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A Perfect Place

A cosmopolitan couple builds their dream home in Western North Carolina.

Photo by Kevin Meechan

They could have settled anywhere.  Ben Bethell, who is British, and his lovely, Russian-born wife, Valia, have traveled the world. They have owned homes in Europe and in U.S. cities ranging from Cincinnati, Ohio to Naples, Florida to Linville, North Carolina. So when it came time to build their dream home, the setting needed to be world-class.

“We were looking for the perfect place — climate-wise, dream-wise, feeling-wise,” Valia recalls. The search eventually led them to a very private mountainside property bordering on Pisgah National Forest in The Cliffs at Walnut Cove. “The moment we saw the lot,” she says, “we had no doubt that this was it.”

Having established the “dream” location, the Bethells began to tackle the “home” aspect.  They had worked extensively with Pam McKay of Dianne Davant & Associates to coordinate the interiors of their home in Linville and were so delighted with the results that they wanted to integrate many of the furnishings into their new residence. Clearly, McKay’s input in the design process would be invaluable.

From the onset, the Bethells favored a team approach. For the conceptual component, they engaged architect Steve Werner of Shoreline Design in Michigan and, for their “man on the ground,” Dan Collins of Glennwood Custom Builders in Hendersonville, who had extensive experience with construction at Walnut Cove. “This house,” says Valia, “was the brainchild of the entire group.”

“It used to be that the architect designed the house in a bubble, the builder built it and then the designer came in,” notes McKay. “In this case, everything was cohesive…and it shows. Even the landscape was considered in the design phase. So things don’t look forced — everything was purposefully placed.”

To take full advantage of the superlative setting, the house was designed in an elongated horseshoe pattern, hugging the mountainside and capturing the maximum available ambient light. Although this configuration may have lent itself readily to a purely Contemporary styling, the Bethells wanted an Old World feel for their home, with architectural detailing and fine craftsmanship consistent with their European aesthetic.

The resulting design is the best of both worlds. Clean, modern elements such as banks of unobstructed windows, skylights and the use of light woods — blonde Hickory for the flooring and Douglas fir ceilings on the porches — are deftly integrated with more traditional features: cupolas, exquisite millwork and beam work, coffered ceilings, arched brickwork ceilings and an exterior that pairs half-timber styling with a refined, ashlar pattern Tennessee fieldstone façade by David Ayers Stone Works.

Rather than placing the three-car garage at the end of the home, it was tucked into the slope directly facing the front entrance of the home. With the addition of a carriage house bridge that spans the driveway, the arrangement creates an enclosed cobblestone courtyard. “It’s a very English style,” says Ben with a smile.
English style is evident in the furnishings as well; a baronial sensibility that is softened and sweetened by elegant swirls, flourishes and colors that are reminiscent of Valia’s treasured Russian lacquered boxes.

“Valia has a very specific color palette,” notes McKay, “rich earth tones and, particularly, amber.”

“Throughout my life, I’ve always loved amber,” Valia explains. “There is concentrated light in a piece of amber. It’s joyful. It’s juicy. It’s not boring. It changes. This house is like amber — in the morning it’s a little dark, but with the sun it turns into something bright, with a warm glow. It’s beautiful.”

Beautiful, indeed…and gracious. The arched configuration of the house affords a vista from virtually every room, with abundant light — even on the lower floor — and easy access to the multiple sheltered and screened outdoor spaces.

Every component of the home’s construction has been thoughtfully considered and executed, from the painstaking tongue-in-groove work inside the cupolas and extensive built-ins to the exquisite kitchen and bath cabinetry by Banner’s Cabinets and superb granite tops from Classic Stone Works. The surrounding tree line has been carefully edited to frame the view while retaining privacy and the terraced landscaping, designed by Cloos Landscape Architecture and installed by Appalachian Creek is sympathetically integrated with the site, utilizing boulders salvaged from the excavation process.  

Certainly a world-class home — finely crafted and tastefully appointed. Yet the most impressive thing about the house is that it is a home: comfortable, welcoming and intimate. It’s evident in the vast collection of gzel pottery figurines that grace the china cabinet — all gifts from friends and relatives who have enjoyed their abundant hospitality. It’s apparent in the pair of stained glass windows with the Bethell family coat of arms (against an amber background) that give the wine room its relaxed, pub-like feel and the unpretentious “coffee chairs” set before the fireplace on the covered porch where the couple likes to sit and enjoy their mornings.

All in all, it seems a perfect place. By settling on the mountainside in Walnut Cove it appears that the Bethells didn’t have to settle for anything less.

View a slideshow of the Bethell home.

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