Photography by Sally Kolar
A view of Bowen Pond and a complete home makeover was the perfect prescription for this West Lake family.
Columbia County residents Danielle and Jack Rigg have never shied away from adventure – whether it involved new career paths or a change in address. Yet it was another life-altering experience that prompted them to move from Pittsburgh to this area in 2006. Danielle, a young mother whose children Noah and Hannah were 5 and 2 years old at the time, had just undergone treatment for breast cancer.
“It was a long, cold winter,” she says. “Jack asked me what I wanted. I said, ‘Take me to the sun.’”
Jack, a physician who specializes in the treatment and rehabilitation of soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, took a position at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, and the family settled in River Island.
A couple of years ago, however, they decided it was time for another change – new living quarters. They had planned to talk to builders about constructing a new home, but first Danielle decided to talk to her Realtor, Susan Salisbury, to see what was available on the market.
Susan took her to see a home in West Lake that overlooks Bowen Pond. “I walked in, and I was wowed by the property,” says Danielle.
The house already had two features that the Riggs wanted in a home – a pool and a basement – so they saw the property’s potential right away. After all, water is a must for any girl who grew up on Long Island, and the lower level was the perfect spot to add a sound-proof studio where Jack, a musician turned physician, could play his music.
“I was pretty convinced we had to live here. I had a gut instinct. Everything we had ever talked about was here,” says Jack. “It was obvious. It just felt really right to be here.”
Built on a wooded lot in 1981, the home had a lake house ambiance. Danielle, however, has “a proclivity for light and airy,” so she knew extensive renovations would be in order. Fortunately, the house was structurally sound.
“We didn’t have any unpleasant surprises. In fact, all of the surprises were good surprises. We found steel beams behind walls and in floors,” says Danielle. “We’re very grateful to the previous owners. The builder did a fantastic job. The house has good bones. It had good karma, but it was time for a new vision.”
‘The Voice of Life’
The good karma started when the former owners accepted the purchase offer from the Riggs on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism. “It gave a spiritual element to it,” says Danielle, who is Jewish.
However, she still had a choice to make. Her cancer had recurred, so she would be battling the disease again at the same time she would be immersed in the home renovation project.
“I had two voices in my head. One said, ‘Focus on your healing.’ The other said, ‘Be in the game of life,’” says Danielle. “I chose the voice of life. It said, ‘Be in love with the project and happy to be alive every day you’re doing it.’”
The couple hired Tom O’Brien, a New York architect and one of Jack’s former bandmates, to bring Danielle’s ideas to life. “He drew this thing out, and I was just drooling,” she says.
The first thing she wanted to do was to open up the home, which overlooks the widest part of the pond, to take full advantage of the view.
“None of the other houses on the lake have this exposure or this position,” Danielle says. “I feel like I live at a resort. I pinch myself every day. I don’t want to go anywhere.”
The Riggs removed the wall paneling from the family room, which overlooks the pond, and painted it “Horizon,” a color that pulls in the outdoors. They changed the fireplace mantel and added a cutout in a wall to show the staircase to the lower level. They replaced the bookshelves on the wall separating the dining and family rooms with a wide opening so that they could see the pond from the dining room.
Opening up the front hallway provided a view of the pond as well. They also revamped the master bedroom to take advantage of the pond view. The room originally had double doors to a small Juliet balcony, which the Riggs replaced with 12 feet of windows.
“My goal was to make the house contemporary,” says Danielle. “It’s contemporary, but there are some things that are not contemporary.”
For instance, the Riggs kept the antique heart pine floors, which are original to the home, and the stained glass window on the stairwell. Some of the furnishings, such as the master bedroom’s antique chest, are traditional as well.
In addition to opening up the home, turning the lower level into a music studio for Jack was a high priority. The lower level originally was one big room, but the Riggs made it into two rooms. The soundproof music studio, where Jack rehearses with his band, The Bonaventures, is full of his guitars and drums. A framed gold record, which Jack earned for the Blue Oyster Cult album, “Fire of Unknown Origin,” hangs on a wall.
