The luck involved timing. The Pepperses had owned the lakefront lot since 2004 and vacationed nearby in a condominium with the thought of eventually building “our last house,” said Joan, who, like Wayne, is retired from the federal government; both are working as contract employees.
Then the lake-area economy, which draws on consumers from Lynchburg, Roanoke, Richmond and Greensboro, N.C., collapsed. “We hadn’t intended to build so soon,” she said. But in 2007, the cost of building materials dropped 30 percent in that area, Wayne Peppers said, adding that “lumber yards were bidding against one another for jobs.”
He estimates that building costs at the time were $225 to $250 per square foot in Northern Virginia. “Here it was $50 to $75 per square foot less,” Wayne said.
They were lucky, yes. But the rest of the road to Smith Mountain Lake was built on planning and knowing what they wanted. For years, the Pepperses had vacationed on the water. But they rejected the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic coast for a home — “no saltwater damage or hurricanes,” Joan said. A lake was the obvious answer.
They took a map and drew a circle around the District, extending out to about Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland. Then, Joan said, they “looked for blue blobs” on the map, signifying lakes. Like Goldilocks, they tried them out. From vacation stays, they thought Deep Creek Lake was too crowded on and off the water. Lake Anna was too small. They didn’t want to be in North Carolina or Tennessee.
About 40 miles long, with some 500 miles of shoreline, Smith Mountain Lake was just right. The lake was created in the 1960s in the Blue Ridge Mountains to generate electricity and manage nearby rivers. It must have been the biggest blob within their circle, with all the water they sought — without the salinity, crowds or distance they found to be drawbacks elsewhere.
That explains the location. But what explains the enormous house, built by a pair of empty nesters?
It turns out that the extended family of Pepperses, many of them based in Wisconsin, “travel in big globs,” as Joan puts it. And Joan and Wayne both have children and grandchildren from earlier marriages. The idea of the lake house was to accommodate all of them. “It’s wonderful not just to have dinner but to spend the whole weekend together,” Joan said. “Last year, we had nine different groups of people.”
The house has three bedrooms, but with the creative use of the den and other spaces, can sleep as many as 20 people comfortably. On the walkout-basement level, there are an additional 2,400 square feet and lots of sofas (not to mention a pool table, a Ping-Pong table and a theater-style popcorn popper).
Contemplating that much space as they dreamed and planned their house, the couple was concerned about energy costs, and they wanted geothermal heating. Beyond that, “we weren’t thinking ‘green’ at all,” Joan said. But they talked with Scott Stalker of Stonefield Homes, a Greensboro design-build firm, whose nearby lake house they admired. He led them to LEED-accredited Greensboro interior designer Melinda “Mel” Dickey from SSI Group. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a designation sanctioned by the U.S. Green Building Council, an industry group that promotes sustainable building design and construction. With Stalker and Dickey’s guidance, the Pepperses’ house became the first LEED-certified house on Smith Mountain Lake and only the 17th in Virginia.