This Alabama Lake House Is Designed For Laid-Back Living
"I wanted to go inside only to sleep,” says homeowner Hampton Stephens of her vision for lakeside living. Growing up, she spent summers bunking at a cabin on the banks of this tucked-away spot outside Birmingham. But after she started a family, Stephens began scoping out an area nearby to call their own. Up went a temporary tent next door to her parents’ place, but down it came when she hiked to a hillside across the water and was instantly sold on the view. An architect by training, she envisioned a rustic retreat that emphasized spending time outdoors. She collaborated with friend and architect Bruce Lanier (of Birmingham-based ArchitectureWorks) to design a pair of minimalist modern cabins: a main house (with a kitchen and living area on the top level and a guest room underneath) connected by a pathway to a bunkhouse (with the kids’ quarters on the ground floor and a master suite above). This summer-camp-style setup brings everyone closer to nature, and the different floors of the cabins are accessible only via exterior entries. “Houses are usually vessels for interior living, but this design lends itself to being outside,” says Lanier. The structures were nestled into the existing hillside with a goal of cutting down as few trees as possible. “I wanted the homes to seem hidden as if they’d just crawled out of the earth. When you look out over the water, you feel disguised by the trees,” says Stephens. Get inspired by their life on the water.
A Natural Connection
Stephens and Lanier started by selecting materials that would blend into the existing landscape. Dark sheets of durable corrugated metal cover the exterior portions that are in direct contact with the environment. They chose colors that complement the shadows of the trees, and the material won’t age over time. Sections of the home that the family interacts with are wrapped in warm cypress. Modern, exaggerated rooflines combine form and function. The downward-sloping section (which extends over the kitchen windows to control the sun) mimics the natural grade of the land. Its opposing counterpart covers the porch and offers prime water views.
Designed for Alfresco Dinners
Family members from around the lake gather for supper, served buffet style on the bar top when it’s Stephens’ turn to host. The sturdy teak dining table and chairs stand up to wet bathing suits during the day and accommodate a heap of guests in the evening. The porch’s cable railings keep water vistas unobstructed while everyone sits around the table or lounges on the
cushioned sectional sofa. The fun continues after dinner too. They pull down a projector for movie nights or challenge each other to table tennis matches. This open, unscreened porch allows for full views of the stars at night.
Comfort Is Key
Untreated yellow pine clads the main cabin’s interior. “The wood will attain a naturally golden patina with age. We weren’t trying to make the material do any-
thing it wasn’t supposed to do,” says Lanier. Sunlight pours into the living room through a wall of windows. A tall ceiling helps keep the space cool in the summer, while transoms above the sliding glass doors open for airflow as well. “The main focus is the outdoors, but I wanted the interiors to be easy and comfortable, so you could take a nap,” says Stephens, who chose a pair of plush Restoration Hardware couches and vintage leather chairs for the living room. A portrait she painted of her three children hangs above the fireplace. Beside it are a guitar and a banjo, which are frequently taken down for jam sessions.
A ladder in the living room leads to the loft, which transitions from being a playroom to an extra bunk room to a yoga studio.
Minimal but Connected
“When you stand at the sink overlooking the water, it feels like you’re at a ship’s helm,” says Stephens. In lieu of overhead cabinetry, wide windows provide sweeping, panoramic views of the lake, which further enhance the kitchen’s command-center feel. The minimalist space prioritizes only the essentials for preparing and serving meals, and keeps the counter space free of clutter. A pantry offers hidden storage for any bulkier appliances. Underneath the sleek concrete countertops, stained-wood shelves neatly hold dinnerware and serving bowls. In place of a typical kitchen island, Stephens selected a large marble-topped table, inspired by The Alabama Biscuit Co., her family’s favorite breakfast spot in Birmingham. A single large pendant hangs from the center of the room, while mini halogen light bulbs can slide on wires along the perimeter.
A Restful Retreat
After a full day of swimming and hiking, the secluded master suite located on the top level of the bunkhouse is a welcoming place to recharge. Warm pine-paneled walls and a colorful vintage quilt from Etsy keep the quarters cozy. On summer nights, open windows usher in cool breezes off the lake.
Built for Company
When it’s time for light’s out, the family’s three children and their friends pile into bunkbeds, topped with mismatched vintage quilts from Etsy. Lining the beds against a wall freed up floorspace for playing games on rainy days. A small reading lamp is clipped on each bunk for late-night stories. Fuss-free flooring stands up to water and mud tracked in.
The Kids' Camp
Hopping in a canoe is the only way to reach the teepee on the tiny island across from the cabins. The family sometimes paddles over to sit around a bonfire and make s’mores. From here they have a front-row seat for watching the sun set across the lake.