When work and personal life collide, it’s not always ideal. But for architect Louis Nequette, it was kismet that, while working on a private community on Alabama’s Lewis Smith Lake, he found the ideal site for his family’s new home. “Getting to go to the lake and dream of having my own place was always a temptation,” says the architect, who has a particular passion for waterfront residences.
The property, located in the Hawk’s Nest community about an hour’s drive from Birmingham, steps down a hillside to the shore, approximately 25 feet below the road. “I chose the site for its combination of beautiful views and privacy,” says Nequette. “The grade allowed us to push down close to the water, giving us sweeping, 180-degree views.” Letting the lake take center stage, Nequette collaborated with general contractors (and brothers) Scott and Carter Hughes to design his house as a series of volumes terraced into the hill. Separate structures, such as the garage and guest cottage, allow the family “to live small or live large,” says Nequette, so the spaces are just as comfortable for two people or multiple families spending a long weekend together.
On the exterior, Nequette’s home is in keeping with the rest of the community he designed: rustic stone walls and a cedar-shingle roof. This restrained use of materials was inspired by a trip he and his wife, LeAnn, took to Ireland, where they’d admired the shore-hugging communities along County Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula. “They were always simple and the scale was modest,” the architect says, adding that all the homes shared a single material palette. “It’s a more European approach—this idea of playing well with others—and it demonstrates the power of materials to tie a place together.”
That same philosophy held true indoors, where Nequette took cues from the English Arts and Crafts movement to bring the outside in. Horizontal Douglas-fir paneling envelopes every room as floor-to-ceiling windows showcase an astounding panorama. “You walk into a big, warm, inviting living room with no hallways or wasted space, where immediately you’re greeted with sweeping lake views,” says Jessica Prier, a designer at Nequette’s firm who, along with fellow designer Sarah Jelks, helped the architect furnish the spaces in an eclectic, sentimental manner.
Minimalist, low-slung furnishings do not detract from the prized vistas, while blown-glass fixtures enhance the light and airy feel. “Simple, inviting and understated” were prompts the trio referenced when sourcing local vendors for everything from hardware to outdoor furnishings to the leather-upholstered wall in the main bedroom. In this light-filled boudoir—separated from the kitchen by barn door—tilt-out casement windows have the effect of bringing you face to face with the lake, almost as if you could rope-swing right out into the water.
Designing curves into the kitchen shelves and millwork lent an abstract nod to the natural surroundings. “There are no straight lines in the woods and on the trees,” explains Nequette, who chose a herringbone motif for multiple walls to mimic the delicate veining of oak leaves found on site. To contrast his home’s inky blue cabinetry, he eschewed opaque hues in favor of consistent neutral staining on the tongue-and-groove paneling by carpenter Chris Hanvey. “The transparency was intentional, so you see the natural grain,” Nequette notes. “There are no completely solid surfaces; everything has mottling or patina.”
Nequette defers much credit to the general contractors for helping to realize his very specific vision. Particularly skilled were the Hugheses in engineering the cantilevered porch and precisely aligned windows spanning the back of the house—two features that give the feeling that one is floating above the lake. The brothers also proved visionary when collaborating with Nequette to create concrete retaining walls formed from railroad ties—components also used for the steps and pathways on the property.
Outdoor living areas were enhanced by landscape architect David Lorberbaum, who planted indigenous trees along the peninsula and added a ground cover of colorful Asiatic jasmine, sculptural rosemary bushes and Little Gem magnolia hedges. “We used native specimens in a soft, contemporary way to play off the aesthetics and design of the house,” Lorberbaum says.
After designing waterfront homes for many others, Nequette says his personal endeavor has given him more insight for future work. “This lake house has taught us what spaces and arrangements and materials matter most: to create memories, simplify the flow and make it easy to maintain,” he explains. “If anything, I’ll keep it even simpler next time.”