Tour a Custom Home on Smith Mountain Lake
He was born in the land of a thousand lakes, but he chose the one with mountain views.
Minnesota native Dennis Mischel and his wife Gayle have lived in North Dakota, California and Washington D.C., but Gayle admits, “I’ve never lived in a place as welcoming as Smith Mountain Lake.”
And this year, all settled in to their new life, the Mischels are returning the favor as they take part in a major community event—the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour.
From the Pentagon to the Blue Ridge
The Mischels left the Washington, D.C. area in 2014 when Gayle retired from a career in corporate insurance and private consulting, and Dennis retired from his work as a mechanical engineer with the Pentagon.
Prior to retirement, the Mischels spent time investigating different locations in order to find their ideal community.
“I wanted somewhere warm year-round; he wanted a lake,” Gayle explains. Since they knew they wanted to be on the water, they began looking at lakes here on the East Coast because both of their grown children, along with their families, lived on the East Coast at that time. The Mischels had never heard of Smith Mountain Lake until one of Dennis’ co-workers at the Pentagon suggested they explore this area. “It took us three times of getting lost before we finally found the place,” Gayle admitted, but the journey was clearly worth it.
“This is an active community and it’s like a small town—it’s what we were looking for. We just fell in love with it,” Gayle gushed.
Once they agreed on Smith Mountain Lake, they began weekend trips to explore the various neighborhoods and find a new home. The Mischels enjoy the amenities and convenience that the Westlake area offers and hired Peggy Hodges from Wainwright Realtors to help them with their home search.
After seeing over 30 homes and finding nothing that met their requirements (including a four-car garage, an open floor plan and a view), Hodges told the Mischels they’d need to build.
“My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘Okay, well, then find us a lot!’” Gayle remembers. “We were actually looking at another lot in this area and we came down this street, turned around this cul-de-sac, and this lot was for sale.”
A Back Lake
When arriving at the Mischels’ home, visitors can expect to see water, lots of water—the first impression upon driving up to the house is that there’s a back lake instead of a backyard. There is a yard out there (but you just can’t see it).
“I wanted the house to be like you’re on a large bluff overlooking the water, so one of my criteria when we built the house was you don’t see anything but water when you walk through the front and on the main level. I think our architect did a wonderful job in designing that.”
As you walk through the foyer, you notice instantly that the Mischels achieved the wide, open-concept plan they were longing for thanks to Dennis Cooper (Cooper Contractors in Hardy) and architect Eric Buck (Comprehensive Home Design). The rows of windows that span the back wall of the living room, dining area and keeping room showcase the one-of-a-kind lake and mountain views that the Mischels’ frontage (over 100 feet) offers.
The views above are equally impressive: Gayle chose to use various ceiling designs to help define the different living spaces within her open-concept floor plan. For instance, the tray ceiling shares the same shape and dimensions of the island in the gourmet kitchen whereas the keeping room features an octagonal ceiling.
The living room is the first gathering area past the foyer, whose fireplace commands attention as its rock façade reaches up to the full height of the cathedral ceiling. Matching built-in bookcases flank the fireplace, containing a pristine display of beloved items, such as a ceramic coffee urn Gayle’s mother gave her on her 18th birthday to mark her entrance into adulthood.
When you have an open floor plan, you want a sense of cohesion with your décor and furnishings. To achieve this, the Mischels first used the same paint color throughout the home (Benjamin Moore Shaker Beige). They also opted to repeat the look of the rock fireplace in the kitchen backsplash, which helps to create contrast and texture in an otherwise sleek space. Custom cabinetry by Montgomery Woodworkers incorporates shades of ebony, chestnut and auburn into a custom color; the eight-inch hardwood planks contain the same custom color because Gayle wanted the grain to match. The Mischels chose to have a casual dining area instead of a formal dining room, where even if you aren’t facing the water directly, you still enjoy the same vistas as captured in the stained glass piece by Shelly LaTreill that replicates the view from the deck.
