STORY PHOTOGRAPHY WES STEARNS
As Tammy and LaFonde looked for a home on Lake Norman, they wanted a place where they could enjoy the water and invite friends and family over for good times. When they first came across the 3,334-square-foot house in Denver they would eventually call home, they physically recoiled: It was dark, the porches were wobbly, the plumbing and wiring were in bad shape, the basement had mildew after being flooded repeatedly and cats had ruined the carpet. Still, the house had a fantastic lakefront location, plenty of space, and both Tammy and LaFonde felt that with the right renovations it could be their dream house. They both had a sense of how they wanted to transform the house, but knew they needed help. While exploring the lake by boat one day looking for ideas, they saw a house designed by Jennifer Pippin, owner and residential design specialist at Pippin Home Designs in Sherrills Ford. Pippin says when she visited the Denver house she immediately noticed how it didn’t take advantage of its lakeside location. For one, a fireplace blocked the view of the lake from the front door. That bothered Tammy and LaFonde, too, who imagined removing the two-story fireplace. Turns out, though, that the fireplace was an important part of the home's "bones," and it needed to stay. In cases like that, says Pippin, "How do you create a lake view from the front door? Well, you move the front door."For Pippin, good design begins with imagination and communication. "They have a goal in mind," she says of her clients, "and I listen – that's the key. It's really important to me to have a good relationship with my clients at the end of a project because my business depends on it." In addition to meeting with the homeowners nearly 20 times for over a year to "refine and tweak" her design, Pippin enlisted the help of contractor Bill Meuhlen with EFC Builders (now Princeton Builders), who inspected the home and deemed that it was structurally sound. "If you have good bones," he says, "anything can be done." But there was a whole lot to be done. The game plan was to do the extensive renovation in multiple phases, and ultimately reconfigure the house to take better advantage of its lakefront location, and open the small, broken-up rooms and convert them into an open and inviting space perfect for entertaining. "It's more fun to work on an existing house because you have to be creative," Pippin says. “But if you have big goals, do a master plan so you know what it's going to be like in the end so you don't have to redo something later." Work started in January 2009, and the first phase of the project involved upgrading the basement. This included adding a kitchenette, full bath, laundry facilities, and game room. At the same time, the existing garage was converted into a guest bedroom, with its own spacious entrance to the lush back yard and the lake beyond, and a new garage was added. Pippin said this part of the renovation was particularly challenging as Meuhlen and his team had to work around an existing masonry fireplace, structural support beams and a very narrow stairwell. Next, on the main level of the house, three existing bedrooms were converted into the master wing, done in tranquil shades of light green and blue. In addition to the spacious new master bedroom, there’s now a glass-enclosed sunroom that provides expansive views of the lake, as well as a fully equipped exercise room. Finally, the great room, dining room, kitchen and an outside covered deck were all renovated. These rooms were designed to be the heart of the house, where Tammy and LaFonde would do most of their entertaining. Of the home’s original 3,334 square feet, 2,038 of it were renovated—including 14 new paint colors—and 1,189 square feet were added, plus an oversized two-car garage. Now, when guests arrive, they can see the lake through the home's glass front door and the floor-to-ceiling glass exterior walls that were added to the living room and master suite. The main kitchen is large enough for a crowd, opening to a maroon and silver dining room and the bright living room and cozier "holding room" – the one with the fireplace. Today, Tammy and LaFonde calls the house "a vacation destination," and it’s all that they dreamed. "Every day I wake up and I'm like, 'Wow. I actually live here'," says LaFonde. "I feel so blessed."