The Lure of the Lake: A 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.” 

The thought of falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping against the shore and waking to breathtaking views of the mountains and water inspired Lynn and Scott Newhart to build this encampment on Idaho's Lake Pend Oreille. Each large tent rests atop an oversized platform that accommodates plenty of outdoor seating.

The 16-by-19-foot bedroom tent is perched right at the edge of the lake. Rough timber posts provide rustic Western-style supports.

The summer camp features designated outdoor areas for lounging, dining and cooking; wooden ramps lead to a private marina.

An antique oak dresser and electric lamp lend the comforts of home to the cozy sleeping tent. The "windows" are screened, with roll-down flaps that keep nature from intruding.

Native American and Moroccan carpets soften the cedar-plank floors of the 26-by-28-foot tent that encloses the homey living, dining and kitchen areas—complete with a television and full-size refrigerator.

Permanent cedar plank platforms support the tents and offer perfect spots for taking in the views and enjoying a meal. During days at the lake, the family does all their cooking—and most of their dining—al fresco.

A private marina offers shelter for boats and jet skis, plus a fishing/diving platform. The Newharts' children and grandchildren join them often for water sports.

Rich leathers, worn woods and textural rugs add comfort and warmth to the spacious sleeping tent. Newhart dressed the iron bed with a suede-and-shearling bedspread and pillows. Modern amenities—made possible by the water, electricity and sewer lines that run down the hill from the Newharts' main house—include electric lamps and a separate enclosed bathroom.

Categories: Outdoor Living