Edit Module

Second to None

Three Greenwich families share their remarkable second homes — places where they reconnect, establish new traditions and escape from the everyday

Jeffrey Allen

This month, three families graciously offer us a glimpse into their extraordinary getaways. Although each home is wildly different — the first, a restored bed-and-breakfast in the heart of Nantucket; the second, a sprawling Adirondack-style camp perched at the foot of New York’s Tupper Lake; and the third, a newly constructed timber-style homestead in Jackson Hole, Wyoming — each offers a welcome respite from the fast pace of daily life back in Greenwich. What they also have in common is that each is more than just a place to vacation. These are relaxing retreats where families can reconnect with one another, entertain good friends in comfort and establish meaningful new traditions — all with exceptional natural backdrops. Each also shares the same cardinal rule: Upon arrival, residents and guests must stash the BlackBerries, forgo their frantic schedules, dive into the local customs and drink in the tranquil beauty of their surroundings — until the next visit.

island retreat

Imagine what it would be like to take over a restored B&B, an historic Nantucket charmer, complete with two kitchens and seven baths.

For the Yenor family, whose love of the water had drawn them to several coastal towns in pursuit of a second home, the pull of Nantucket was strong. Indeed, Caroline spent her childhood summers in ’Sconset, where her family has owned the same home for more than fifty years. In 1999, Jon and Caroline bought the Gray Whale, a small fishing cottage built in 1880 in Madaket. Says Caroline, “After we had our third boy and realized that our kids’ feet were starting to hang over the sides of the built-in beds, we knew we were outgrowing the cottage.”

Thus began their search for a house in move-in condition with a water view. “The key was to find something that felt like we were getting away, not that we had just transported our Greenwich house to Nantucket,” recalls Caroline.

When Harbor Watch, a former guesthouse, came on the market, Jon was intrigued but had some concerns. “We had originally thought the town was too congested, especially coming from the more pastoral setting of our cottage,” he says. “But we were impressed with the renovation, which had been done with painstaking care and provided a remarkable combination of privacy and open space. We also fell in love with the gardens, which were beautiful.”

A traditional Nantucket summer home with gray shingles and white trim, a large front porch and lots of windows, Harbor Watch was built in 1920 as a B&B and renovated in 2003 with electrical and plumbing updates, the addition of more windows and full renovations of all bathrooms and two kitchens. The Nantucket style remains intact, down to quaint slanting floors, rope trim and warm mahogany countertops.

Inside, the décor is light and airy, with an ambience of casual comfort that bridges several seasons. “Many of the fabrics and colors were selected with guidance from Sarah Weaver, an interior designer out of Darien. Much of the artwork is either sentimental or nautical, including a ‘Scenes of Nantucket’ mural in the dining room, which, if you look closely, has our three boys fishing off a dock, and their ages as sail numbers on the rainbow fleet,” explains Caroline.

Other family favorites include a large sailboat, a carved whale from a local artisan and a replica of an antique whaling harpoon. Because the house has lots of bedrooms (each with its own bath), identifying rooms for guests had become a challenge. Caroline says, “We had fun coming up with quarter boards, which top each door frame — all names of places in Nantucket that match the style of the rooms.”

For the Yenors, Nantucket is a retreat with few outside distractions. Caroline says, “In contrast to the flowcharts of school events and sporting activities with our three boys, our life on Nantucket remains fairly unstructured; we all have a love of the water, whether it’s spending hours playing in the surf, water-skiing, walking on the beach, inner-tubing off the back of the boat, sailing or trying newly discovered surfboarding.”

In the off-season, they have created new traditions at Thanksgiving and Easter, which include frostbite sailing and swimming, golfing and, Jon adds, “great meals at restaurants that are hard to get into in high season.”

Caroline sums it up: “Our life on Nantucket is just simpler. There is no computer, and a lot of time is spent hanging out. For us, it is a chance to slow down and for our children to spend quality time with extended family. The family traditions keep mounting — we were married in the ’Sconset Chapel, where my father is now buried. We all treasure the memories made here, many of which are being reenacted with the next generation.”

Looking toward the future, Jon says, “It is a house that will work very nicely for returning family members as our children grow and have families of their own.”

rugged luxury

Bettina Routh has long been a lover of the lake holiday, having grown up vacationing on a lake in northern Wisconsin; husband John is also a longtime fan of lakes and mountains.

It came as no surprise when after a vacation at Canaras, St. Lawrence University’s alumni camp on Upper Saranac Lake in 1992, the Routh family, which now includes Max, eighteen, Annaliesa, sixteen, Caroline, fourteen and dog Hudson, began spending summers in the Adirondacks. Over the years, they rented various houses on Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and “learned to love each of the lakes for their own special qualities.”

In time, they decided to invest in their own lakefront home, a place to swim, tube, water-ski, explore nature, hike, climb, ski and snowmobile — and generally take advantage of the clean mountain air and the picturesque vistas.

John, a Greenwich-based builder with River Rock Associates, and Bettina, founder of Bettina Routh, an interior design and architectural planning firm, felt confident they could build a wonderful camp should the right piece of land come along.

And it did. They snapped up twenty acres on nearby Tupper Lake and in the fall of 2001 their camp, Forest Ledge, was completed on a wooded tract where a small 1940s log cabin still stands. Bettina jokes, “We’ve kept the old log cabin and dream about fixing it up when our kids have grown and we need our own private getaway from the grandchildren.”