“He played with Blue Oyster Cult,” says Danielle. “He wasn’t an official member of the band, but he was good friends with the two brothers who founded the group.”
Music occupies a special place in the couple’s history as well. They met in New York City when she was a law student and he was a musician. “I met him as a groupie when I went to see a show,” says Danielle. “He was playing in a popular New York-based band at the time.”
The lower level also has 100-percent recycled cork flooring. “It’s soft on your feet,” says Danielle.
The other room in the lower level includes an infrared sauna for Danielle, who became a certified lactation specialist after practicing labor and employment law for five years.
Clean and Contemporary
The health-conscious Danielle enjoys spending time in the kitchen, where she grows wheat grass and sprouts, as well.
“This is a working kitchen. I’m a raw vegan. I eat only uncooked plants, mostly sprouts, and I juice four times a day,” she says. “I was always on a holistic path. When my cancer recurred, I decided I needed to up my game.”
The renovated kitchen features Quartzite countertops, lots of drawer space, a beveled subway tile backsplash, white cabinetry and glass doors on the upper cabinets. The bay window in the breakfast nook and the shiplap wall were part of the original décor.
A co-founder of the Best for Babes Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the cultural perception of breastfeeding, Danielle retreats to her office to work. “It’s conducive to working because it doesn’t face the water. I can get away from the intense light,” she says.
The office, which previously was a living room, has the original fireplace and built-in bookcases, but the Riggs enlarged the space. They added French doors and an antique Turkish rug that they got on their honeymoon in Turkey. However, Danielle says, “There are not a lot of floor coverings in my home, and there is no fabric on the windows. I prefer an open, airy, simple, clean, contemporary look.”
Across from the office, the dining room is a space of understated elegance with mission-style furniture. Artwork includes pieces that Danielle’s grandparents got in Africa, a pair of Israeli pictures on one wall and one of Jack’s paintings on another wall.
“The dining room needed to showcase some art,” says Danielle. “I wanted the walls to create a simple backdrop. I just wanted to hang art on subtle, beautiful-colored walls.”
In fact, the house is full of art work by Jack, who paints in the furnished apartment above the standalone garage that the Riggs built. “That area was all woods before,” says Danielle.
The lot still has a woodsy feel, however.
“I love the trees and no lawn and the gravel. It’s like I’m at a campground,” Jack says. “I hear the crunch of the car on the gravel when I get home, and it’s like an instant transformation.”
A new breezeway connects the garage to a side porch that the Riggs also added to the house. The side porch borders a covered porch that already was part of the home. The covered porch features the original aged wood ceiling, which is painted white and gray now. “It didn’t stand out before because everything was brown,” Danielle says.
The Riggs also updated the pool and deck areas. The jasmine-covered pergola on the deck already was there. However, they installed a ceiling fan. Adding a personal touch to the space, the deck lounge chair pillows, which were an anniversary gift from Danielle’s mother last year, have a photo of the pool area on them.
Jack and Noah cleared out the area between the pool and Bowen Pond. “There was no beach before,” Danielle says. “That was completely overgrown.”
Her favorite parts of the house fall in this order: the outside, the kitchen and the master bedroom wall of windows. Even though she grew up on Long Island, she now prefers a lake to the beach. “I find myself much more at home on a lake or a river,” she says. “I like the foliage.”
Jack says he spends most of his time at the house in his music studio, but his favorite spot is the covered porch. “I love the breeze,” he says. “Even if I’m just sitting there, I feel like I’m doing something.”
Updated with Style
The Riggs completed the renovations in five months before moving into their new home in March 2016. “It’s not just updated. It has style,” Susan says. “Danielle was hopping and popping like popcorn.”
The house is conducive to entertaining as well – no matter the ages of their guests. “Most Friday and Saturday nights in the warm season, a pack of guys shows up. I put out food, and they go from basketball to fishing to the game room,” says Danielle. “That’s what I love about this house – besides everything.”
By Betsy Gilliland