Overlooking Sunday River, this long-and-low ski home can sleep 18 and entertain twice as many
The first bite of chocolate-banana crumb cake melts in my mouth. It’s freshly baked and served on a little white plate painted with a pair of skis. I wash down that soft, crunchy, sweet, and salty morsel with a swig of black coffee. The mug matches the plate, and both items look perfectly at home sitting on the granite countertop swirled with amber quartz and peppered with black flecks. For a moment, I feel like I’ve stepped into Ina Garten’s impossibly impeccable life, where everything matches yet feels effortlessly casual. But Garten can only take credit for the recipe. She had nothing to do with the elegant countertops, the thematic tableware, or the sunflowers that tilt in their vase, catching the autumn light as it shines over Mount Will.
“I have all of [Garten’s] books, and you can’t go wrong with her recipes,” says Laura Harding. We’re in Harding’s kitchen at Sunday River, and I’m receiving an impromptu lesson in hosting from her and her husband, Joe. For much of the year, the Hardings live in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where Joe runs a scrap metal business. But whenever they can, they escape to their home-away-from-home at Sunday River. Built in 2011 by Bruce Lilly of Clearwater Builders, this isn’t a cozy little A-frame cottage, but rather a long and low house designed for hosting large groups. It’s a celebratory space, and it’s been fully outfitted to make entertaining as easy as possible.
When they first started using the Sunday River home, Laura and Joe had two children in high school, Jameson and Julia, and Jameson would often bring over his friends from Gould Academy. Sometimes his friends would live at the Hardings’ house during winter break. “For a lot of the kids, even if their parents had condos up here, their parents had to work during the week,” Joe says. “So during ski camp, my wife would end up hosting eight to ten boys, and by the end of the week she was pretty tired.” Fortunately, the vacation home was cleverly designed to keep a group of raucous teenagers comfortable (there’s a bunk room downstairs with USB ports built into each of the eight beds) but also entertained. With an in- door gym, a home theater, and an outdoor hot tub and a gas-powered fireplace, there’s always something to do, even when the weather’s too bad for skiing.
The house is deceptively large, particularly if you approach from the driveway. It looks like one long ranch, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The upper level has the owners’ suite on one side, then the open-concept living room, dining room, and kitchen area, and finally the two kids’ bedrooms on the other side of the house. There’s also a spacious garage, where Joe built a ski-tuning table. The space is surrounded by wall decals of Jameson and Julia tearing up the slopes. “If we have adults visiting, we’ll sometimes kick the kids downstairs,” says Joe about making the upper quarters of the house the “adult” area and the downstairs the “kids’ space.” It’s a neat feature, particularly since there’s not a bad room in the house. The house is built on a hill, so the lower level doesn’t feel cramped or basement-like. You can walk right out of the bunkroom and onto the deck, hop into the hot tub, and wave to the folks hanging out on the first-floor balcony above. When you’re done, you can go wash off in the huge basement bathroom, which was carefully situated to allow post-soaking showers with minimal disturbance. “We didn’t want the kids walking through the house dripping wet,” says Joe. “When we’re up here, we basically eat, ski, hot tub, repeat.”
Of course, someone has to cook the hearty, comforting food that sustains a gaggle of teens as they run from ski slope to hot tub and back. Laura is typically the chef in the family, and judging by her banana cake she’s good at her job. “We wanted the kitchen to be the hub of the house,” she says. “When we went to Bruce [Lilly], we said we wanted three bed- rooms upstairs, and the kitchen to feel like the center of everything.” In the middle of the kitchen is a five-by-eight-foot granite island made of one slab of copper-colored stone from Boston Granite. “We didn’t want any appliances on here to clutter it up,” says Laura. “But I really wanted a large refrigerator and a double dishwasher. Fortunately, they were able to fit everything in.” There’s also a double oven so Laura can cook big Thanks- giving feasts for their extended family.
For six years, the couple was entertaining “all the time,” says Joe, but things have calmed down now that Jameson is in college in Colorado and Julia is focused on applying to schools. They still host big parties during the holiday season—New Year’s Eve at Sunday River is a blast, says Joe—but for the most part, they come up to the house on Mount Will to hike in the summer, ski in the winter, and enjoy the hot tub year-round. “We bought this piece of land because of the view,” Joe says. They have six acres of land, which means that even when the area is developed further (as it most likely will be) the Hardings will still have plenty of privacy. They also enjoy being close to conservation land. The house is located just a short walk away from the peak of Mount Will. “Once you get up to the top, you can hike down the trail and back up,” Joe says. “We’ll take the dogs with us—they love it—and hike to the bottom and back up.” Laura adds, “Some- times, we’ll pass people twice, and they’ll wonder how we got there. ‘We started from the top,’ we’ll say. They’re like, ‘How?’”
While family life keeps the Hardings busy and occupied, it’s not too hard for the Hardings to find peace and quiet out here. Sometimes, on snowy days, Joe likes to start his morning by skinning up the mountain. He straps on his skis, attaches climbing skins to the bottoms so that they don’t slide, then climbs to the top of Sunday River’s peaks and skis back down. “I like to get there early and watch the sun come up,” he says. “It’s ten degrees out, and you’re sweating bullets. You get your workout out of the way, and you get first tracks. It’s cold, and you’ve just worked hard, and you see the sun rise. And you feel great.”