The Lake Effect – A Big Hug For Waramaug
It’s easy to spot Whitney York Lancaster’s house on Lake Waramaug: it’s the one with the Lone Star and the Louisiana state flags hanging on the porch. Whitney, who hails from New Orleans, and her husband, John, who comes from Sugarland, Texas, may be proud southerners, but they’ve also put down roots in Litchfield County. “My husband grew up around lakes in the Houston area and when I was a child my parents had a place on the water just over the border in Mississippi, so we both have an affinity for the water,” says Lancaster.
When the couple decided they wanted a lake house not too far from their year-round home in Darien, they took a map of Connecticut and drew a circumference around the towns that fell within about an hour drive from their house. John, an energy investor, travels extensively, and their four kids—Nicholas, 15, Amelia, 14, Elliott 13, and Russell 11—all play multiple sports. Whitney, formerly an investment banker, spends the bulk of her days chauffeuring them to practice and games—so adding more miles to her driving schedule was not an option.
As luck would have it, Lake Waramaug fell right smack in the middle of their map. Coincidentally, in 2002 they had stayed at the Mayflower Inn on their first wedding anniversary and since then Lancaster had a bee in her bonnet for the area.
Growing up, she spent her summers at a lake house that had a huge window overlooking the Bay of St. Louis near the Mississippi Sound. “In the evening my mom would just stop everything, have her cocktail, and watch the sunset over the water,” she recalls.
The lake house was a family gathering place, where they went sailing, crabbing, and shared meals together.
Childhood memories like those inspired her to find a lake house for her own family. They purchased a tear-down cottage on Lake Waramaug in 2007, which eventually was razed and replaced by a New England lake house, featuring clapboard siding, board-and-batten shutters, a wrap-around porch, lots of lake-facing windows, and a large back lawn that gently unfurls down to the shoreline.
The original cottage, a tiny four-bedroom structure, had fallen into total disrepair. Before they spent a single night there they hired contractor Chris Washington of Washington Builders in Southbury to renovate the structure and make it habitable while they worked on plans to build their own 7,000-square-foot house, which was completed in 2008.
“At first, we thought we could keep part of the original house, but the substructure was just too weak,” recalls Lancaster. They managed to retain some of the feel of the original structure, whose focal point was a small living room with a cozy fieldstone fireplace. Architect Jonathan Kost of Sandy Hook designed a new living room and expanded the footprint on both sides of it, adding a screened porch, a family room, a large kitchen, and five upstairs bedrooms. The attic was transformed into a large dormitory-style bedroom with six bunkbeds and room enough for 12 kids to sleep overnight. The basement, previously a dank, crumbling crawl space, was renovated into a multi-use recreational center with a gym, billiard room, golf simulator, and game room.
“I also love my office, which was the original dining room,” she says. Matt Wood, an artist from Torrington, painted a mural of the lake on canvas panels, which were then installed on the walls.
The lawn is a key spot for family gatherings. Stonewalls by George built the retaining fieldstone walls, a cascading infinity pool, an outdoor fire pit, and a cobblestone entryway as well as five interior fireplaces that feature salvaged antique granite slabs and fieldstone. The addition of an outdoor shower completed the evolution of a lawn into a R&R haven, where the kids play corn hole, whiffle ball, and lacrosse while the adults unwind on the porch rockers.
Throughout the summer months, the house is buzzing with non-stop activity. In addition to her kids, the family has two golden retrievers, Gus and Ouisie. “Only they don’t really retrieve, they just observe,” Whitney quips. The dogs and the family love the water. Most weekends, both the adults and the kids are on the lake either waterskiing, paddle boarding, wake surfing, or kayaking.
With four kids, two dogs, and lots of friends, Lancaster says a day at the lake can sometimes feel more or less like controlled chaos. She takes her cue from her dogs who seem content to just chill. And, she tries to adhere to the Dr. Seuss quote: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.“
Those words are painted on one of the many signs hanging in the house that serve as décor and gentle reminders to just enjoy life.