Photos by Jerry Markatos
Certainly Tom and Jane Tracy’s Highlands home is a grand achievement — the 4,175-square-foot native-timber manor was featured in the November 2008 issue of Southern Living. However, the couple can frequently be found elsewhere on their 38-acre property: namely, relaxing in the 1,120-square-foot house that was originally intended for guests.
It is, at least in part, a convenience thing. The Tracys retired to Highlands from Atlanta more than a decade ago, and frequently entertain at their mountain home. In the colder winter months, however, there are less likely to be visitors: weather in this high-elevation area can be tricky. After winterizing the bigger house, holing up in the cozy but appealing smaller structure is their way to save time and fuel cost.
“We tend to come and go a lot in the winter anyway,” says Jane Tracy. (The couple, who are frequent travelers, still keep a condo in Atlanta.) But from December through March, if they’re in Highlands, they stay in the guesthouse. “It’s easy to close and open, easy to heat. We turn off everything in the larger house, and we know it will be safe when we’re away.”
Before the main house was garnering raves in national publications — before its foundation was even poured — the guesthouse enjoyed a previous life as a main residence. “Tom and Jane lived in it while their primary home was being built,” reveals Al Platt of Platt Architecture in Brevard, who designed both buildings. The project’s major player, he worked with landscape architect Scott Melrose and garden designer Steve Eidson to realize the property’s full potential as a deep-mountain pastoral retreat complete with creek, wildlife and knee-weakening views.
“Living there was a way for the owners to begin to enjoy all the natural features of the property, including the garden and the wonderful landscaping,” says Platt. Once the main home was completed, the guesthouse became just that — a private retreat for visiting friends and family.
“I can’t think of very many of my clients who don’t love having a separate guesthouse,” he remarks. “It’s good for the homeowners and also good for the guests, who get to have some measure of independence — a very different experience from being a houseguest.”
With its thickly textured rockwork and cedar-shake siding, the guesthouse visually echoes its nearby paterfamilias. “The materials are identical,” notes Platt.
Inside, there are two small bedrooms, two baths, and what Tracy describes as an “itty-bitty dining room.” A red-gingham pattern on the sofa and window valances adds a classic country touch. But the overall atmosphere is a whisper more haute than homey. Dark exposed beams, heart-pine floors and staircase, abundant folk art and a festive layout that includes a loft-style sitting room make it feel like a vacation cabin sprinkled with a sophisticated brand of fairy dust.
In fact, many of the pieces that bring memorable color and life to the interior — paintings by Sarah Rakes, an antique-armoire-turned-entertainment center brightened with a decorative flower motif — are regional works that the couple began collecting years ago. They once owned a vacation home on Lake Burton in hilly Rabun County, Georgia, a scenic area not far from Highlands.
“We’ve always loved folk art, and much of what we have in the guesthouse are pieces we had at the Lake Burton house,” confirms Tracy. Some of them, she says, “we’ve had our whole married life, since we began our collection.”
Thus, while a number of top-shelf interior designers accomplished their main house’s lush country-floral interior — shown to sumptuous effect in Southern Living — the guesthouse is where the couple goes for a welcome dose of nostalgia: “We enjoy getting back in there and living among all our old things.”
A resort town like Highlands drops many decibels in the winter. And the quiet is even more marked in the surrounding countryside, waking up certain pastimes that need silence to flourish. Bird-spotting, for example.
“We love watching our critters pass through,” says Tracy.
But if it snows hard, they give up all rights to the guesthouse. At such times, the memories-in-progress belong to four certain grandchildren.
“They’ll come up from Atlanta and sled all weekend.”
Visit plattarchitecture.com or call 828-884-2393 to learn more about Platt Architecture