A North Carolina vacation home is designed to capture views of majestic twin falls.
By Stacy Durr Albert
Photos by Roger Wade
Styling by Debra Grahl
Picture this: Breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, acres of unspoiled forestland and a scaled-down version of Niagara Falls, right in your own backyard. Sound too good to be true? That’s what Dr. Jai Cho thought when he first stumbled upon a real estate ad for a private lot boasting twin 70-foot waterfalls cascading down a rock wall.
“I couldn’t believe it,” recalls Jai, who lives year-round in Tampa. “I always thought it would be great to have a natural waterfall, but never imagined I’d find one on private land. I couldn’t have dreamed of something like this.”
After purchasing the pristine 8-acre lot near Sapphire, North Carolina, Jai started to think about the type of home that would best fit the storybook setting. One thing he was certain about was that he wanted to capture the waterfall views from as many rooms as possible.
“I’ve always liked moving water because it has such incredible life to it,” says Jai. “I wanted to bring that life into the home.”
Rather than rush into a design decision, Jai spent plenty of time doing research, poring over myriad design books and home magazines. He knew he wanted a contemporary flavor, but wasn’t sure about the construction style that would work best. At first, he didn’t consider timber framing, but after realizing that the classic construction method could be interpreted with a modern spin, the idea intrigued him.
“I really wanted a contemporary home with clean, modern lines,” explains Jai.
Selecting a company to work with was simple, thanks to a magazine advertisement that Jai discovered for a family-run Amish business, Oakbridge Timber Framing Ltd. of Ohio. “Their craftsmanship looked amazing, and they were wonderful to work with,” says Jai.
Deciding on a floor plan entailed a bit more work. Jai found inspiration in the work of the famous late architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, whose signature style features white pavilion-based homes that recall the barns of early America. The hallmark of the style is its incorporation of several gabled forms that break down the scale of a house and define its distinct spaces.
“I fell in love with the style when I saw it in a book,” says Jai. “I was drawn to the idea of mixing some traditional influences with contemporary construction.”
In fact, Jai was so enamored with the Jacobsen look that he even went to visit one of the architect’s best-known projects, the Buckwalter House in eastern Pennsylvania. After gleaning some ideas from the owner, Jai shared his wishes with his own architectural team, Jin Baek, Ph.D. and Youngsun Sonn, R.A. of South Korea. The trio worked together to come up with a floor plan for the steep, sloped site, which has a 30,000-foot elevation.
“There is no flat land on the property, so it took some careful planning to create the final design,” recalls Jai.
Another challenging aspect of the design was that Jai wanted the home to have a minimal amount of wood. “Building with minimal wood to capture the modern look required some extra effort in the engineering,” recalls Johnny Miller, owner of Oakbridge. “The main-floor decks are roughly 40 feet off the ground, so the heights required some extra safety measures.”
In the end, the extra time put into engineering and planning proved to be more than worth the effort. Unlike many mountain homes that feature one main structure with a massive great room, Jai’s 5,000-square-foot home features three separate gabled structures that are connected yet independent of one another.
“The dining, living and master areas are separate structures, and each caters to the spectacular waterfall view,” explains Miller. “Each structure also has its own exterior space with a timber-frame porch facing the falls.”
The timber frame matches the grandeur of the falls, defining the space with a quiet elegance that imparts a sense of instant tranquility. The frame was carefully pre-cut at Oakbridge’s workshop, and then shipped to the home site for hand assembly.
The structural Douglas fir timber frame features coastal, slow-growth, kiln-dried wood with traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery. The timbers range in sizes from 8-by-8 posts and 8-by–10 bent girts and rafters, to 4-by-10 diagonal braces and 5-by-7 purlins. Attention to detail lends a distinctive look throughout.
The decor of the home is equally striking. Jai carefully selected all of the furnishings himself, choosing high-end tile from Italy, wood floors from Sweden and cabinetry from Germany. A sleek, polished look is the result. His favorite feature is the custom-designed home theater.
“It was one of the first 3-D theaters in a residential home,” he shares. “It’s a secluded space that’s great for even just listening to classical music.”
The minimalist approach to decorating allows for the grand waterfalls to take center stage, which is exactly what Jai had hoped for when he first set out to create the home.
“Even when you are taking a shower, you can look down over the falls and feel an incredible sense of peace and unity with nature,” says Jai. “I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.”