From the Ground Up

When you fall in love with a place, it has a way of sticking with you. Just ask Susan Herrnstein, who spent her summers on Silver Lake, west of Letchworth, and never got over life in the intimate, carefree community of cottages that dot the shoreline there.

Susan was able to pass her love of place on to her children, but over time the extended family began to push the limits of a small dwelling. “We all wanted to make memories for the grandkids, but we needed more space,” she said. That’s when Susan purchased a nearby cottage with her son, Jim, and his wife, Robin, and the family began to think about how a renovation could give them the environment they wanted.

The cottage was small and not terribly attractive. It needed to be changed to open up the lake view and to accommodate large family groups. Rick Hauser of In. Site: Architecture in Geneva was tasked with creating a plan that would provide generous access to the water, gathering places and privacy, all on an 80- by 160-foot lot.

The cottage was situated close to several others, so it was also important that it fit into the neighborhood.
After they discovered that the structural elements were in poor shape, they decided to take the house down to the first floor and foundation and build up from there.

Using the original footprint, Rick and his partner Ali Yapicioglu designed an L-shaped structure that featured a great room, a light-filled atrium with a library and play area for children, plus six bedrooms, a loft and a side veranda that faces the water. “We wanted each area to be connected in some way to the water,” said Hauser. “It was very important to combine areas where the family could assemble with private spaces for retreat, all connected by a sunny southern exposure.”

Rick used physical and computer models plus perspective sketches to experiment with what worked well, and the entire team collaborated to achieve a stunning and functional design. “I was passing ideas to Jim and Robin who live on Long Island so that we could create a perfect place of peace and repose,” he said. “We wanted an intimate and seamless connection between indoor and outdoor spaces so the family could enjoy the lakeshore from anywhere in the house. Why bother with a lakefront home if it doesn’t enhance your appreciation of the lake?”

As with many cottage renovations, the project was constrained by zoning regulations, setbacks, height restrictions, parking and environmental concerns. Over the course of two years, the family, architect, and contractor Joe Condidorio of Whitney East, Inc. in Rochester, developed a close working relationship. Each member contributed ideas and expertise to perfect the design and execution. The journey was not a straight one, but the results speak for themselves, both in the simplicity of the design and the way it integrates into the neighborhood.

Rick’s background in landscape architecture also played a role, particularly when he designed the street-facing side of the house. Because so much focus was placed on getting sun to all parts of the home, the L-shaped entryway got plenty of light for a garden. “Now you walk through a delightful garden to get to the front door,” he notes, “It helps make it a welcoming place before you even see the lake views.”

Although Susan maintains an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she spends increasing amounts of time at the new lake house. “We were able to achieve the feel of an old cottage with its nooks and crannies, but with plenty of room to come and go,” she says. “It’s satisfying to have the grandkids playing with blocks and trains in the atrium while I relax on the veranda. We’re still close to one another but not on top of one another, which we never could have enjoyed in the former place. Best of all, the young kids are experiencing what I grew up with and what their parents enjoyed.”

“This isn’t suburbia on the waterfront,” explained Rick. Silver Lake is a close-knit community of families that return year after year. “It’s a magical place for families to retreat and unwind – and build memories of gatherings with friends and family – in a beautiful setting. On such a small lake, the whole lake becomes your backyard.”

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Renovation Tips
• Be clear in assessing and communicating your goals, preferences and budget.
• Take time to interview several contractors before choosing one.
• Find an architect who understands the unique issues of lakefront development, such as zoning, weather exposure, solar orientation and extreme topography.
• Take full advantage of visualization tools – sketches, models, drawings, and renderings – to understand the character of the new home.


by Joy Underhill