Saturday, 24 October 2020

Home of the Week: Mountain escape features grand views from 4660 feet


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Texans Jim and Sabrina Watson were looking for “long, layered views” when they shopped for a new home in the Western North Carolina mountains back in 2014. After determining they would have to build in order to get the house of their dreams, they settled on a mountaintop lot in the 4,400-acre, conservation-oriented master planned community of Balsam Mountain Preserve in Jackson County.

What they found there were incredible views of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Doubletop Mountain peaks and surrounding mountain ranges from a lot at an elevation of 4,660 feet. Purchasing the two-acre lot, bordered by 3,400 acres of land preserve, the Watsons started a building project that was completed in 2016.

“We wanted a contemporary style home with Japanese touches,” Jim said, adding that they also liked mountain architecture but preferred a slightly more modern feel.

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This house would become their full-time residence after Sabrina retired from a busy career as head of sustainability for a major oil and gas company.

They hired MossCreek Designs from Knoxville, Tennessee, and the same interior designer who did a remodel of their home in Houston. They both did the project remotely and did not see the finished product until recently, Jim said.

“We started to design the house, then the house started to design itself,” Sabrina said. Jim added that the mountains seemed to call for wood-frame windows.

“Wood started sprouting out on the ceiling,” Jim said. “So the Balsam Mountains had a hand in the design too.”

Constructed by Baldwin & Phillips Construction, the exterior of the home was finished with cedar batten board siding. Because Sabrina worked in the field of sustainability, the couple chose to use all locally sourced rock and recycled materials where possible. The driveway features a stone retaining wall to the left side with indented areas for displaying outdoor sculptures.

“I’m infatuated with the stone work. The first thing we did after clearing the lot was build the rock retaining wall and put the three little niches in so we could have artwork,” Jim said.

The landscape design includes native plant gardens that attract birds and pollinators. The side and back yard are grass, which Jim enjoys mowing. The couple takes pleasure in having a big toad live under the front steps of their entryway.

“It is nice to see how that becomes part of the living environment,” Jim said.

The narrow front foyer features a manufactured laminate tile that mimics local flagstone, in an effort to bring the outdoors in, Jim said. Facing the front door is a glass wall with doors leading out onto the expansive deck and providing visitors an immediate view of the mountains over the treetops.

Turning to the left, you enter the open living area, where a great room with large rock fireplace connects with the kitchen, creating a lot of gathering space for a big, loving family that Sabrina said “swarms” when visiting.

Sabrina said the openness allows use of the space for enjoying family and friends. “I didn’t want to spend money on spaces that didn’t get used,” she said.

The kitchen features a stainless steel farm sink, and counters are a composite topped off with a thick piece of local walnut used for a cantilevered bar.

The curved coffee table is made from a walnut tree that died after a major drought in Houston, Jim said.

Mounted in a specially designed and lighted nook to the side of the kitchen area is a unique piece of art. This single piece of a tree’s root system carries a carved “Buddha-like” face Jim calls the “spirit of the house.” A real find on Craigslist years ago, this 6-foot bargain piece of art is both beautiful and meditative for the homeowners, they said.

To the side of the kitchen is a powder room where a remnant of Vetrazzo recycled glass was made into a counter top where a copper vessel sink sits and a bamboo panel holds a backlit mirror to add a little drama to the small space. Here you also find a mud room, laundry room and a walkout to a garage with a carriage house above.

The carriage house is accessible from the home’s elevator, with a breezeway connecting it to the main house from the loft office level. The carriage house provides private quarters for visitors, especially the six grandchildren. Bunk beds afford plenty of sleeping space.

The home features decorative wooden beams and seagrass rugs. Some of the art came from the nature center operated by the Balsam Mountain Trust, which provides educational outreach in Haywood and Jackson counties.

While there are three main bedrooms, almost every area of the house can sleep people. Power shades block sunlight from the numerous high windows or provide privacy as needed.

The couple’s bedroom on the main floor has two walk-in closets and access to the deck. The bath has heated floor tile, and the vanity top is of green rain forest marble from Spain but available in Asheville. Modern European-style cabinetry was created by a cabinetmaker in Maggie Valley.

“Green is our favorite color,” Sabrina said. “It is reflective of how we kind of live halfway indoors and out.”

Downstairs is another fireplace in the TV room, and there are a music room, two bedrooms and a workout room. Here you have access to the 13-foot long heated indoor lap pool or hot tub, and the entire area is kid-friendly, with a teal-colored bathroom accented with subway tile and water-resilient vinyl flooring.

“We wanted this to feel like a really Zen space,” Sabrina said. “You can swim laps like a hamster here year-round.”

The design of the front of the house looks completely different from the back. A 30-foot stonewall gives the house a curved appearance. A large deck with cable lock railing matched with wood and flooring built with recycled products for easy care extends over the lap pool beneath.

“We couldn’t come up with a glass design for enclosing the pool that would meet code,” Jim said. That code requires a structure to accommodate 140-mile-per-hour winds.

The western view from the deck provides for beautiful sunsets, and there are mountains in the distance where at times they can see almost to Cherokee. In winter, they can see the base of the valley.

Elements of Japanese architecture show up in the unique rain chains that hang from high corners of a shed roof. The chains provide an attractive and musical alternative to standard gutters and downspouts.

“The rain chains carry most of the water and are quite lovely,” Sabrina said. She said the architecture of the home relates back to the organic architecture of American designer Frank Lloyd Wright, with the idea that the house fits into its surroundings and mimics the mountains.

“So, that was our vision for the house,” Sabrina said. The outdoor living space has a wet bar and one of the three wood-burning fireplaces in the house, walls and ceilings of cedar and is decorated with comfortable furniture they have collected through the years and brought with them from Houston.

Contact freelance writer Angela Nicholas at


To nominate your house or that of a friend for Home of the Week, contact Bruce Steele at Include your telephone number and a telephone number for the homeowner, if not you.


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