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How much time do North Shore parents spend pulling their school-aged children away from cellphones and tablets? Not that anyone is keeping count, but it’s a lot. One set of parents addressed the situation with monumental effect, by giving their children more exciting alternatives in their new home, including a three-story climbing wall. The rest of the house is just as engaging, with plenty of space to interact and relax amid the warmth of classic design. “We’re in the process of fighting the tech battle, trying to keep the kids busy without technology,” says the mom of the busy household. “If you provide a space for them to be creative, you can support that, rather than just saying ‘You can’t do that.’”

The outdoor space at their lodge-style house transcends traditional play areas, with a grassy athletic field, swimming pool, and sports wall painted with soccer and lacrosse goals, as well as the climbing wall. Spaces abound to sit and relax, including a pergola with a built-in grill that connects to main house and a cottage-style pool house with a kitchenette.

The home’s interior has an open plan on the first floor that encourages interaction. Dark-polished white oak floors, New England fieldstone, and six fireplaces—four of them wood-burning—give the house a cozy feel. Generous south-facing energy-efficient windows, designed by Paul Shilhan of the Shilhan Company in Georgetown (and a family friend), frame views of the bucolic outdoors.

The house is spacious, with seven bedrooms and plenty of shared space that includes a three-season room with removable walls and roll-down motorized screens. But every room has a specific purpose, says builder Steve Howell, cofounder with his wife, Susan Howell, of Howell Custom Building Group in Lawrence. Howell teamed up with Lafe Covill of TMS Architects in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the design of the new house, which is located in a quiet neighborhood. As Howell says, “It was designed to be a glove-fit for the whole family.”

The home’s exterior is a reflection of the family’s love of ski lodges and rustic New England materials, including red cedar shingles and copper work. Local fieldstone appears on the front porch columns and base, as well as in the retaining walls around the house and in low seating walls around the pool. Massive fieldstone chimneys have custom-cut capstones of carved Asian granite, another point of interest. A band of trim wraps around the exterior of each floor, to reduce the scale of the house and organize the exterior. “It pulls the complex exterior together into a seamless composition; that’s very much Shingle style,” Howell says.

Curved and swooping forms on the front façade carry the eye, most notably an eyebrow curvature over the front entry’s porch and a swooping shingled water table, which deflects water from the face of the exterior walls where the shingles and foundation meet.

The front entry, especially the eyebrow curvature, was the most complex part of the construction, Howell says. It was difficult to construct, especially where the curved porch roof intersects the inwardly curving second-floor walls. “That was a geometric challenge,” Howell says.
The gracious entry opens onto an expansive first floor with a warm ambiance and enough drama to keep things interesting. Careful thought was invested in connecting the spaces with visual cues. Paneled wainscoting, millwork, and coffered ceilings—of stained quarter-sawn white oak as a nod to early 1900s design—extend into the kitchen, where the same features are integrated into the cabinetry and stonework.
Casual entertaining also carries into the kitchen, with its own fireplace and a large peninsula counter that is an ideal gathering spot for friends and family.

The children all have their own bedrooms on the second floor, near their parents’ master suite. (A second master suite, on the first floor, is for guests’ use, with its own bath and balcony.)

The focus on friends and family led the homeowners toward clever techniques that expand spaces for entertaining. The three-season room has removable walls and phantom screens that can disappear to connect indoors to outdoors. The dining room seats up to 35, through the use of table extensions that are located and used around the house. Benches and upholstered chairs provide the seating. No one sits on folding chairs, even at holiday time, a special goal of the homeowners.

The interior’s neutral color palette mirrors the tones outside, often in subtle fashion. The shades of red-toned boulders in the front yard are reflected in the décor of the living room, which also has a view of the boulders themselves. While the TMS Architects team designed parts of the interior, the homeowner herself worked diligently with them, choosing the furniture, drapes, and other fabrics, as she says, “keeping the flow.”

The home’s special design and detailing didn’t go unnoticed in the professional world. Last year, the Builders Association of Greater Boston awarded it a Gold winner in two categories of its PRISM awards: for Best Custom Home over 8,000 square feet and Best Outdoor Living Space.
But the most meaningful accolades come from the family and their children. How could they not love it? “We wanted it to feel like a vacation home, with soothing and calming elements,” says the mom. “There is no formality.”
howellcustombuild.com; tmsarchitects.com