Two longtime Sugarloafers design a rustic yet contemporary getaway for entertaining, future grandchildren, and two sweet Great Danes.
Peter Kohler fondly remembers the winter weekends of his childhood, days of floury snow and thrilling speed. His family started visiting Sugarloaf in the early 1960s, back when T-bar lifts dominated and brown-bag lunches were standard. His family’s accommodations were similarly bare-bones. “We didn’t have our own place at first, so we would go up and stay with our cousins,” he says. “It was a two-bedroom, one-bath camp with a loft. And there were four adults and nine kids in that camp—we just piled into that loft like sardines.” It was cramped, but it was also cozy. “I’ve been back as an adult, and it amazes me how two full families grew up in this little place on the weekends,” he says. “I have no idea how my parents did it.”
Peter continued visiting the Carrabassett Valley ski resort throughout high school and college. In later years, his training to be an eye surgeon took him to Vermont and then Kansas City, but he never forgot the mountain of his childhood. He eventually settled in Belgrade, and in 2015, over 50 years after he first sprayed powder on the winding trails, he decided to create his own ideal vacation home at the base of Sugarloaf.
When I arrive at the contemporary cabin, located a short drive from the mountain on Forest Lane, the first thing Peter does is offer to make one of his signature cocktails. His wife, Kayla, is putting a tray of chocolate chip cookies into the oven, and although I haven’t planned on drinking, I decide it can’t hurt to taste. While Kayla works in the kitchen, Peter begins mixing his Loaf House Manhattan (with a sprig of spruce and a splash of Kohler’s secret ingredient) and I take a seat at the kitchen island (which glows slightly in the dusk, lit from below with LED landscaping lights).
This, I quickly learn, is exactly how the couple prefers to entertain. They let their guests hang loose and chat while they go to work in the kitchen (her) or at the bar (him). “We designed everything together, pretty much from scratch,” Peter says as he shakes and pours. “After using it for a season, we already know that we wouldn’t change a single thing. It’s just perfect for us.”
Unlike the cabins of his youth, this two- story house is built primarily for adult entertaining and enjoyment. (It does feature a small loft over the living room, should a surplus of grandkids show up someday.) “We designed an open-concept floor plan and gave it to our builder, Merv Wilson,” says Peter. “The two of us knew in our minds how we wanted the house to flow, and he brought in his engineering expertise to make sure it would work in 3D.” Since they both love to have guests over for dinner parties—Kayla has started a popular Supper Club series at Sugarloaf—they created a large kitchen with a six-burner stove, two ovens, and a long granite-topped island that gives Kayla space to work (and her company space to relax, drink, and observe the progress happening in the kitchen).
An abnormally large walk-in pantry— complete with a refrigerator, microwave, and countertop space—gives Kayla plenty of room to do prep work (plus the option to close the pantry doors and hide any cooking mess from her guests). Kayla says they were hoping the island bar would allow guests to “sit at the bar, watch me cook and talk, but not get in the way,” she says. She rolls up her sleeves, pulls the fresh-baked cookies out of the oven, and laughs. “It doesn’t always work that way,” the semi-professional chef and part-time caterer admits. “People always end up in the kitchen. It’s where most people like to be.”
While the kitchen is the undisputed heart of the home, the living and dining rooms are also mighty inviting. Long, low-slung couches provide seating during cocktail hour or after supper club has adjourned. The plush sofas are centered around a custom-built fireplace, which is made from local stone and features a mosaic of the snow-capped mountain based on a drawing by Peter’s son, Ryan Kohler, who works as an oil painter in Skowhegan. Nearby, a live- edge, 14-foot-long dining table occupies
a place of honor near the windows. (The living area, kitchen, dining room, and owners’ suite are located on the second floor, which optimizes views of the nearby mountain.) “I built that great big table from one single piece of pine,” Peter says. “She can cook these amazing nine-course meals, which last three hours, and everyone has space at that table.” Kayla blushes slightly when her husband sings the praises of her cooking (particularly her peel-and-eat garlic lemon shrimp), but she too adores the rustic setup. “That’s my favorite part of the whole house—that table,” she says. “We always want to have space for family and friends to eat with us. Always.”
While most of their parties take place upstairs—and occasionally end on the second-story covered deck, which boasts a cedar-sided hot tub—the first story was also designed with guests in mind. “The goal was to have our kids coming, and someday, they can bring their kids up,” says Peter. “And so we made the lower level a two-bedroom apartment with a bath and kitchenette with a sink, stove, and refrigerator.” There’s also a game room for days when the cold winds of the Carrabassett Valley get too bitter for young skiers to brave.
In addition to designing for future grandkids, the couple made space in their floor plans to accommodate their two Great Danes. After ascending the stairs to the Kohlers’ main living area, I was greeted by two large velvet-snouted heads peeking over a half-door. Margarita and Reggie are eager to say hello, but after they’ve welcomed me into their mountain hangout, they retreat to their bed. “I know it’s kind of unique to have a bedroom just for our dogs, but we love them,” says Peter. The dogs’ room is a rather quirky detail, but not only does it keep the pups out of the way during parties, it also fits with this couple’s relaxed lifestyle. There is space in the house for everyone—adult, child, and canine. “We like having a crowd around,” says Peter. “And when people come to visit, they often say, ‘We think this is the best place at Sugarloaf.’ I like to think that’s true.”