Bill and Kathy Nolen found their ideal vacation timber frame house exactly where they expected, in the verdant Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. What surprised them was that instead of the undeveloped site they were seeking, they stumbled upon a semi-completed timber-frame home in northwestern North Carolina that looked as if it had been designed just for them.
The Nolens — dreamers about their new timber frame home but realists about the quest—had imagined that their search for the perfect site would take weeks, followed by months, perhaps years, of working with architects, designers, builders, timber-frame experts and specialty artisans to create the ideal getaway for their large family. Instead, Bill and Kathy felt that the partially built timber house outside Banner Elk, North Carolina, was designed just for them.
With 4,400 square feet including four bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths, the timber frame house could accommodate the many guests and family visitors they expected at their second home. But even more, the Nolens loved the way local timber frame builder Brett Schwebke brought the unspoiled textures and natural materials found outside the home in the Blue Ridge — and other parts of the world — into the design and the decor. Brett, owner of Tynecastle Builders, had named the timber frame house Ramblestone in honor of the unique stone cottages built by the area’s early summer residents.
Fieldstone from the area graces the front of the timber frame home and the grand entry supports, and was used for the fireplace on the rear porch. Cherry and maple for the floors, cabinets and ceiling was “reclaimed” from trees that were felled during timber frame construction
. Brett literally brought the mountain landscape inside, just as the large windows and porches bring in the sweeping views of the mountains.
The approach reflects Brett’s respect for nature, born of his many summers vacationing on this land in his childhood. Before clearing the two-and-a-half-acre site, he meticulously assessed the land in order to preserve trails that local wildlife had created for access to food and water. “ I left a few trees on the site to split later for mantels for the timber frame home’s five fireplaces — and to build a pair of benches for the portico,” he said. According to his friend Nancy Harrison of NEH Designs, who worked with him on the design of the timber frame house, Brett “doesn’t just build houses, he works to preserve the area’s special magic for future generations.” From elsewhere in North Carolina, the builder brought in hand-scraped oak flooring for the entry and reclaimed worm-marked chestnut for the kitchen cabinets.
But the natural elements are not all local. The vintage Italian hardwood entry door was imported from Tuscany. The deck is spruce, the above-deck frame is western red cedar and the house’s frame timbers are Douglas fir — all from the West Coast. Yet despite the timber frame home’s different wood elements throughout, its large square footage, a magnificent mountain panorama, and the Japanese-inspired, stacked-gable entry, it looks relatively small when approached from the front.
“I wanted to build an unassuming timber-frame jewel box that resembled a simple cottage from outside,” Brett said. “You’d have to walk into the house before it would reveal its treasures. I thought this might be the kind of house a family like the Nolens would want to live in.” The Nolens so loved the timber frame house as they found it that they asked for only two minor changes. Kathy requested that an interior wall of the mudroom be moved to accommodate a home office, and she wanted to incorporate a baker’s station in the kitchen island.
The Nolens decorated the finished timber home, but the inspirational outline came from builder Brett Schwebke, with an assist from his designer and timber company. “Brett sketched Ramblestone’s front elevation with multiple gables overlaid on adjacent pitches to minimize the overall height and create a unique roof line,” says longtime collaborator Tom Owens of High Country Timberframe and Gallery Woodworking in Boone, North Carolina. “Then he gave us the freedom to design a unique timber frame that showcased exceptional joinery, materials and textures.”
Today, the Nolens are thrilled with their vacation timber frame home in paradise. “This house is as close to heaven as we can get on earth,” Kathy says. “Our children and grandchildren love this place as much as we do.”