Designer Susan Ferrier and architect David Baker inject a sense of place into an aging contemporary on Lake Martin
When it comes to buying a house, “Location, location, location” is the old adage that many homeowners and real estate agents continue to live by, and for good reason. At Lake Martin, Alabama, the lure of a prime property for sale on one of the lake’s few high promontories was the draw for a keen Auburn buyer who, thankfully, wasn’t tripped up by the less-than-stellar, dated Brady Bunch-style house that distracted from a coveted view.
But Austin and Michelle Singleton, along with their two children, are no ordinary buyers. As a leading marine industry entrepreneur, Austin has a home life and occupation that are inextricably intertwined and connected to the water. Having renovated several homes over the years, Austin called his longtime collaborator, architect David Baker of Tippett Sease Baker Architecture, to discuss the potential, and soon the two got to work on the transformation.
“Like a lot of bad contemporary, what we tried to do is edit and remove the mistakes and make it as good as it could be,” Baker says. After all, this house is all about the views and maximizing them from within. Lowering windows all the way to the ground and raising the ceilings in certain areas made the structure as transparent as possible. Not having other homes built up across the way also gives the impression of additional privacy and seclusion. “You see the big body of water,” says Baker, “and the natural landscape is painted across it.”
With the home’s architectural streamlining underway, the Singletons, at Baker’s urging, called upon Susan Ferrier of Susan Ferrier Interiors to impart a contemporary verve on the home’s newly reconfigured, sun-drenched spaces. “We told Susan that we wanted modern,” says Austin, “but it had to be comfortable because that’s where we go to relax.” The look is unexpected, yet a sense of place is imbued throughout. “Every room is livable, and you want to hang out in them,” he adds.
The resulting design is atmospheric, harkening to being on a boat, taking its cues from the newly framed views. “Every room in the house is based upon its relationship with the lake,” says Ferrier. “You are eye-level with the water as you’re walking through.” As a result, gauzy and ebullient window sheers echo the rippling effect of the water beyond, while more intimate spaces offer respite from the brightest times of day.
“The creation of shadow in the house makes it soothing,” says Ferrier. “It’s all about enjoying the sun here, but there is reprieve from it.” With all of the light streaming in from the back of the house, the entry vestibule and transitional spaces are painted darker, more intimate colors. Some rooms were even designed with lower ceilings than the rest of the house to create a feeling of “stepping into the shade,” Ferrier says.
Privacy is also afforded with the layout: The children’s rooms and the master bedroom each have their own adjacent lounge areas. “When they’re not traveling, the family spends the entire summer at this house, and everybody has their own apartment, per se,” says Ferrier. “The house lives very large.” Baker agrees that it was about getting the bones right, not adding square footage, so expansion to the house was minimal—primarily to help with the entry sequence, and adding a pool. “It was already a pretty grand footprint,” he says.
Now that the family can settle in for the season, Ferrier and Baker have already turned their focus on the work ahead: The duo is again collaborating for the Singletons, this time on a farmhouse located between Lake Martin and the family’s base in Auburn, where growing and cultivating fresh food on the property’s 3,500 acres is the order of the day.
“For me, when any client has any opportunity to build from scratch, it is fun, it is great, it’s like Christmas morning every day,” says Baker. “If it’s not, you’ve gathered the wrong team. This was about having the right team for the right client.”