Designers reimagine New England ski house decor to create a modern ‘man cave’ up north

Josh E. Linder and Thomas Henry Egan III liken reaching Rangeley, Maine, to a trek to the North Pole. The designers, principals of Boston-based Evolve Residential, drove up in Linder’s hybrid right before the pandemic to install the finishing touches on a client’s new home. “It was a long, slow ascent up a mountain on black ice with fresh powder on top,” Linder said. “We didn’t see any other cars, just a tractor carrying logs barreling at us.”

a living room filled with furniture and a fireplace: evolve-residential-rangeley-maine-mudroom

© Sean Litchfield

It turns out there is a less precarious route; reassuring given the region gets an annual snowfall of 200-plus inches. Linder and Egan’s clients, a Cambridge family of five, purchased the four-bedroom home last year, primarily to take advantage of the snowmobiling trails that crisscross the area, which also boasts a series of lakes. “The views are showstopping,” Egan said. “There are towering pines, and everything is covered in snow.”

The house, however, was nothing special. Although nestled in the trees on a hill, the structure itself was essentially charmless. “It was a 1980s developer house in the most pristine natural setting,” Linder said. The first step was to remove the unsightly pressure-treated wood deck, which wrapped from front to back. To replace it, Egan designed a wide, covered front porch inspired by the Adirondack-style cottages that dot the area. “It needed a defining architectural feature,” he explained. “Now it looks homey and warm.”

The revamped façade, now stylish and welcoming, set the tone for the interior scheme. While the whole family convenes here from time to time, the husband, teenage sons, and their friends visit most often. The directive was that the rooms feel relaxed. The décor was not to echo that of the stylish summer home the firm designed for the family on Massachusetts’ South Coast. “We had to reinvent the concept of a ‘man cave,’ ” Egan said.

The question became how to infuse their signature vibrancy into spaces that felt laid back and approachable. “It had to be tamer overall — less colorful and not too primped,” Linder said. The solution was to embrace the color blue and lean into natural materials, including fir, birch, leather, and jute. “Navy can go in many directions, but at the end of the day, it’s a masculine color,” Egan said. “The house had to be comfortable for men from the moment they entered.”

Knowing everyone would enter from the side door, the designers turned the mudroom area into a cozy place to hang out. Two George Smith chairs that came from the wife’s parents are at the ready in front of a cast-iron wood stove against a new stacked-granite wall. The storage — baskets and hooks and a live-edge wood bench — happens behind them. “You can relax on the chairs while you warm your feet; it’s not just a repository for wet clothing and shoes,” Egan said.

In addition to dressing up the space with local stone and woodwork painted Benjamin Moore’s “Hale Navy,” the designers added whitewashed fir boards to the ceiling. It’s a subtle nod to the wood paneling often found in ski homes, done in a more modern manner. Ditto for the wide pine floorboards that run throughout, which they transformed with gray-tinged bleach.

Two wide doorways lead into the great room, which is light and bright despite the preponderance of blue plaids and weathered wood. White shiplap adds interest to the walls, and the kitchen cabinetry has a bleached-oak finish. The effect is reminiscent of the light-blue cast of the snow on a sunny day, ensuring that the family feels just as comfortable spending time here in the summer as they do in the winter.

Tweedy wingback chairs in the seating area, also inherited from the wife’s parents, balance the steampunk-style coil stools in the kitchen. The classic forms help the designers skew more traditional than they otherwise might have and also infuse some age. “Handed-down pieces dilute the newness and make the spaces feel more evolved,” Linder said.

The gang kicks back on a deep sectional in the television room, where the walls are covered in paper printed with schools of funny-faced fish; an ode to ice fishing on Rangeley Lake. The dark and cozy space boasts rustic and industrial-flavored furnishings mixed with geometric patterns that leave little doubt designers were here. “The wife wanted the décor to feel like her, so we needed to counter the more casual aspects,” Linder said.

The couple’s bedroom has a mountains-meet-the-Hamptons vibe. A whitewashed-fir feature wall accentuates the peaked ceiling, and the navy powder-coated metal canopy bed is a stark contrast to the textured seagrass rug and abaca rope-wrapped night stands. The wall treatment carries into the bath, where it’s punctuated by glossy, turned-wood sconces from maker Dunes & Duchess. “I wanted to mimic the experience of a sun-bleached winter scene,” Linder said.

While the designers turned ski house motifs on their heads through most of the house, they offered a great big taste of Maine in the bunk room: two sets of rustic log bunk beds. In the adjacent game room, a spiky antler light fixture is Elks Club chic, and the sheepskin-covered oak armchair and ottoman are downright irresistible. Flame stitch-patterned grasscloth wallcovering ratchets up the funk; even the sand-colored sofa and preppy striped rug can’t tame it. The designers also sneak it down the back stairwell, where a birch-branch handrail transmits a fresh New England feel.

“We promised the husband we weren’t going to do too much, crossing our fingers behind our backs the whole time,” Egan said and laughed. “It’s the seventh time we’ve worked together, so he knows what happens when they hire us!”

Marni Elyse Katz blogs about design at Send comments to [email protected]. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at

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