An Old Boathouse Receives a Refreshing Transformation

Interior designer Thom Filicia gives these homeowners their dream home.
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The main house looms large above the new, diminutive boathouse at water’s edge below. Photography by Amy Lamb

While growing up outside Syracuse, in upstate New York, interior designer Thom Filicia fell in love with nearby Skaneateles Lake, one of the state’s 11 Finger Lakes. (Stick with “skinny atlas,” and you’ll be close enough to the pronunciation.) Long a summer travel destination, it’s the second cleanest lake in the United States. Skaneateles Lake’s beauty has not been lost on those who live and have lived on the lake, including one of the Roosevelts who wasn’t president.

Filicia, who is now more famous than some of his high-profile clients, eventually bought a “campsite” on the lake and transformed it. “I like things that feel both timeless and timely,” he says, summing up his signature style. His lakeside makeover is even the subject of one of his books, American Beauty: Renovating and Decorating a Beloved Retreat (Potter Style).


As with most lake communities and small towns, news travels fast, especially among year-rounders. One of the Skaneateles locals, named Mac, grew up in a small farming community at the south end of the lake and used to go fishing here with his dad.

“I had heard of Thom Filicia, of course,” he recounts, revealing the tale of how he got to know the decorator. “My family used to watch him on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. My wife, Rochelle, who was then my fiancée, started asking around, and some mutual friends introduced us. We met him, hit it off, and have been friends ever since.”

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Tucked into a dormer on the upper floor, the custom “queen-size daybed” is perfect for an afternoon nap after a day of boating.  Photography by Amy Lamb

When Mac and Rochelle got married, in 2014, “A friend tipped me off that a lake property was for sale, and as soon as I saw it, I knew it would be ours,” he continues. Mac and Rochelle enlisted the help of Filicia and architect Leif Kallquist to build their dream home overlooking the lake.

The project also, fortuitously, allowed for a boathouse. “Everything on the lake is done in a boat,” Filicia says, “from visiting your friends to going out to eat and doing your grocery shopping.” His concept for the couple was simple. There’s a “garage” for the family boat and a storage and maintenance room beside it, plus ample decking. Inside, up a spiral staircase, lies an open space with all the eccentric angles one might expect from an attic.

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The family goes for a spin on the lake. Photography by Amy Lamb

At one end of the longer axis is a sitting room, which mirrors a dining area with a wet bar. A dormer, anchored by an ample daybed from Filicia’s line for Vanguard Furniture, sits in the center. The walls and ceilings (which can be hard to distinguish) are all clad in a custom tongue-and-groove paneling. To make sure the wood could be installed perfectly, every shape in the common spaces was drawn in precise detail.

“The goal was to make the structure seem like an old boathouse that’s been refreshed, but not radically over- done or too specific,” says Filicia, adding that “it doesn’t have recessed lighting or track lighting,” but rather table lamps, hanging pendants, and a floor lamp that provide light “the old-fashioned way. To me, it’s like the ultimate summer fort. It’s playful, so the kids like it, but it’s also playful in a way that makes adults like it, too. They use the space like a pool house, only it’s next to a lake instead of a pool.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Water Body.
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