This Designer Bought Her Mountain Home Sight Unseen, Then Discovered Its Secret View
Now a 17-foot-long dining table takes advantage of it.
Published Feb 17, 2023 1:10 AM
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Birmingham, Alabama–based interior designer Betsy Brown had long kept tabs on MLS listings in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just south of Asheville, North Carolina, where her oldest daughter lives and runs several adventure businesses. But it was her less-than-appealing sleeping arrangements when she visited (she usually got her granddaughter’s top bunk) that ultimately inspired her to take the leap and buy a 1,500-square-foot home of her own in the area—sight unseen. When Brown finally drove up to see the property, she was greeted by her family in the driveway, and they were stunned when they walked around the back of the house and discovered its best-kept secret. “It was the most beautiful view I had ever seen,” says Brown. “We all looked at each other in shock. My children had lived in the mountains for many years and had never seen a panorama as dramatic as the one we were facing.”
Strangely, none of the images in the real-estate posting had captured the sweeping vistas of the gorge. What Brown also couldn’t tell from standing inside was that the kitchen had been centered along the main back wall, and there was only a small window above the sink and another window and door next to the breakfast nook that overlooked the landscape. Brown called on her friend of 25 years, architect Paul Bates, to help her open up the 1960s home to its surroundings. He raised the ceiling in the new living room and kitchen as a nod to the structure’s mid-century tendencies (although really the style is a mix of modern, ranch, and cracker architecture).
Bates’s other big move was to add steel and glass doors to the front and back of the home, allowing one to see straight through the existing 12-foot-wide hallway. Because it’s still a small house at the end of the day, Brown didn’t want to let the vast entry go to waste, so she put a 17-foot-long table in the middle of it. The oak-wood piece has been in her family for years, and the glitter dust and dried-up bits of Play-Doh (remnants of her grandkids’ craft projects) in its cracks are proof. “When they started to walk, they’d climb on it and run down it like it was a racetrack,” shares Brown. “Everyone would be screaming because it was funny and scary at the same time.” Now the wear and tear just brings back good memories.
Likewise, the materials that Brown and Bates sourced for the renovation each tell a story. Much of the walls, ceiling, kitchen cabinetry, and even the pantry door are clad in reclaimed white oak boards they picked up at an old wood mill in North Carolina. “When they were first put in, you could hit your fist on the wall and sawdust would pour out of the wormholes because they had just been cut,” says Brown.
The chunky stone fireplace came from a local quarry and is reminiscent of the rocks that can be found in the Green River down the mountain. The Brutalist chunks have a rough appearance from far away, but up close they glisten in the sun, thanks to the little flecks of mica. When the fire is roaring, the velvet sofa is everyone’s place to sit and soak in the view. “It’s 12 feet long, so you can have multiple people snuggled up on it,” notes Brown.
When the designer bought the vacation home, the brick facade was red and the roof was rusty. At first she considered keeping it that way because she liked the tonal color story, but her contractor swiftly swayed her to an all-black look that better suited the fresh doors and windows. “I didn’t want it to look brand-new, so we picked a color [that resembled] the dark bark of the trees,” she explains.
Around back, she opted for a gravel terrace with a small firepit and weatherproof folding chairs. Nearby hiking trails offer a steep (and slow) descent down the mountain to the river, but half the fun is stopping along the way. “There’s an outcropping with a large rock that cantilevers out that everyone calls The Hotel,” shares Brown. “Kayakers like to stop there, and you can sit there in the rain without getting wet.” Turns out, the view from down below is just as good as the one up top.