Lake Minded

A team of Atlanta design talents takes cues from a scenic lake setting to create a character-filled home uniquely suited for a family of six

To escape the hectic pace of work and city life, an active Atlanta couple have relished peaceful weekends along the shores of Lake Burton for many years. But as their four children grew from young boys to grown men, space was becoming tight in their modest cottage. 

While envisioning a new home on their property, they came to know the work of architect J. Ryan Duffey through his numerous projects dotting the lake, admiring his work’s deferential relationship to the environment.

 It’s a sensibility immediately evident upon approach to their recently completed lake home. A winding gravel road gives way to reveal an unassuming stone structure. “The site very much dictated the design, so there’s almost this sense that we quarried the hillside and nestled the house in,” says Duffey. “That called for a space where you want to have a very ‘solid’ feeling, prompting us to use limestone on the front elevation to anchor the home into the site.”

Duffey likens the home’s front facade to that of an English cottage, an aesthetic enhanced by a charming walled courtyard designed by landscape designer Jeremy Smearman. Their efforts are all part of a thoughtfully devised experience for guests. “The idea was to pull you into this little courtyard that feels cozy and intimate, and then as you walk through the front door, you can’t help but feel sucked into the house and treated to this explosive view of the water,” explains Duffey. The latter is courtesy of 11-foot floor-to-ceiling windows that run the length of the home’s rear and offer a delicate and more airy counterpoint to the limestone-clad front entrance. 

 Always keeping the focus to what mattered most—gathering with family and friends—Duffey, along with his wife, Nancy, an interior designer whom the couple also hired onto the project, got creative to ensure maximum interaction. While placing the kitchen adjacent to the enclosed side porch ticked the homeowners’ box for easy entertaining, the duo opted to push the envelope, designing steel-and-glass pocket doors, and most impressive of all—a steel-and-glass window above the island separating the two spaces that can be fully recessed into the ceiling with the touch of a button, allowing for seamless integration of the porch to the kitchen and other living spaces beyond.

To complement the home’s high ceilings and tactile materials, Nancy Duffey outfitted the interiors with clean lines and a neutral palette punctuated with youthful pops of color, following the homeowners’ “fresh and bright” directive. “They didn’t want that typical dark, rustic cabin you find on the lake,” she says. “In thinking outside the box, the home feels every bit as warm and welcoming as they are.” 

With the lake ultimately the star of the show, Smearman finessed the site’s topography by terracing the backyard. This eliminated the need for rails, providing unencumbered views. Similarly, he worked with Ryan Duffey to step the terrace down from the home’s main living level. “This ensures you’re not looking at the view through the backs of patio furniture. It makes the vista more dramatic and less cluttered,” explains Smearman. 

No detail was too small or idea too big, a credit to the design team’s collaborative and forward-thinking approach, notes Ryan Duffey. “This was the family’s legacy project and we hope they enjoy it for generations to come.”

INTERIOR DESIGN Nancy Duffey, Nancy Duffey Interiors, (404) 218-9685; ARCHITECT J. Ryan Duffey, J. Ryan Duffey Architect, (404) 816-2325; LANDSCAPE DESIGN Jeremy Smearman, Planters, (404) 261-6002; BUILDER Steve Jones, SJ Contracting, (706) 212-2006;