The design was inspired by the best old camps, built between 1880 and 1930, during the Gilded Age of the Adirondacks. The exterior showcases the classic Adirondack style, with bark-edged siding and doors, windows, deck railings and exterior stairs trimmed in bark-covered cedar.

Inside the 8,000-square-foot house, the Great Room, an impressive post-and-beam affair with a twenty-foot ceiling, serves as the main living and dining space, flanked by two large stone fireplaces. Inspired by Ralph Lauren design, the rugged room sports an eclectic mix of oriental rugs, iron chandeliers and imposing trophy heads. Bettina’s favorite pieces are a 1932 Old Towne Canoe perched atop the rafters, and the dining table, built by John himself. “The table has been center-stage for many wonderful meals and crazy games on holidays and special summer nights,” Bettina says.

While the camp is available throughout the year for rent, the goal was to build a house to share with family and friends, in all seasons, and create lasting traditions. To preserve the lodge feeling, every room is clad in wide-plank pine boards, which are whitewashed in the bedrooms to provide a lighter, Swedish feel.

The house sleeps sixteen, with four bedrooms and a fun bunkroom with six built-in bunks and large play area that "has seen many knee hockey games, dramatic performances and poker games late into the night,” quips John.

French doors lead from the kitchen onto a large screen porch, the family’s summer living room and an Adirondacks must. “Everyone loves to hang out there; it’s a perfect place for an afternoon nap,” says John.

Overall, the interior design is eclectic. “I like to have some Adirondack style mixed with a more European mountain style that you might find in Bavaria,” explains Bettina. “I like to stay away from too many predictable log-style pieces that you find in so many of the homes up here. It just becomes a bit overdone.”

Bettina notes, “Everyone who spends time at Forest Ledge loves the house for its comfort and fun, Adirondack style, but what is so much more important is what it gives our family and friends — a very special atmosphere where everyone can relax, turn off their cellphones and computers [no cell service or Internet!] and do the kinds of things we never have time for in our frenzied lives in Greenwich.”

mountain majesty

Cathy and Jeff Dishner first visited Jackson Hole on a month-long camping trip through the West after graduating from business school in 1993. Ten years later, they would stake their claim on their own family homestead. Recalls Cathy, “We absolutely fell in love with Jackson.

We liked the true cowboy spirit of the town, the low-key attitude and the stunning beauty of the Teton mountain range. It resonated with us beyond the other places we visited, and we planned to make a point of going back.”

After they had their children, Katie, now twelve, and Jackie, ten, the family started spending summers there and, soon, the winters, as the girls learned to ski. After a two-year search of homes on ranches and private golf courses, in 2003 Jeff zeroed in on Rendezvous Homestead, a spacious, timber-style house with a separate guest cabin, a departure from the family’s 250-year-old Old Greenwich home.

“In the end,” Jeff says, “We felt this location offered the best compromise, because it is very private but is part of a larger association, the John Dodge Homestead, with other homes spread through a specified parcel.”

Initially, the Dishners worried that it would be an inconvenience to get to Jackson, as there are no direct flights. But in the end, Cathy says, “We have learned that it is well worth the effort! Part of the appeal is how different the world of Jackson Hole is from that of Greenwich, not only the landscape, but the prevailing casual attitude and active lifestyle — a fleece and jeans will take you anywhere!”

The rustic home is located on the edge of the action, just three minutes from Teton Village, the main ski area, ten minutes from Grand Teton National Park and about fifteen minutes from downtown, where there are plenty of shops, restaurants and entertainment.

But for the Dishners, “Every day is about getting outdoors and having fun,” says Cathy. “White-water rafting, kayaking down the Snake River, hiking a new trail in the Grand Teton National Park, fly- fishing, camping overnight in the wilderness, seeing bear and moose and bison ... you name it, we do it! Every year we try to add something new to the list.”

It took craftsmen more than three months to sculpt each of the hand-hewn beams that run through the house, which sits on three picturesque acres. The property is dotted with stocked trout ponds that keep the eagles, osprey and the aspiring fly- fisherwomen in the family busy. A floor-to-ceiling glass wall in the Great Room frames the mountain range in all its splendor. The décor is comfortable and Western, with a moose head over the fireplace and cowhide rugs, fur throws, overstuffed leather chairs and rustic furniture. The bedrooms give a nod to the Dishners’ penchant for the playful: The girls sleep in the Cowgirl room where “cowgirls rule!”; there is a trout/fly-fishing room, a wildlife room and the master has a Native American theme.

Clearly, Rendezvous Homestead is designed for entertaining. The kitchen is stocked with every modern convenience, but maintains a rustic feel with burnished alder cabinetry and a massive stone fireplace that opens into the Great Room. Kids of all ages enjoy the media room, featuring a large TV and specially crafted timber foosball and shuffleboard tables. But perhaps the family’s most beloved feature is their collection of bronze wildlife sculptures by several famed local artists, most notably George Northup, and artwork depicting the animals and scenery of the West.

Arriving with an entourage of several families, the Dishners’ ski trips are enhanced by après-ski antics. “We have hired teachers to give two-step lessons to our group in a friend’s basement, we have joined the ski instructors, who are now close friends, for evenings out in town, and we always have a crowd gathered around our dining table — there is always a gang among us,” says Jeff. Cathy adds, “No matter what the occasion or season, we have reconnected with dear friends. All have come to the house with their families, bonded with our crew and created shared memories. We’ve mixed these groups and introduced new friendships that have endured, enriching our lives in so many ways.”