When Greg and Laura Carleu began their search for a second home in 1999, the Boston couple started out looking in Montpelier, an unlikely spot for a vacation ski house. Vermont's state capital is not exactly slopeside-the nearest ski area is a 30-minute drive-but Laura, a self-confessed "city girl," wanted to be near restaurants, culture and an urban vibe. When they didn't find anything to their liking, the Carleus recast their search with a new goal: The property had to be no more than three miles from a village and no more than three miles from a ski resort.
The Waitsfield area, with its quaint town and proximity to Sugarbush and Mad River Glen, seemed perfect. But the couple didn't find the home they were looking for, and decided to build from scratch. "Everything we looked at had too many bedrooms and too many years of neglect from renting to skiers," Greg says. (He should know: He rented a ski home with friends here in the '80s.)
In Fayston, they found a plot that not only fit the bill, it doubled it. The six acres with a sunny southerly exposure looked directly onto the ski trails at Sugarbush on one side, while a sliver view of Mad River Glen beckoned from the other. "I think Greg had Sugarbush in mind the whole time," Laura says. The land, accessible only by dirt roads, was available because "the locals are more practical," Greg says. "They tend to live on paved roads."
The couple hired a local architect, Neil Husher with Vermont Architects Collaborative, and a skilled contractor, Harold Austin of Austin Construction, known for his work on the celebrated Pitcher Inn in nearby Warren. As both Greg and Laura were busy professionals in their late 30s and early 40s-he a self-employed software consultant, she a senior manager at a biotechnology company-the couple gave Husher little instruction, except that they wanted a rustic-barn look, an open living plan and lots of windows to take advantage of views and sunshine. "The problem is that barns don't typically have windows," says Husher. "The challenge was to blend the barn look with a lot of light."
The Carleus' new ski house was finally finished in April 2001. And, that same month, they received other news: Laura was pregnant with twins. Though the house was not built for a family of four, the Carleus decided against any renovations. "They didn't know if they were going to stay in Boston or not," Husher says.
Lily and Olivia were born, and the couple summered at their new vacation home to recoup. Greg brought his business with him, and Laura started her new career as a full-time mom. Then, when the leaves began to change, Greg and Laura both were reluctant to leave the quiet nights, remote woods and gorgeous views. "We spent that first summer up here, and we just never went back," Laura says.
So, in short order, what was constructed as an alpine retreat for a childless, urban couple became a bustling full-time family home on the edge of the wilderness. The Carleus credit Husher for a "sensible" design that makes the 2,100-square-foot house work well, despite the addition of two unexpected residents.
The glint of metal from the standing-seam roof is the first thing a visitor sees in winter. (In summer, it's a man-made pond, surrounded by Laura's colorful flower beds.) The steep angles of the roof create cozy, chalet-like ceilings in the upstairs bedrooms, "as if the house is enclosing you," Husher explains.
Those bedrooms, of course, were never designed with children in mind, or even to be used full time. The guest bathroom, intended for visiting friends, is now occupied by toys and toddlers' bath products. In fact, decorating has been put on hold since Laura's pregnancy. Antiques from their Boston condo and a full set of china remain boxed in the basement, as does Laura's urban wardrobe-impractical for Vermont life. "The only decorative thing we did before we moved was add color to the girls' room," she says.
Downstairs, the opeen plan-designed to resemble a barn floor-serves the family well. Sturdy Douglas fir beams on the ceiling add a rustic accent. A central stone fireplace separates the kitchen and dining areas from the living room. Seven-foot-high picture windows, the largest Husher could find without having them custom-made, run the length of the house, allowing the Carleus to check out the snow conditions and crowds at Sugarbush.
A spacious mudroom, de rigueur for an active, outdoorsy household, includes dozens of cubbyholes originally intended to store ski accessories. These days, those practical shelves have been taken over by the gear of 3-year-old girls: arts and crafts projects, fleece slippers, winter boots, ice skates and miniature snowshoes.
To go snowshoeing, the family just walks out the back door. Their neighborhood borders the Phen Basin backcountry with its maze of hiking paths that ultimately connect to the Long Trail, which runs from Canada to Massachusetts. Greg is getting to know the local hills better by mountain bike and telemark equipment.
The girls are also learning to ski-good news for their parents, whose skier days are finally surpassing those of their childless years. If the snow's good during the week, Greg hits the slopes of Mad River or Sugarbush North at lunchtime-the commute to either takes him eight minutes-while his wife heads to Ole's Cross Country Center for an hour after she drops her daughters off at preschool. On weekends, they go to the mountain en famille, even if it's only for a few runs. "We moved here for the lifestyle and to be together as a family," Laura says. "We want to do things with our kids."
Vermonters may have a reputation for warming up slowly (if at all) to city transplants, but the Carleus say they feel very much part of the community. "People are here because they love to be here, and they are looking to be active," Laura says. "When you have the local lifestyle in common, it's a better basis for friendship."
Though Greg hasn't once longed for their Boston days, Laura experiences an occasional twinge. "I do miss it. But my life is different now," she says. "It's obvious that this is where we need to be."