly cool and contemporary house that has been turned into a warm and welcoming family home.

“It’s very rare that such a unique house of this quality comes on the market in this area,” says By the Sea | Sotheby’s International Beverly Farms realtor Amanda Armstrong, who is listing the five-bedroom, seven-bathroom property for $4,250,000. Perched on top of Heartbreak Hill and surrounded by more than 15 acres of informal gardens and mature woodlands, the house is a design masterpiece in itself, but what really makes it special are the panoramic views of coastline and ocean stretching as far as the eye can see.

“The house is oriented around the views,” says Paul, the owner, who heads up a technology consulting business. “It has a wonderful Northeast aspect looking out to Crane Beach, Plum Island, and the Rowley Estuary where the Ipswich, Merrimack, and Parker rivers emerge. “On a very clear day, we can see all the way up to Maine and at night, we can see the lights of Newburyport. One of the really cool things is to sit in the house and watch the big Nor’easter storms rolling in from the ocean.”

Bucking the trend for a traditional New England house, the Australian-born owner and Larraine, who is from California, opted for a more contemporary, cutting-edge design and turned to Douglas Trees of Hamilton-based D.T.A. Architects to draw up the plans. Trees’ eye-catching geometric design that incorporates steel, stone, and glass as the primary building materials, paved the way for several unique architectural features.

“The structure is built around metal columns, so the weight of the house is carried on the columns as opposed to the outside walls,” says Paul. “The result is relatively few interior walls, large open spaces, and lots of glass to maximize the views and the natural light.” The unconventional structure also allowed the architect and owners to incorporate unusual design features, such as changes in floor levels, interior bridges, and living areas that give the impression of rooms despite the apparent absence of walls.


Walk through the dramatic front entrance, past a reflective koi pond, and you’re in a surprisingly warm and inviting space. An attractive vaulted atrium and indoor garden opens to a vast living and dining area with a soaring 25-foot ceiling and an overhead bridge connecting the upstairs bedrooms. To the left, the dining room leads to a spacious family room, a state-of-the-art kitchen lined with custom maple cabinets and limestone floors, and a screened porch, ideal for an all-weather family barbecue. The kitchen, in turn, leads to a large laundry room, an indoor greenhouse filled with plants and herbs, and an outdoor terrace.

To the right of the living and dining area is a cozy den and media room, an adjoining guest suite and bathroom, and a separate games room with a billiards table, but the piece de resistance on the first floor is in a wing all of its own. Set under a pitched glass roof is a 50-foot heated indoor swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, and an interior garden, along with a shower room, gym, and bar. Plus, there’s a self-contained suite that’s ideal for a nanny (the couple has a two-year-old daughter) or in-laws.

“The pool room is our favorite room in winter,” says Paul. “We can sit by the pool with three feet of snow outside and it’s 80 degrees inside.” A section of the translucent roof can retract in the warmer months, and a spacious teak deck provides more outdoor relaxation space.

On the second floor, the master suite is in a completely self-contained and private space accessed via the elevated bridge over the main living area. The four-room suite comprises a large bedroom and adjoining sitting room, a spacious walk-in dressing room, and a marble bathroom with a spa tub and his-and-her vanity. The master bedroom and sitting room both face northeast and have floor-to-ceiling windows, affording the owners the best views in the house of the coastline and ocean. The sitting room opens to an intimate outdoor deck, creating a treehouse-like space for quiet reading and relaxation looking out over a canopy of trees. Turn right off the elevated bridge and there are three additional bedrooms, the largest of which has been turned into an artist’s studio, capitalizing again on the natural light streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows and those captivating views.

The home’s owners have spared no expense in its electrical, cooling, heating, and audio-visual systems. “The house could generate enough energy to power a small factory,” says Armstrong on a guided tour of the property. With more than 10,000 square feet of living space and an array of glass windows throughout the house, the owners wanted to make sure the central system operates efficiently and effectively. Oil-fired radiant flooring heat and central air conditioning keep the house warm and cool in the appropriate seasons.

“It’s a pretty energy-efficient house,” says Paul. “The house also has lots of coordination features. All the lights can be controlled from anywhere in the house and the audio-visual system is set up so you can start watching a DVD or TV show in one room and finish it in another.” A full security system is also in place.

Two of the best rooms in the house are in the basement, where the owner has created a fully equipped office that allows him to work from home whenever he chooses, and a stylish wine cellar, offering a relaxed and intimate space to entertain a small group for cocktails or dinner. The basement also has two separate garage bays, with room for six cars, opening to a sizable parking area for several more vehicles.

The couple, who now reside in California and are planning to create a new version of their Heartbreak Hill home on the West Coast, love the Ipswich area. “I have horses, and this is a good area for horses,” says Larraine. “Ipswich is a great little town with lots of country aspects, but it’s also close to Boston and the airport, which makes it very convenient for people who travel a lot.

“The house is half a mile from the center of Ipswich. It’s an easy drive to Crane Beach, which is one of the best beaches on the North Shore, and there are lots of amenities in the area, especially for families.”

The house and outdoor gardens, which are beautifully maintained and filled with perennials, allow the couple to entertain on a small or large scale. “We’ve hosted two weddings here for very good friends,” says Larraine. “We’ve put a lot of work into the gardens, and they look wonderful at any time of the year.”

With all the windows in the house, the family feels very close to nature. “In spring, the trees are a bright chartreuse, the fall colors are lovely, and watching the snow fall in the winter is just beautiful,” Larraine says. “I’ve seen more types of birds in the last couple of summers than I’ve ever seen before, lots of bright cardinals and orioles. We have a pair of hawks that have lived up here for as long as we have, and a very large barn owl that lives down the driveway.”

Abundant wildlife also means there’s never a dull moment. “The deer have an expressway through our backyard,” she adds. “They refuse to acknowledge the house is here and continue to tramp over Heartbreak Hill, and there’s a fox that’s fun watch to in the spring with her little ones. “It’s very private. We only have one neighbor that we can sort of see in the wintertime. Nobody knows we’re up here-it’s like living in our own little world, our little oasis.”

The Details 

Location: 2 Heartbreak Hill, Ipswich. Description: 5+ beds, 5 full baths, 2.5 half baths, 10,211 square feet on 15.5 acres. Style: Contemporary. Listing Price: $4,250,000. Listing Agent: Amanda Armstrong, By the Sea | Sotheby’s International Realty, 715 Hale Street, Beverly Farms, 978-879-6322,