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The Lure of the Lake

An Idaho family takes waterfront living to a new level of rustic comfort with a dreamy (and deluxe) tent encampment



Lynn Newhart and her husband Scott have the good fortune to live on a spectacular site: Their large ranch property is perched high on a cliff, affording them breathtaking views of multiple mountain ranges and pristine Lake Pend Oreille. But come summer, they’re drawn down the road to their intimate and unusual lakeside retreat. Inspired by equal parts childhood fantasy—“I always wanted to be an Indian princess,” Newhart confesses—and high-end hotel, it’s a magical place where they gather with friends and family to enjoy the simple pleasures of life on Idaho’s largest and deepest lake.

“Building a hard-cover structure right on the lake is not allowed, so I got the idea to create a tent encampment so we could be closer to the water,” Newhart says. Located 200 feet downhill from their house, the site was ready-made for such an endeavor, offering a flat place carved out of the rock by previous owners. The Newharts added retaining walls of local stone and eked out a bit of grass lawn as a treat for bare feet heading down to the lake and boat docks.

Lynn, an interior designer with clients in Idaho, Wyoming and California, designed the two tents much as she would the rooms in a home. A spacious 26-by-28-foot shelter contains the living, dining and kitchen areas, while a separate, smaller structure offers a secluded sleeping space. Both rugged tents—built atop permanent wood-slat platforms to keep out the damp—were custom made of heavy canvas and feature charming Old West details, from roll-up flaps to rough timber posts. 

Newhart was delighted to discover it was possible to have lakeside living spaces with electricity and hot and cold running water (the bathroom is located in a separate enclosed building just a short walk up the hill). “We have a television, lights, a fridge … all the modern amenities we want,” she says. “And yet it all feels so old-fashioned. We wake up in the morning and cook our eggs outdoors in our jammies.”

To ensure the campsite complements its lakeside environment, Newhart chose a natural palette of colors ”that blend into the mountain.” She layered Native American and Moroccan carpets atop the cedar plank floors for softness and color, then added comfortable furnishings that feel refined but not too fancy: armchairs reminiscent of Adirondack camp chairs, antique oak dressers and an iron bed dressed with suede and shearling. When the occasional summer squall rolls through, the tent flaps can be quickly rolled down and everything (and everyone) stays snug. “It’s so cozy in the tent when it rains,” Newhart says.

The outdoor gathering areas are as thoughtfully considered as the indoor spaces. Although the refrigerator and sink are in the main tent’s “kitchen,” all the cooking is done outside on the built-in grill. And while there’s a long dining table inside, Newhart added a big outdoor picnic table for the grandkids, plus plenty of chairs for lounging around the fire pit. And for taking in the peaceful calm of the lake at the end of a long summer day, she placed two chairs just outside the sleeping tent.

In the fall, the temporary camp is packed up and all the furniture and tents are stowed away in a storage shed about 50 feet up the mountain. “It’s quite a production that takes several people,” Newhart says. But the effort is rewarded when the big tents are raised again in early May. “Scott and I spend several days a week here during the summer, especially when family is around,” she reflects. “We have everything we need.” 

Lakeside Luxuries 
Lynn and Scott Newhart share their must-have elements for waterfront living and lounging 

SEATING Whether you choose permanent or portable chairs or benches, the key is creating a comfortable place to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the water and views.

FIRE AND LIGHT Balance the element of water with fire, which provides a cozy glow by night and warmth to counter the cool breezes coming off the water. Dig a fire pit into the sand, build a more permanent structure or bring in a portable metal fire pit. Add kerosene lanterns or candles for an extra glow. 

SHELTER Protection from the elements will enhance your outdoor experience. It can be as simple as a tarp over four posts, a portable tent or a permanent gazebo or pergola.

FOOD AND DRINK There’s nothing like the catch of the day sizzling over an open fire. Whether you incorporate a built-in or portable grill, and a permanent or temporary picnic table, food always seems to taste better when prepared outdoors. 

STORAGE A lakeside shed keeps water toys and equipment at the ready. Storage benches do double duty as seating.

ARCHITECTURE AND INTERIOR DESIGN Lynn Newhart, Thunder Ranch Design, LLC, Saratoga, WY, (310) 968-8718 ARTWORK The Bather, by Joseph McDonnell, Melissa Morgan Fine Art, Palm Springs, CA NAVAJO RUGS Cisco's/Sam Kennedy, Coeur d'Alene, ID, (208) 769-7575

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