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Designed by Duncan McPherson, of Samsel Architects, an Asheville firm known for eco-conscious design, this house is sited in a forested nook. Its east/southeast sides are ensconced in glass and the rest is clad in FSC-certified Eastern White cedar shingles.

Designed by Duncan McPherson, of Samsel Architects, an Asheville firm known for eco-conscious design, this house is sited in a forested nook. Its east/southeast sides are ensconced in glass and the rest is clad in FSC-certified Eastern White cedar shingles.

Photos by David Dietrich

There’s enough sparkle in Yancey County’s Toe River without needing a splashy house to compete. When a couple from California decided to build their vacation home near the ancient waterway, they edged away from their property’s river access and from its marvelous view of Mount Mitchell — the highest peak east of the Rockies. Instead, they tucked their 1,500-square-foot getaway near the edge of the forest.

“It’s so well hidden, really part of the landscape — definitely not another new house screaming at you from the side of the mountain,” says architect Duncan McPherson, who, with builder Richard Kennedy of Sunspace Homes in Burnsville, led the project through its conclusion in 2008.

About an hour north of Asheville, the Toe River Valley is a pristine patch of natural and cultural interest, home to a nationally recognized fly-fishing scene, Penland School of Crafts, and potter-filled Celo Community, the country’s oldest successful land trust.

Seasons tend to linger here, and ties are tight. Another attraction is Mountain Farm, known for blueberries, dairy goats, and an annual, organic Lavender Festival. When farm owners Dr. Jerry and Marilyn Cade’s son, also a doctor (in residency), married the daughter of the California couple, the latter pair wanted to forge something permanent in the area. Building their house on the 17-acre parcel adjacent to the Farm was no problem, given the two families’ great rapport. The challenge was doing so without disrupting the intimate flow of daily Celo life.

“They sensed the importance of the connectedness here, and were very sensitive about fitting in with their neighbors in a respectful way,” says McPherson, a member of Samsel Architects, an Asheville firm known for eco-conscious construction and design.

“It was all about blending in — being aware of how the people around them were going to see them, or not see them, on a daily basis.”

Siting the home was crucial, so the potential big vista was dropped in favor of a forested nook whose practical plus was wind protection. Its wooded aspect was also the strongest influence in the house’s design, though not in a trite, “cabiny” way. Instead, the house is camouflaged, nearly part of the forest itself.

The building is V-shaped and low, as clean-lined as a fly rod. Its east/southeast sides are ensconced in glass and the rest is clad demurely in FSC-certified Eastern White cedar shingles, with bluestone used for the entry-porch floor, foyer, and office.

A rock pathway, a shallow gabled roof, and a flush of natural materials inside and out all warm the building’s modern minimalism. The floors and cabinets are regional hard maple and the glowing, vaulted ceilings are cypress. The kitchen island is concrete with an aggregate of pebbles culled from North Carolina’s New River. And rocks from the Toe River itself, just down the pasture, form a deliciously artful two-sided fireplace surround on the screened-in porch and in the living room.
“Our challenge there was how to highlight local stone in the house and make it an integrated element,” notes McPherson. “Working with stone can be expensive, so we weren’t going to use it everywhere. And having it everywhere in the house doesn’t make the powerful impression that this does, where it’s all in one place.”

That efficiency is picked up at all points in and out. Celo Home’s smart features include expanding foam insulation, high-density storage in hallways and other typically underused spaces, and a metal roof that easily guides rainwater into an underground 3,750-gallon cistern.

Another way McPherson made the two-bedroom, two-bath house seem much bigger than its square footage was by placing the home office in the center of the building, where it forms a kind of gateway to the two main wings. Spaces are angled in such a way that one can glimpse the soothing exterior of the house from many indoor areas: an estate feel, compact size.

“That,” says the man of the house, “was a masterstroke.” Still full-time practicing lawyers, he and his wife try to make it to their mountain home every five to six weeks, meeting up as often as possible with their daughter, her husband, and a two-year-old grandson, who are currently based in Massachusetts.

In the meantime, the house racks up accolades, including a Grand Award from EcoHome magazine and feature notice in the Italian magazine Casa Naturale.

Celo Home has been further “greened up” by lush sustainable landscaping, including an extensive raised-bed vegetable garden, all courtesy of Beverly Hill of Beverly Hill’s Garden and Nursery in Burnsville.

When they first built the house, his clients assumed they would rent it out when they weren’t there, reveals McPherson. But it gets so much use from extended family and friends — and in truth, the couple feels so loyal to their Celo getaway — that they nixed that plan.

“We have traveled quite a lot,” says the owner. “But we were always struck with this area, and wanted to make it back here.”

For more information, visit Samsel Architects at samselarchitects.com or call 828-253-1124.

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