Vacation home goes green in the White Mountains

Luxury New Construction Style
The owners of this vacation home in Sandwich, N.H., wanted a timber frame house that captures the mountain views and runs completely on solar power. Rinne Allen/Lisa Ellis Design

Dr. Jeff Cole always had a soft spot for New Hampshire, where he spent childhood vacations visiting his retired grandparents near Squam Lake in Moultonborough. When Cole married Dr. Mary Bess Jarrard 31 years ago, he introduced the Georgia native to the Granite State, and the two physicians found themselves returning year after year on a thousand-mile pilgrimage from their home in Athens, Ga.

Then Mary Bess surprised Jeff by suggesting the couple buy land in New Hampshire. They purchased more than 100 acres of thick forest, high on a ridge in Sandwich, and held onto it for another decade. All the while, they researched how to capture the mountain views they knew were hiding behind the dense tree cover. Finally, they cut a road into the property — and found the vista they’d been hoping for, with views of the Sandwich Range and the White Mountains.

“I knew there was this great view from studying some topographical maps, and when we got the view, we got really excited,’’ Jeff said. “You could finally see it for your own eyes.’’

The couple wanted to build a vacation home that fit in with the natural surroundings, and Jeff had always dreamed of a timber frame house. “We knew from the start we wanted something unusual, like a barn,’’ Mary Bess said, with lofty ceilings and panoramic views. They brought that vision to architect Jeremy Bonin of Bonin Architects & Associates.

“The timber frame became one of the key aesthetic elements within the home,’’ Bonin said. Elegantly sturdy exposed framing, connected by traditional mortise and tenon joinery, creates striking focal points throughout the entire house. More stunning still is a cozy cupola that crowns the roof. Six timbers intertwine to create a self-supporting reciprocating frame over the space, which is accessed by a custom-built ship’s ladder. “That’s the centerpiece of the home,’’ Jeff said. “You get a 360-degree view from up there.’’

. —Rinne Allen/Lisa Ellis Design

Vermont Timber Works crafted the frame offsite, and then spent a few days erecting it on location in August 2015. To celebrate, Jeff and Mary Bess invited friends and family from near and far to a “barn raising’’ party. “Raisings are always exciting, as timber frames have a heavy skeleton that’s impressive when standing alone, unlike conventional construction,’’ Bonin said. “[But] the timbers are large, heavy, and unwieldy, typically put in place with machinery nowadays,’’ Bonin added, so it wasn’t quite the hands-on barn raising of yore.

“It was more ceremonial — the timber framers didn’t want anybody getting hurt,’’ Jeff said. But he and Mary Bess were able to nail a pine bough or “wetting tree’’ atop the finished frame, a traditional topping-off ceremony meant to thank the forest for the lumber, celebrate a job well done, and bring good luck to the home and owners.

Bonin connected the couple with Lakes Region home builder Michael Broome, who kept the project on schedule through the winter so Jeff and Mary Bess could move in the following June. But they were hardly absentee clients, visiting the site as often as they could and checking in with Broome on a weekly phone call. Ultimately, they were over the moon with the finished product: a thoroughly practical, rustically beautiful barn-style home that looks as if it belongs in a clearing deep within the New Hampshire woods.

“We just wanted it to be a part of the surroundings, and it has been very fulfilling for us to have it come together like that,’’ Mary Bess said. If the animals who parade past are any indicator, the home must blend into the landscape pretty well. The couple has seen bears, wild turkeys, porcupines, deer, and — a favorite — moose. “We see so much wildlife,’’ Mary Bess said. “Last June, our daughter and son were there, and we saw a moose every day in our driveway, a mother and baby. It’s the coolest thing.’’

The house isn’t just off the beaten track — it’s also off the power grid. Batteries charged by a 12-kilowatt, 42-panel ground-mounted solar array supply enough electricity for the entire home. Propane provides heat and fuels a backup generator in the event of prolonged shade, making the house fully untethered from utility service. “It was honestly the most economical thing to do,’’ Mary Bess said. “We have almost a half-mile driveway, so to run electricity to the house was going to be really expensive.’’

