Video: Raven Beach in the Summer
Story: Robert Kiener Photography: Susan Teare
Drone Video: Cole Boester, Grey Haven Productions
"Connections." It is a word that Milford Cushman, award-winning designer and founder/president of Stowe-based architectural and interior design studio, Cushman Design Group, often uses when describing what makes a house a home.
As he explains, "After creating and working on more than 600 design projects throughout my career, I've found that clients want a home that helps connect them to one another, to beauty, to light and to nature. And it is these very connections that help create spaces where people can live, enjoy and explore their lives fully."
While Cushman can point to many of the projects he and his team have created over the years, there may be no better example of his design philosophy than his own home, Raven Beach, which he recently put on the market.
For the last three decades Milford Cushman and Terri Gregory, husband and wife, have transformed what was originally a modest, 960 square-foot, one-bedroom "camp- like" home into the elegant, 2,300 square-foot, three bedroom home that has won both awards and praise from industry experts.
"You might say this house, our outbuildings as well as these landscaped grounds have been a 'work in progress' for years," says Cushman as he welcomes a visitor to the couple's now-finished home. "We've put everything we've learned as designers and artists into Raven Beach."
The connections that underline their design philosophy are evident everywhere. Seeing how the pair have carefully "nestled" the home into the landscape so it "hugs" the land illustrates their conviction that land and lifestyle should be intimately connected. "We took full advantage of the site and were careful to integrate ourselves and our home into the landscape instead of radically changing it," says Gregory.
The 10.7 acre lot in Hyde Park boasts a red pine forest that was planted shortly after World War II and has been lovingly maintained ever since. "We've been careful to treat this land as sacred," says Cushman. "After all, we live in the house as well as on the grounds." Both consider themselves stewards of the land and have worked diligently over the years to preserve that connection between land and owner.
Another connection immediately obvious to a visitor is the way the pair have used a wide variety of all-natural, environmentally-friendly, sustainable materials throughout the grounds as well as on and in the house. "Natural material is very sensuous," says Cushman, "and we wanted to stress the importance of creating an environment that is intimately connected to its surroundings." From the sturdy bluestone pathways to the home's liberal use of eastern white cedar, pine, hemlock and other natural materials, there is a clear connection to living at one with nature.
There are few hints left of the home's earlier incarnation as a small residence, largely because the home underwent a year-long renovation in 2011-2012 which was extensive and comprehensive. The couple stripped the home back to its studs, added new insulation, a new roof, new siding, new windows and doors, a third bedroom, a full bath, an expanded kitchen, expanded basement, new wiring, and more. "Says Cushman, "Everything was renovated, so much so that although we have been on this land for 33 years, this house, with the exception of two windows, is only seven years old."
While the renovation enlarged the size of the house, opened it up to more views, and filled it with light, it also made it extremely energy efficient. "Indeed," explains Cushman, "with the deep energy retrofit we pushed energy efficiency as far as we could." The deep energy retrofit was so successful that the house achieved a 5 Star Plus Energy Star rating. The entire home can be heated by just one cord of wood a year in the entryway's super-efficient Tula woodstove and with the social use of the living room fireplace.
Cushman is fond of explaining how he grew up loving the outdoors and how camping, fishing and canoeing were such a formative part of his early years. "I suppose I developed my affection for camp or cabin style living as a child," he recalls. "I am drawn, for example, to the Adirondack and White Mountain cottage style of architecture. I've always been interested in living in a home that feels casual and comfortable and is connected to nature." At 2,300 square feet, Cushman's and Gregory's home is far larger than some camps or cabins but, thanks to their skills and artistry, it retains the coziness and simple elegance of those traditionally American styles.
As visitors to Raven Beach soon discover, the couple's home may be the "main attraction" but it is complemented by artfully designed and carefully positioned supporting outbuildings that give the property a unique sense of composition and a strong connection to nature. A short walk from the house is a classically built, two-car, light timber frame garage, and a gear house for stowing camping gear and landscaping equipment. Up a small rise is a canoe/kayak shed and down another path is an artist's studio with two light filled spaces for creativity.
Because these complementary, self-contained outbuildings are also set amongst the lot's mature gardens and red pine forest, they give the property a unique feel. One visitor recently likened the collection of buildings and the house as "village-like." "Walking from the house to any of these outbuildings always gives us a sense of unfolding, or even mystery," explains Cushman. "Although they are not attached to the house, they are all part of a whole." Adds Gregory, a noted potter and artist, "They have grown out of our desire to create an intimate connection between our land and our lifestyles. We love them."
Connections. As this talented couple has proven, they are what make a house a home.
Raven Beach is listed for sale with The Bateman Group at Pall Spera Company of Stowe, Vermont.