One glance at the exterior reveals that this North Carolina home doesn’t fit the vernacular of typical timber frame style. Since the owners are from New Zealand and have traveled extensively throughout Europe, the home reflects more of a Victorian and French flavor. “Our British heritage ingrained in us more formal styles, so our preferred aesthetic is somewhat traditional rather than all contemporary,” says homeowner Cynthia Lewis.
With just $400 in their pockets, newlyweds Cynthia and Arthur Lewis had high hopes for a bright future when they arrived in the United States back in 1970. The optimistic New Zealand couple dreamed big, but they never imagined that someday they’d own a showcase-worthy home that would grace the pages of a glossy magazine.
“The house is a dream come true for both of us,” says Cynthia. “Building our own house was something Arthur had always wanted to do. Over the years, he pored over floor plans and construction styles, and the urge never really left him.” The idea for a timber home took shape when the couple decided they were ready to retire nearly four decades later.
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After spending many years working in corporate America and raising a family in New York, the couple headed for the tranquility of Asheville, North Carolina, to enjoy their golden years. “We wanted a pastoral setting, and a home that would satisfy our love of wood and be accessible as we age,” shares Cynthia.
“The ambiance we hoped to create was similar to a mountain log home we had vacationed in a few years before — an open plan, high ceilings, beautiful woods and a quiet retreat.” It didn’t take long for Cynthia and Arthur to decide that a timber home was the best fit.
“We had visited various timber-frame homes and we loved the beauty of the wood and its durability and strength,” recalls Cynthia. “Then we attended a log and timber home show, which alleviated the ‘where do we begin?’ concern.” During this time period, the couple re-connected with an architect they’d discovered a few years earlier, Ken Wertheim, AIA, of Mountain Architecture in Asheville, who was now an independent representative for Timberpeg, the company that the couple selected for their project. Ken was involved from the very beginning, helping the couple find land, do a site analysis, and plan the perfect home.
“My clients wanted me to design a home with a sense of Old World style and craftsmanship, but sensitive to a mountain vernacular architecture,” says Wertheim. “They desired an open floor plan with outdoor living space to take advantage of mountain views.” The site that Wertheim found for his clients is idyllic — set in the Mt. Mitchell foothills, the sloped property affords breathtaking views of both the Blue Ridge Mountains and the lights of downtown Asheville.
“We’re close to downtown, yet it has a ‘far away from everything’ feel,” says Cynthia. Designing a home that truly fit the site was a priority for Wertheim. “The biggest challenge was the steep slope and the narrow footprint the site could accommodate,” he recalls. “Also, since it is their retirement home, the couple wanted everything they personally needed on the main level.”
The final layout incorporates 3,000 square feet of living space, plus an additional 1,300 square feet of covered spaces. The main level houses the great room, kitchen, dining areas and master suite, while an upstairs loft provides two guest bedrooms and a bath. The bottom level is home to a two-car garage, theater, rec room and small office.
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The building process was smooth, thanks to a collaborative effort between the architect, the homeowners and the builder, Living Stone Construction of Black Mountain, North Carolina. Wertheim was on site to offer technical assistance during the frame install; the crew from Living Stone assembled and erected the pre-cut frame and SIP panels.
“The only challenge for us was that when you’re building a timber frame, you need a lot of staging area for the timber kit and SIP panels,” says Sean Sullivan, owner of Living Stone. “On this job, we were limited on space, so we had to plan out and deliver components at different times.” Another issue that arose was the need for a much more significant retaining wall to ensure the security of the structure.
Though it was a major, unbudgeted expense, it did not delay the project in any way. The result of everyone’s hard work is a beautiful home that boasts an awe-inspiring, Douglas fir timber frame supplied by Timberpeg. The structural frame boasts beams that range from 8-by-8-inch posts to 8-by-12 –inch rafters.
“We decided to go the route of a hybrid timber frame with a full frame at the great room, and timber ceiling joists with tongue-and-groove in the master bedroom and the kitchen/dining areas,” explains Wertheim. “Incorporating several building systems and integrating them into the design were a priority.”
Energy efficiency and universal accessibility also factored into the design. “We incorporated a geothermal heat pump and thick SIP panels,” explains Cynthia. “The home was also designed to accommodate ‘aging in place’ with things like 36-inch doors, lever-style handles, plenty of turning radius in the bathroom, and even an elevator to the lower level.” Creating the illusion of space was also critical.
“We wanted to capitalize on the open flow, giving the perception of more space,” says Wertheim. “Outdoor living space was also incorporated.” The style of the home strays a bit from your typical timber-frame home, reflecting more of a Victorian or French influence. “This probably originates from our upbringing in New Zealand, where our home city of Christchurch was established on mostly Victorian architecture,” shares Cynthia. “Our British heritage ingrained in us more formal style.
In addition, the house is situated in a community with a French name, and our architect developed a design that reflected that concept.” The interior design — created by Laura K. Sullivan, ASID, of ID.ology Interior Design in Asheville — harmonizes with the home’s formal exterior. “Their vision was to create a beautiful, timber-frame mountain home that would utilize the surrounding scenery and views,” says Laura. Custom details enhance the decor, from beautiful paintings created by Arthur’s mother, to Maori carvings and a 100-year-old piano from New York.
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A combination of new furnishings, antiques and custom-made pieces define the setting. Overall, Cynthia and Arthur couldn’t be happier with their dream home. “We were striving for a house where we could safely grow older together in retirement, a place we could share with family and friends from places far and wide,” says Cynthia. Looking back on their humble beginning, the couple is incredibly grateful for just how far they’ve come — their years of hard work have paid off, and the duo is ready to enjoy every second of their senior years in their beautiful new surroundings.
Architect: Ken Wertheim, Mountain Architecture, 828-298-7280
Builder: Living Stone Construction, Inc., 828-669-4343
Tour A Custom Timber House in North Carolina
An open floor plan helps to create the perception of more space in the home, visually enlarging the actual square footage. “We also incorporated adjoining, carefully planned furniture layouts for form and function,” shares the interior designer.
The great room offers easy access to a deck that runs the length of the house, offering plenty of opportunities to sneak a peek at wildlife and maybe even spot a bear or two. The room also houses one of Cynthia’s favorite pieces, a baby grand piano.
The owners’ passion for formal style is evident in the dining room, where formal furnishings in darker woods contrast nicely against the lighter colored wood floor.
A sense of sophistication defines the kitchen, where Lemurian granite and stainless steel appliances sound a note of luxury. Custom maple cabinetry continues the upscale theme. The homeowners opted for a kitchen table in lieu of an island because they had no desire to climb on and off higher bar stools. A local craftsman made the custom granite-topped table.