. —John W. Hession

Relying exclusively on solar electricity prompted the team to be particularly “thoughtful in the size and efficiency of spaces’’ in the 3,700-square-foot home, Bonin said, and led them to choose energy-efficient appliances and light fixtures. And when a solar array isn’t backed up by the electric grid, the excess power needs to be stored — which meant carving out space for several thousand pounds of batteries. Bonin designed a separate small structure to house the batteries and integrated it into a garden shed.

That energy independence proved valuable when a nasty Nor’easter clobbered the home one March — when the couple’s daughter and her friends were vacationing at the house over spring break. “They were great, they were off the grid,’’ Jeff said. “The rest of the town lost power, and they still had a blast.’’

The home is on two levels: The first floor holds a garage, plus a bedroom, full bath, screened porch, and workshop for Jeff, who enjoys woodworking. The impressive dining table he built himself is in the open great room on the main floor, which features cathedral ceilings and a wall of windows to let in the mountain views. Down the hall is the master bedroom and full bath, plus space for extra guests and access to the cupola.

Mary Bess said her favorite feature is perhaps the prominent stone fireplace and chimney, which includes two separate fireboxes and flues: one inside the screened porch and the other facing the flagstone patio outside. “All the stones in the fireplaces, every single one is from the property,’’ she said, assembled by stonemason Chris Springer of Iron Hammer Stoneworks in Danbury, N.H. The patio, meanwhile, was envisioned by Jeff’s sister, Rebecca Cole, a landscape designer in New York.

. —John W. Hession

Inside, Mary Bess worked closely with Athens-based designer Lisa Ellis. “We used some greens and blues all through the home that we thought were fun, and it all blends with the surroundings really well; that was our goal,’’ Mary Bess said.

“I would say, ‘Just paint it white,’ and Mary Bess and Lisa fretted over every color,’’ Jeff added. “And because of that, it’s a much more beautiful place.’’

It was Ellis who found a prized stash of chestnut hiding in an old warehouse down south. “We hauled it to New Hampshire for our floors, and they’re beautiful,’’ Mary Bess said. Other Georgia accents include the rustic, custom-built chandeliers. “Those big, huge light fixtures, we had those designed and made in Atlanta,’’ she added. “It’s hard to find them the right size.’’

Mary Bess wanted the kitchen to be similar to the one in their Athens home, a mission Susan Booth of Vintage Kitchens in Concord, N.H., helped her accomplish. At one end is a pantry with pull-out shelves; next to it, framed in cabinetry with a custom-built plate rack on top, is a raised dishwasher — a back-saving feature Mary Bess swears by. “We have the raised dishwasher in both places, and I can’t tell you how great it is,’’ she said.

. —Rinne Allen/Lisa Ellis Design

The counters and backsplash are all Stanstead Gray granite — 2-inch slabs of it — including the surface of the four-seat island with range. At the far end of the island is a handsome barrel, topped with a round, reclaimed-walnut cutting board, that opens up to store pots and pans. The exposed rafters added a layer of complexity to the kitchen design, but Booth’s husband, Steve, custom-built cabinets to fit between the beams. “It all took a lot of planning, so we were very involved,’’ Mary Bess said. Even the drawers and shelves in the master bedroom were thoughtfully designed and custom-built, each with a destined purpose.

The master is the main bedroom, while a pair of loft spaces on the west end serve as open, flexible living areas that can accommodate overnight guests. The area between them is open down to the bottom floor, like an atrium. “We put our Christmas tree at the bottom, and it comes all the way up to the top, which is fun,’’ Mary Bess said.

“Christmas up there is wonderful,’’ she added. “We cut a tree off the land, bring it in; it’s really kind of idyllic.’’ On winter stays, Jeff and their daughter enjoy skiing. Mary Bess said they’d also like to get a snowmobile to take advantage of all the trails traversing their property.

For now, the family zips up there every few months, but Jeff and Mary Bess built the home with an eye on retirement. In a few years, they will spend each summer and fall in New Hampshire, and then return to Georgia after Christmas.

“We embrace [winter] when we’re there,’’ Mary Bess quipped. “We just don’t want to embrace it for four to five months.’’

See more photos of the home below:

Jon Gorey blogs about homes at Send comments to Follow him on Twitter at @jongorey. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at