A year-round getaway on Smith Lake

Keith and Amy Richards’ dream lake home nestles among the trees on the Bluffs at Brushy Pond on Smith Lake.

The cool, deep lake water lies below. Far below.

From house to dock, 106 stairs zigzag through food truck-sized boulders and sprays of mountain laurels amid oak, pine and birch trees.

“I love the walk,” Amy says, mentioning the setting, a bench about halfway for those needing to rest on the way up, and a small deck with rocking chairs not far from the dock.

“The last 20 steps on the way up are the hardest,” Keith says, adding that he’s made the round trip as many as eight times in a single day. “It’s not that bad. From the house to the water, it’s 106 steps to nirvana when you get down there. And when you come up, you come into a beautiful home.”

Those 106 stairs are part of the perfect getaway for the north Shelby County couple, founders of Taziki’s and Baha Burgers restaurants, and their two sets of twins: Maggie and Oliver, who are 15, and Charley and Margaux, who are 12.

Their lake house isn’t large – 2,010 square feet – or fancy. Instead, it reflects the Richards’ casual style and the premium they place on comfort.

“We wanted a house where you could just kick your shoes off, open up all the doors and just hang out and not have to worry about spilling something,” Amy says. “We really just wanted to be able to 100 percent relax there. We wanted it to be a very minimalist space, and that’s really what we got.”

The two-story rectangle stacks three bedrooms atop a wide-open living room, dining area and kitchen. A master bedroom and bathroom suite cozy up to the main structure. A screened-in porch, often jammed with mountain bikes and camping cots, hugs the length of the house. The main living area features scored concrete, with white shiplap walls and wood-stained shiplap ceiling and kitchen wall. Kitchen counters and cabinets are sleek and white, accented by stainless steel appliances. Windows everywhere frame a gorgeous view of trees and water.

About that view: A glass and steel garage door facing the lake opens the living room to a flower pot-laden patio anchored by a long outdoor gas fireplace. A mass of rosemary bordering the patio begins the tumble down the bluff as the lake shimmers through a thicket of trees.

“When we stood on the lot and looked at the view, we knew we wanted just to be able to open up the garage door, stand in the kitchen and look straight out to the view with nothing obstructing it,” Amy says. “When you open it up, it’s like your whole living room and kitchen just become a patio.”

The view may surprise some lake homeowners: There’s not a whole lot of lake visible, at least for much of the year. But that’s exactly what the Richards want.

“I’m such a tree hugger,” Amy says with a laugh. “I told Seth (Hammer of Hammer Bilt) when he was building the house, ‘OK, don’t cut a tree down unless you absolutely have to.’

“It’s kind of like you have the best of both, two different kinds of sceneries,” she says. “In the summertime, you’re in a treehouse. In the wintertime, you have a lake view.”

Unlike some families who rarely visit their lake home when the weather turns cold, the Richards are well-acquainted with their Smith Lake home year-round.

“We come up here all year,” Amy says.

Last year, she and the children spent all summer at the lake house while Keith commuted to work.

Summers mean swimming, boat rides, paddle-boarding and tubing. Fall gives way to mountain biking, hiking and boat rides to enjoy the foliage. Even in the dead of winter, the Richards will “come up to hang out and watch movies,” Amy says.

Keith says he enjoys the peacefulness of the lake in the winter, but his favorite time is spring: “I like the early spring when the water’s still cool in the morning when I get up to go fishing, that crisp feeling, that cool breeze on the water.”

Always, as you might expect of restaurant owners, there is cooking. A typical spread could include ribs, fish, fresh vegetables, turkey burgers and the family favorite, Amy’s salsa (see the recipe on the following page).

This home is the Richards’ second on Smith Lake.

“I really like Smith because it’s real family-oriented and it’s not a big party place,” Amy says. “It’s really casual. It’s just more intimate time with family and friends. That’s one of the things that drew us here.”

The couple co-owned a home at Silverock Cove, but decided after five years there they wanted more solitude and a place of their own. They found it in the lot at the Bluffs at Brushy Pond, which they bought in October 2014.

“Right when we bought the lot, we considered it home, even though it didn’t have a dwelling,” Keith says.

He and Amy could visualize what was to come. “Every time we went out there, regardless of whether they’d laid the first concrete or hammered the first nail, we could envision what the house was going to be,” Keith says.

The family pitched a tent on the lot, and then on the slab of the house, and then slept in the one bedroom that was covered as the house was taking shape.

Even before they moved into the home, they were well on the way to creating the kind of memories Amy has of growing up on the water in Arkansas. She spent her childhood years living on the family’s houseboat on Norfork Lake. She often slept on the screened-in porch at her aunt’s lake house and remembers drifting off to the sound of whippoorwills while fireflies danced in the dark.

“I had so many great memories of being at the lake with my family growing up, and that’s exactly what we wanted to give our kids,” she says. “I’m really fortunate to be able to do that.”

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