Most people in Alabama would call September football season. I am an avid college football fan, but I split my interest this time of year between football and building lake homes. Late summer and fall are the ideal times for both. I realize most people think that fall through winter is the “off season” for Lake Martin, but if you want to enjoy the next boating season from your own lake house and pier, you better be under way now or breaking ground soon.
My transformation to lake home design
For those who are relatively new to lake home designs, the next sentence is going to sound a bit weird: When approaching your lake home in your automobile, the first thing you see is your back door; when approaching your lake home from the boat, the first thing you see is your front door.
Prior to coming to work with Russell Lands, I was a homebuilder and a broker. Occasionally, I built homes along a golf course, and those were the rare projects during which the designer actually was encouraged to make the back of the house pretty. (After all, people on the course who were looking might purchase the homes). Usually, that design shift amounted to more windows, a small covered porch and French doors in lieu of the slider unit.
I quickly found out that my prior design process was not going to cut the mustard at Lake Martin. I had to change my thought process as it relates to waterfront home design if I wanted to succeed. I started by telling myself that the front door is the back door. This may not sound like that big of a deal, but for me, it has been a real game changer to residential design.
Working with architects and home designers
I am a believer in hiring someone with a proven track record for designing lake homes. Over the years, I have met and developed relationships with architects and certified building designers. While the two titles mean different things related to education and certification, I have found talented individuals who have one or the other professional designations.
Whatever the designation a designer possesses, the desired traits that produce beautiful and functional design include their willingness to ask questions about how the property will be used and their extensive experience designing lake homes. Most architects and designers have a learning curve with lake design, just like I did.
As an aid to anyone who owns a waterfront home site on Lake Martin or is considering purchasing one and building a custom lake home, I have compiled a starter list of ‘dos and don’ts’ that have guided me over the last 15-plus years.
- Consider the land topo first. Does the lot require a basement design or would a crawlspace/slab design work?
- Determine the ideal view from the house and the pier location.
- Select an architect or designer and a builder that has Lake Martin experience.
- Ask the developer or real estate agent for design guidelines/covenants.
- Ask for a design that creates a lake view for as many rooms as possible.
- Give public rooms (dining, living, kitchen, etc.) the best lake views. Guests will sleep – and only sleep – in secondary bedrooms.
- Opt for more, larger windows. Sills need to start at floor level in the family room, and the top of windows should be at least 7 feet to allow for a big water view.nMove the dining room to the lake side of the house in a more casual orientation relative to the kitchen.
- Give the master bedroom great views, and size this room to accommodate a king size bed.
- Design bathrooms with more showers and fewer tubs.
- Design extra pantry and extra linen storage.
- Make living room, kitchen and dining spaces large and open for ‘together’ time when family and friends will gather.
- Maximize outdoor living space – include outdoor dining and grilling stations.
- Provide plenty of covered outdoor living space.
- Plan a path from the house to the waterfront – consider lake toy storage room location.
- Check permitting requirements with Alabama Power’s Shoreline Management Office for any new seawall, pier or dredging prior to starting the design work.
- Don’t pick a home plan off the internet or out of a plan book and then choose a waterfront lot. Let the land dictate the plan. Very few home plans on the internet or in plan books are designed for lake living.
- Don’t force a one-level home on a lot that is ideal for a walkout basement design. You will have too many stairs and expensive grading and foundation costs.
- Don’t design a lakeside porch that is fewer than 10 feet deep as the primary outdoor living area. You will spend most of your lake time in this space, so make it accommodating.
- Don’t separate the kitchen from lake views or the family room. You come to the lake to have fun with family and friends; meal preparation time is together time, too.
- Don’t put the fireplace on the lakeside wall. You will be blocking the view with something that won’t be used much of the time.
- Don’t limit storage space.
- Don’t put large closets in most bedrooms for weekend homes. You won’t be wearing a suit or a ball gown very often at Lake Martin.
- Don’t assume you can do whatever you want on the waterfront. Check covenants by calling the Alabama Power Company Shoreline Management Office at 256-825-0053.
The above lists are not exhaustive; nor are they relevant to every situation. A local real estate pro likely has a list of go-to people like I do. Ask them and other professionals for recommendations, and before you hire them, ask for and check references. Then, you can enjoy building your dream lake home.
Steve Arnberg is vice president of real estate sales for Russell Lands. In that role, he serves as company broker for Russell Lands On Lake Martin Raal Estate, LLC, and Lake Martin Realty, LLC. He also is involved in all of Russell Lands’ development activities and architectural reviews. He has served in these roles since 2003.