Paradise Found: A Lake Mohawk Oasis

For this active family, life on Lake Mohawk is a recreational heaven on Earth.

Lure of the Lake: Windows are kept bare in this Lake Mohawk home, creating a year-round view of the water and beyond.
Photo by Laura Moss

Life is good on Lake Mohawk. This little-known Sussex County paradise is a constant whirl of activities—swimming, boating, fishing, water skiing and more. It was precisely this active lifestyle that attracted Manhattan residents Danielle and Jeff. Visiting friends during a day trip about 10 years ago, the couple couldn’t resist the lure of the lake. They had considered purchasing a weekend home and had unwittingly found the ideal spot. They instantly loved Lake Mohawk: the ambience, the tranquility, the recreational opportunities and the freedom it would give their three boys, ages 8, 11 and 13. “We saw the lake, and decided right then that there was no reason to look anywhere else,” says Danielle. When they learned this particular house was coming on the market in 2005, Jeff and Danielle pounced. “This is the house we really wanted,” says Danielle. “It’s a great location, a great property. On the second visit, we said to the homeowner, ‘We’ll write you a check right now.’” And so they did.

The house needed significant work inside and out, but the location couldn’t be beat. The large parcel of land is on the northern end of the lake, just a few houses from the end of the boardwalk, the public walkway that leads into the quaint hamlet of Lake Mohawk Plaza. (Technically within the township of Sparta, the lake is part of a private reservation. The tiny town is referred to as Lake Mohawk Plaza or White Deer Plaza—or just “town.”) “It’s a quick walk to town,” says Danielle. “The boys can go in for pizza or a zeppoli. They have some independence.”

First things first though. “The yard was a pit,” Danielle explains. Inside, the house was not quite complete, while outside, the house sat on “just hill and grass,” she says. The first thing the couple did in 2006 was complete the exterior stone and cedar work begun by the previous owner. The second major project was adding a beautifully landscaped pool nestled between the house and the lake. Because the property is so steep, this proved to be a challenge; the land had to be tiered, and an elaborate stone retaining wall was constructed to ease the slope. The pool was then built to fit neatly on a flat surface overlooking the lake.

The family took a few years enjoying their weekends construction-free, until October 2011, when they turned their attention to expanding the house and updating the interior. Ultimately, they doubled the size of the house, adding a new wing that includes the kitchen, dining room and mudroom, with bedrooms above and a finished walk-out basement below, a project that took 11 months to complete. The couple asked interior designer Melanie Sobash, who has tackled projects on and around Lake Mohawk, to help fill the vast, open spaces while still maintaining the simplicity of the house. “The whole scope of this project played with the lifestyle of a family with three young boys,” Sobash says. “They’re all about family, so this entire environment had to stay child friendly.”

Furnishings were kept to a minimum, allowing plenty of open space for rambunctious play. There’s a Ping-Pong table in the living room—and that’s the charm. It hosts daily play, and that’s just fine with Danielle and Jeff. Windows, while expansive, are bare. “There are beautiful views overlooking the whole lake, so we did not want to impede that,” says Sobash.

The family relishes their time at the lake. Recently relocated from Manhattan to Short Hills, they still try to spend every weekend—and the entire summer— living here. There’s fishing and canoeing in the fall, nearby skiing in the winter, and hiking and strawberry picking in the spring. In the summer, the kids play tennis, water ski, fish and swim. “We’ll take the boat out and anchor, and the boys will swim for hours,” says Danielle. The boys fish for bass and perch from the dock, honoring the lake’s catch-and-release program. They walk into town to the candy store or for homemade ice cream.

There’s no plan to do much more to the 6 bedroom and 7 ½-bath house; it’s casual, and that’s they way they like it, says Danielle. “Our family is always around. We’ve had as many as 24 people sleep over, including lots of friends with their kids. There’s nothing precious here, nothing they can’t touch,” she says, emphasizing that she wouldn’t have it any other way.

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