Lake living often seems to be all about the lake itself; it’s equally about being there with family and creating memories beside the watery backdrop.
“We built it for our kids and three grandkids and I wanted a lot of space so the little ones can run around,” explains Gayle.
The Mischels’ son and his family recently moved out to California while their daughter and her family live in Virginia.
With family in mind, Dennis and Gayle purposely separated the sleeping quarters from the gathering spaces. They also elected to add an ensuite bathroom to each bedroom for additional privacy.
A hallway beside the kitchen displays oversized metal plates as well as a cutting board with Norwegian rosemaling, a nod to Gayle’s heritage. The hall leads to a closet-turned-office for Gayle, a guest bedroom, a drop zone, and ultimately to the master suite. With lakefront views and a cozy reading area, the room calls for relaxation.
Places to Play
Still, when the family comes to visit, the Mischels spend most of their time downstairs or out on the dock. Outfitted with a pool table, card table and flat screen TV, the downstairs den provides plenty of spaces for entertainment. There’s another fireplace to cozy up to, framed by Gayle’s cherished Norwegian spinning wheel and tine box. Tucked behind the family room is the children’s playroom that houses toys, video games and a sleeper sofa. This room and another guest room share a spin on a Jack and Jill bathroom (a children’s side, a parent’s side and a shower in between).
Behind the den is Dennis’ office—a man cave with a waterfront view—and an indoor sauna. “Dennis really wanted one of these—coming from Minnesota, he likes anything that’s warm!” Gayle joked. Dennis explains that it’s not just the warmth—his father always chose to stay in hotels with saunas, and he has fond memories of traveling with his dad and enjoying the saunas with him. “Plus, yes, it’s warm and relaxing,” he agrees.
A tile path leads from the outside door to the half bath all the way to a mini-fridge stocked with beverages and to the outside perimeter of the family room—this is a sign of careful planning.
“When they come in from the dock, they’re wet and they stand here and drip and then they go back out again,” Gayle says. The tilework makes cleanup a breeze.
The outside door leads out to the Mischels’ dock. They have everything they need for maximum enjoyment of the lake: a kayak, Jet Ski, pontoon boat and wakeboard. The dock also has a storage room with a tile counter and a remote-controlled shade that helps keep the pontoon clean and covered; it also provides an extra level of privacy.
Whether at home with family or out in town, the Mischels simply love where they live, and they are committed to supporting their community. “When we moved here, we were not aware of the large number of people who were in need,” Gayle admits.
As a way to give back, the Mischels chose to open the doors to their home for the upcoming SML Charity Home Tour this October. “This is the largest community fundraiser for a charitable giving on the lake, so if we can give back and can help people who are in need by just opening our front door, that’s what we’ll do.”
The 2017 Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour
For the past 27 years, the volunteer-driven Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour has helped charities that provide services to those in need around the Lake area. People travel by boat, car or shuttle to tour eight different homes; eight charities split the majority of the proceeds generated from the tour’s ticket sales.
DebraLee Hovey, publications director for the tour, explains that organizations undergo a rigorous, competitive process in order to be one of the participating charities. In addition to their mission statements lining up with that of the home tour, the charities must also commit to raising $5,000 themselves and providing all of the volunteers for the tour. “Most of these charities would have not have access to this kind of funding—it’s vital to their programming,” Hovey adds.
Likewise, the SML Home Tour Board strives to find different properties each year that will spark public interest. In addition to contractors, builders and architects suggesting homes with unique or compelling designs, the Board welcomes recommendations for future tours since being on the tour is a one-time-only experience.
Hovey points out that the tour not only hopes to support the charities involved but also the economic vitality of the region.
“A lot of the Lake goes [the] Lynchburg way,” she says.
“We go to your restaurants, your shops—my dentist is actually in Lynchburg!” she laughs.
The 2017 SML Charity Home Tour will take place rain or shine on Columbus Day weekend (October 6th- 8th). Tickets are good for all three days (no refunds). For more information, visit www.smlcharityhometour.com
Photography by Michael Patch