A Contemporary Dream Home: Along the shores of Wellesley Island

The waterfront side of the home.

BY: Nicole Caldwell
Hemingway said “where a man feels at home, outside of where he’s born, is where he’s meant to go.”

      It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t feel at home along the St. Lawrence River, with those beautiful views and enormous sky. It’s what sold Carol and David Richardson, retired Texas Instruments employees from Dallas, Texas, whose spirit for adventure has allowed them to live in multiple countries and on a sailboat before purchasing Black Rock Estates on Wellesley Island in 2000.

     The property has the comforting newness of a turn-key-ready house, with attention to detail that gives every room a story. There’s the custom, three-season porch with mahogany embellishments and barrel bolts shipped in from England, as well as a basement library built to accommodate specifications for an antique snooker table and pool cue, the overhead light positioned dead center.

     The Richardsons spared no expense on the 1997 building, which they spent several years lovingly renovating and expanding.

     “We picked this spot because of these amazing views, without any traffic along the river,” Dave said. “It’s tucked in, with trees on both sides. Total privacy.

     The best part of the Saint Lawrence River is just sitting here, looking out at it.”

     The sprawling property’s 11.5 acres are flanked by forest, with 385 feet of waterfront in a private cove with floating, roofed docks that have accommodated up to 22 boats at once and come complete with a hydraulic boat lift and roof. Only one window in the entire house has a window treatment—and from the second-floor balcony overlooking the living room, east and west windows allow you to literally follow the sun. Next door is an adjoining property (also for sale) with 3,300-square-foot carriage house and barn.

     Black Rock Estates is steeped in history, in spite of its contemporary construction. Dave related a story of two famous river millionaires, Alexander B. Peacock and George C. Boldt, competing to see who could outspend the other, each with an enormous yacht house 100 yards away from the other, and each building up collections of boats.

     “Peacock even dredged out the bay here,” Dave said, pointing out at the river from the upstairs office. “Then he built a cover so his kids could swim under it. When we bought this house, there were still pilings out there in the water. One day I was out there cleaning up, and found a fork off the yacht of the guy who founded Alexandria Bay. That fork’s still in the historic society in the Bay.”

     The six-bedroom, five-bathroom house was built by Grater Architects of Rochester and Clayton in 1997. Twenty rooms feature mahogany, cherry and black walnut details, from staircases to flooring. The kitchen has every amenity and granite countertops, while the basement boasts a library, home theater with bar, wine cellar, bed and bathrooms, and sliding doors that open up onto patios and decks.

     That basement was empty when the Richardsons bought the house. The blank slate of it was irresistible to Carol and Dave, who set to work getting the schematics on how much space would be needed for a full-sized, antique snooker table in their soon-to-be-built, home library. That room is straddled by two guest rooms with pocket-door partition, and media room [aka mini movie theater]. Sliders off the back open up onto a stone terrace with covered barbecue and ceiling fan, stone pond, fountain, and rambling lawn that leads right to the river. The constant, light breeze keeps bugs at bay—“We’ve never had a mosquito,” Dave said.

     The house lends itself perfectly to entertaining, inside or out, for dinner or a movie.

     “We became very acquainted with the Antique Boat Museum,” Dave said. “Very quickly, you develop this social lifestyle. People up and down the river. We’ve had formal sit-downs for 52 people, and 200 people here for a benefit.”

     The basement’s media room, decked out with soundproofed walls and ceiling, features a black walnut bartop, drop-down projector, wall sconces from the Italian island of Murano and stone backsplash Carol said she and Dave “picked up in a driving snowstorm.” There’s plush leather seating for eight, plus a removable riser for the second row.

      “When we lived here in the winters, for SU basketball games we’d invite people over to watch,” Carol said. A tremendous amount of research went into the placement of seats, the selection of a DLP projector developed by Texas Instruments, calculated lighting with seemingly infinite combinations, and the very impressive Klipsch sound system.

     “Dave had me go upstairs while he cranked it [through the soundproofing],” Carol said. “I couldn’t hear it, but I could feel it.”

      “We streamed Avatar and said, ‘What’s so good about this?’” Dave said. “This isn’t so great. Then we rented it, and watched it through this system—“

     “—And it blew us away,” Carol said.

     The couple used to live six months on land, and six months on a sailboat. Their travels inspired many of the home’s details, like cabinetry fixtures in the media room that are used on boats. The barn on the adjoining property was built with plans for a typical Ontario barn, and diamond-shaped shingles were installed on the carriage house: two nods to Dave’s upbringing in Canada.

     The patio outside the basement sliders is shaped like the bow of a boat, and Carol and Dave used ribbon-stripe mahogany details because of that wood’s popular use in decks of boats. All the stone is local: flagstone from Hammond, and granite from an Alexandria Bay quarry.

     Carol and Dave added a first-floor, screened-in porch off the kitchen after buying the property, which features modular windows and screens that can be paired or utilized separately, and Spanish cedar on the walls and window frames. The porch required drilling eight feet into the granite rock below to carve out support and space for the room. A steel I-beam was installed to support the second floor, which was made into a sitting room with half-moon window and tongue-and-groove ceiling, and an office with immaculate wall-to-wall carpeting. Once the porch had been added, Carol painstakingly changed other elements of the house to make the addition seamless: swapping out color schemes and incorporating wood details in other rooms.

     “This is what happens when two highly motivated people retire early,” Dave laughed.

     The house has Toto toilets throughout, step lights between the first and second-story patios outside, and a generator hooked to an underground 1,000-gallon cache of propane. “The generator is sufficient to run the whole house and air conditioning,” Dave said. Top-of-the-line technology pumps central air in through the living room’s cathedral ceiling, while the first floor has in-floor heat. No artificial heating or cooling is necessary in the basement, where because of the rock under the house, rooms stay between 68 and 70 degrees year-round.

     The carriage house was originally designed as a workshop with potential living quarters above on the second floor, now just roughed in. But true to their intense devotion to planning, Carol and Dave have the plans for finishing off that second floor should the new owners be interested.

     Asked about feeling sad regarding letting the property go, Carol said it’s bittersweet. “We have mixed feelings, but we know what the next adventure is. It’s like the sailboat. We loved that sailboat, but it was just time.”