Houses for “Cool People”
Burrell Mountain homes built on progressive vision of architect and developer.
Mike Carrick of Carrick Properties and Doug Harris of Harris Architects are building compact homes with cutting-edge design. Photo by Matt Rose
Photo by Matt Rose
Cleverly stacked space is the new open floor plan when it comes to modern residential construction. A slim earthen footprint lays the groundwork. And it certainly helps when the architect and the developer are on the same blueprint page.
Doug Harris, principal of Harris Architects, and Mike Carrick of Carrick Properties, a boutique real estate and construction firm, share a strong vision. The manifestation is the Burrell Mountain Project: compact, multi-tiered residences on a one-acre parcel a mile from downtown Brevard. The three houses are cradled by tight but fertile lots. Garden space and airy outdoor living define the aesthetic and seal the charm.
Don’t go calling them green homes, though. Despite living off the grid in a solar-powered, wood-stove-heated mountain house he built himself, Carrick says he “doesn’t want to be cornered” by the eco-conscious movement.
The homes he constructs for others — although thoroughly equipped with modern conveniences — ape the sustainability of his own abode. Energy-efficient appliances and progressive heating-and-cooling systems are givens. However, Carrick stresses the passive-solar aspect of the Burrell Mountain homes, not their amenities. They are heavily windowed, face south for major sunlight, and feature deep overhangs for maximum heat gain. Egress is designed with prime ventilation in mind.
“You can call it a lot of things, but really, it’s just smart, common-sense building,” he says.
The homes are close to Brevard College, downtown boutiques and restaurants, and, by natural extension, the hundreds of waterfalls in famously gorgeous Transylvania County. One pictures their cutting-edge design appealing to members of the so-called “creative class” — the artsy young professionals mentioned so frequently in profiles of Western North Carolina.
Carrick won’t go that far, though. He refuses to pinpoint some ideal demographic.
“These homes could be for young families, or for couples without kids, or for retirees. They’re for smart people, period,” he says, adding jokingly: “We don’t care who you are, as long as you’re cool.”
Between 1,300 and 1,600 square feet, the houses are three stories high, with an even distribution of footage on each floor. They tuck naturally into their hilly lots and will be clad with a combination of nontraditional textured metals, some in deep colors.
Despite championing such “now” exteriors, Harris veers away from calling the style modern — because such edginess doesn’t always jibe with a home’s natural habitat. In fact, the architect goes all the way back to the farm, likening the homes to old-fashioned barn sheds.
“I’m a big fan of little buildings, ones that fit their landscapes but that never had an architect anywhere near them,” says Harris. “When a farmer needed a place to house equipment, he built smart. He cared what that shed looked like, because he cared for his farm. He used the best material he could, and he made the best use of it.
“There was a lot of thought that went into it, and that’s the feeling we’re trying to pick up.”
Care is evident, but apart from a faint echo of barn shed in their steep-pitched roofs, the Burrell Mountain houses are many pastures away from colloquial. The look is geometric, progressive — just shy of futuristic. Wood is second to metal and concrete. The spare, cantilevered overhangs form awnings on each story. Major swaths of wall are paned in glass. On various levels, sunny, railed decks with horizontal steel balustrades add a celebratory feel.
That nudge toward fresh air is what gives today’s “smart homes” their soul. The old kind of modern architecture, as it were, suggested a hermetically sealed coldness: remote lives lived indoors. Today, and especially in WNC, homeowners want gardens, lawns for kids or pets to roam, and highly usable outdoor rooms that segue smoothly from the interior. One of Harris and Carrick’s smaller homes exhibits a treehouse-like quality.
Carrick points out that the Burrell Mountain residences are far less densely packed than similar home clusters. “The backyards are skewed at an angle so that you’re looking at your neighbor’s garden, too, and it almost becomes, at least visually, a shared space.”
Overall, privacy is still paramount. “We could have put at least five or six homes here,” says Carrick. “The prevailing [developer’s] mentality is, ‘If you can put six homes there, try for eight.’”
But Harris and Carrick have stopped at three. Both inside and out, fluidity is important. Harris praises the general versatility of the rooms: One man’s art studio could be another’s guest bedroom. One woman’s office could be another’s exercise room.
“We try to think about houses as not being static things,” explains the architect. “Say you have a couple of kids in elementary school. In 10 or 15 years, they’ll be gone. You’ll want to use your house in a different way, and you need to be able to do that without going through a huge renovation, or having to sell your house and buy a new one.
“That’s just wasteful.”