Becky Jackson’s tradition of vacationing on Chautauqua Lake began three decades ago. As a young Pittsburgh accountant, she and her best friend, Nancy, would stay at a cottage that Nancy’s parents rented in Maple Spring, New York. After the two women married, Becky and her accountant husband Keith would make the easy drive from suburban Pittsburgh to the lakeside farmhouse Nancy and her spouse had purchased in nearby Bemus Point.
“We came up all year long — her house is a four-season house,” says Becky, now a senior vice president in investor relations at PNC Bank’s Pittsburgh headquarters. “She has a sailboat. All of our kids skied. So we would come up and ski at Ellicottville. We just loved it.”
So the Jacksons were thrilled when, in 2012, Nancy offered to sell them a wooded piece of the spread on which the farmhouse sat. The triangular lot was only 4/10ths of an acre, its small size exacerbated by the electrical lines running through it. Becky and Keith had to secure variances in property-line setbacks just to make the lot buildable. But Portersville, Pennsylvania-based architect Robert Gaskill worked within site boundaries to create the four-season getaway of Becky’s dreams: a contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired structure with multiple outdoor spaces and three bedrooms/baths for visiting friends and family. The design was then “brought to life,” says Becky, by Alexander Construction of Wesfield, New York.
The main living space is condensed in a single light-filled great room. The result is what Becky calls “a not-so-big house” that looks, feels and lives big. “The finished square footage — not including the basement, not including porches — is only 1,800 square feet,” Gaskill observes. “That is pretty tight.”
The only apparent concession made to lot size and shape is the two-car garage’s placement in front of the house, a compromise that provided easy access to the road and reserved lake views from the back of the property for the living/dining/kitchen area and wraparound porch onto which it opens. Gaskill left a portion of the porch’s composite deck uncovered at Becky’s request.
“I wanted the openness so you can look up and see the sky,” she explains.
A single-unit steel staircase leads down to a patio outside the still-unfinished walk-out basement. There’s also a sun porch off the kitchen and downstairs guest bedroom, where screens replace glass panes for insect-free living, and a sleeping porch accessible from both the second-floor hall and master suite. “As soon as we buy proper chaise lounges, I will sleep out there,” Becky insists. The couple’s sons requested the enclosed outdoor shower off the sun porch. Becky and Keith use it all the time during warm weather.
“Keith took a shower in a rainstorm last week,” Becky reports. “He said it was awesome!”
The Jacksons chose to finish the house with a long-lasting standing-seam metal roof and an eye-catching combination of linen cement-board and ash-gray corrugated-metal siding, the colors of which Becky matched to those in the manufactured stacked stone. Cherokee Red French doors lit by black mission-style fixtures clearly indicate the entrances.
“Cherokee Red is a Frank Lloyd Wright color — it’s used a lot in Falling Water,” Becky explains. “So I wanted red doors.”
Inside, the floor plan’s most unusual custom feature is a laundry room off the foyer that doubles as a hall closet. Becky hates traditional closets. “The doors are never closed,” she declares. So Gaskill included room for his-and-her modular units from Ikea, each of which consists of a hanging space for jackets over slide-out drawers, bag-stowing cubbyholes and a shoe rack. The couple installed a similar arrangement in the door-free walk-in closet tucked behind an interior wall of the master suite, a move that eliminated the need for chests. “I wanted to minimize the clutter of furniture,” Becky says. That same goal prompted the addition of a built-in desk in the living area, along with a system of recessed and track lighting.
“If you have lamps, you need end tables,” she points out.
Becky chose to decorate the rooms in a light, midcentury-modern style rather than “all the heavy woods” she’d seen during tours of iconic Frank Lloyd Wright houses in western Pennsylvania and Chicago. Painters applied what her mother jokingly calls “50 shades of gray” to the walls — Benjamin Moore’s Ozark Shadows, Harbor Gray, Stormy Monday, Revere Pewter – and finished the trim in white, while contractors laid solid maple floors through most of the house. Exceptions include bathrooms, the foyer and sun porch, where ceramic tile that mimics gray slate stands up to muddy, snowy or just plain wet feet.
The kitchen was outfitted with maple cabinetry painted a dark gray and topped with white quartz. Most of the under-counter storage is in drawers, a configuration Becky chose to eliminate the aggravation of bending over to open cabinet doors and pull out often-overflowing shelves. Chrome stools with white-leather seats provide perches at the kitchen island, while a pair of chairs with teak-stained frames and black-leather cushions invite lolling in front of a wall of windows next to a futuristic soapstone-topped woodstove.
“It’s wonderful for heating the house in the wintertime,” Becky says of the stove, which can be rotated so the fire is visible from multiple angles. “We have a furnace. But we can keep the furnace turned pretty low and just use this.”
A glass-topped dining table flanked by purposely mismatched Naugahyde and molded-plywood chairs separates the kitchen from the living area, where Becky has gathered some of her prized vintage finds in front of the black-granite gas fireplace. Slipper chairs covered in chartreuse and deep red — made in nearby Eldred, Pennsylvania, by the defunct Viking Artline Corp. — hold court in front of the windows near a Paul McCobb-designed beechwood table that might have started life as a nightstand. “His bedroom furniture is very much in demand,” Becky says.
But the main attraction is a sofa upholstered in a black corded cotton blend and trimmed in red cord that measures over 6 feet long, a sleek chrome-frame piece with matching chair designed by George Nelson for Herman Miller. The coffee table, in contrast, is a humble pallet rescued from a shuttered Hartford, Connecticut, factory and raised on extended legs fashioned by Jack’s Welding in Westfield, New York.
Becky shows off the first-floor bath, a space that doubles as a powder room with a frosted-glass vessel sink atop a wall-hung vanity and rectangular accent window in the custom tile shower. Light streaming through an exterior window in the neighboring laundry room filters through the single pane’s pressed-leaf pattern, providing a measure of natural illumination.
“Becky wanted to get some daylight into that space,” Gaskill remembers. “The way the layout really came about, we had to keep that powder room centralized. We just talked through it and suggested, ‘Well, we put windows in bathrooms sometimes on the outside wall. We can certainly put one on the interior wall.’”
Upstairs, frosted-glass French doors down the hall from a guest room and bath open to a master suite complete with bath featuring his-and-her sinks and a walk-in tile shower. (“You don’t have any doors to clean,” Gaskill notes of the latter. “[So] it’s lower maintenance.”) A 90-degree angle of bare windows dominates two of the four walls, a stretch of glass interrupted by a gas fireplace with a 1850s wooden mantel still sporting shabby chic coats of peeling white and yellow paint. Becky found it in an architectural-salvage shop near her parents’ central Pennsylvania home. “I do have this little eclectic streak in me,” she confesses. While a platform bed covered in a leafy gray-print duvet dominates the room, the space was designed specifically to accommodate the boudoir chaise Becky always had wanted.
“One Saturday morning [Keith] passed a yard sale, turned around, drove back, got me out of bed and said, ‘They have one of those things you want,’” she recalls with amusement as she surveys the Kelly-green twill piece.
While the house Becky and Keith call Blueberry Way — a name inspired by their love of picking local blueberries — is indeed stylish, life on the property is slow-paced and casual, even when they’re entertaining. Activities range from kayaking and shopping flea markets in the summer to skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. The village of Bemus Point is less than a mile away, which makes fair-weather driving to the grocery store and restaurants unnecessary.
“We do a lot of cycling up here,” Becky says.
Warm nights are spent on the wraparound porch, where they sip wine by candlelight. Becky quotes the words on a sign she saw in a village shop.
“This is my happy place,” she declares.