Brave New World

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“Dream home” is too common a term to describe what John and Renee Brooks envisioned for their new place in The Ramble. “Fairytale home” comes much closer.

Merging their creative and professional sides, the Asheville couple went for sophisticated whimsy reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel in the Shire.

“It’s funny … my brother, who came up to visit from out of state, didn’t realize this was our house as we were driving up the road,” says John. “When he saw it, he said, ‘Oh, look. A hobbit house.’”

The Brooks’ 4,400-square-foot home in south Asheville hugs a fir-tree backdrop. Two eyebrow-roof curves, a high round window, and an intricate roofline give the home an Old World, even an otherworldly, quality. Sticking to natural materials, PebbleDash Builders of Asheville used stucco on the exterior and anchored the foundation with Tennessee native fieldstone. The back of the house features mullioned windows on every major expanse. Three tall fireplace chimneys and finials at each end of the roof complete the motif.

“I love the outside,” Brian Hutzler, partner at PebbleDash Builders, says. “The complexity of the roofline and how it comes together is unique architecture.”

Architect Christopher Phelps (who has offices in Charlotte and Asheville) calls the influence Old European or English Revival, albeit well within a Southern Appalachian context.

“It still has a good feel that we expect in the mountains,” Phelps says.

Inside and out, dark wood plays a major role. Sturdy square columns of timber and matching beams frame the main entrances and porte-cochère. Inside, though, the style moves away from whimsy and into the eclectic. The interior of the Brooks’ home gravitates toward a contemporary minimalism.

The warmth of dark-stained 4-inch white oak floors, from Blue Ridge Floors in Asheville, softens the stone, metal and tile details throughout the main level. Light fixtures and lamps from Christie’s Lighting Gallery in Fletcher and furniture, rugs, and accessories from Tyson Furniture in Black Mountain all feature modern lines with a touch of color to pop against the white and subtle gray walls. In line with the metal details, the Brooks commissioned artist Warren Perdue of Asheville to build a metal buffet table in the formal dining room and a fixed shelf at the entrance to the master bedroom.

For artwork, the couple, both accomplished amateur photographers, enlarged their own pictures to display throughout the house. Some of the photos are scenes from their own property. Others are from places they’ve traveled, such as Yosemite and Chicago. By laminating the photos onto metal, they tie the artsy snapshots into the modernist theme.

Construction in the Blood

Renee is a former contractor who’s built homes in Western North Carolina, so she had strong ideas about the floor plan. With everything but dimensions in hand, they approached Phelps about four years ago to draft a conceptual plan.

“We actually had a PowerPoint presentation and took an iPad into the initial meeting,” John says.

Renee recalls, “[Phelps] came back within a weekend with the original plan. It blew us away.”
Self-described introverts, the two of them needed space to live and work as a couple. They have dual offices, dual master closets, and dual entrances to a luxury master shower. They live together, but autonomously.

Their living space is contained on one level, and a downstairs suite is a just-in-case private quarters for guests or for future aging-in-place options. Career-driven, John and Renee work on the main floor across the hall from one another, but not so close that phone conversations bleed over into the other’s work space. John maintains an office in Fletcher, but his home office overlooks the park; hers has a view of the stone-terraced carport and a greenbelt on the edge of their one-acre lot.

“It is a little unusual in that it’s basically a one-story house,” says Phelps, “which is absolutely an empty-nester type design. We don’t do a lot of those. The fact that they can do their day-to-day living on one level, which is pretty convenient, and run their companies out of the house, means a lot of flexibility for them.”

Precise layout decisions were coordinated with Talli Roberts and Sharon Allard of Allard & Roberts Interior Design of Asheville, who kept an eye on lines, proportions, and other custom details.

“They were on the scene first, and what they were really good at was helping us make sure that the lines and the structure were going together in an aesthetically pleasing and functional way,” Renee says.

“From the furniture plan, to ceiling design, openings, and circulation spaces … we really did spend a lot of time going through their plans and making sure the spaces worked for them,” says Talli.

For instance, the designers suggested that the main fireplace line up with the sofa, the range, and the island. Equal care was taken with decisions about windows and cabinets. Because of Renee’s construction background, she took the lead on many decisions, often with deft certainty. Hutzler of PebbleDash says this made the process incredibly smooth.

“She wasn’t intimidated by building a custom home,” Hutzler says, “which for many, the first time especially, could be intimidating. She really handled it very well. Being able to cast that vision to everybody made the project very successful.”

During construction, the Brooks had the advantage of living one subdivision over, so nearly every day they visited the site. If something needed attention, they consulted with designers, subcontractors, and Hutzler, often right away. Renee recalls one example.

“When we chose the floor for the garage, he said, ‘Can you choose a flooring? Let me know.’ And about five minutes later, I called him and said, ‘This is the number, this is the color.’ And he said, ‘You’ve already chosen it?’”

John had particular design ideas, too. The flat-screen TV in the living room is hung at line of sight from the sectional couch; the stereo surround sound for theater-style viewing is designed to perform at its peak acoustically. The unconventional shape of the fireplace in the living room, 5.4 ft. x 1.5 ft., was designed to accommodate the most optimal placement of the TV. The extra long hearth opened up the possibility of seating, including an eight-foot CaesarStone bench in front of the fireplace.

Multi-Use, Open Space

“We don’t have anything in this house that we don’t use on a regular basis,” says Renee. “We don’t have extra space.”

Her office doubles now as an exercise room, and both offices could be converted into bedrooms. The laundry, outfitted with a full-sized pull-down ironing board, is set up for TV watching. The master bedroom can function as a cozier office, where Renee works occasionally while watching TV or enjoying the fireplace.

Personality-wise, the home fits their no-nonsense lifestyle. Renee is a marketer and videographer who worked many years for senior living facilities. John works in media, heading up a company that provides voice talent all over the world. At home, he uses a high-speed scanner to store his documents, a tool that clears his desk of clutter.

“Because we’re in media, we’re also pretty devoted to being paperless,” Renee says. “All of our books are online. He has a few in here that we didn’t get electronically, and I have a few in my office, but we unloaded boxes and boxes of books.”

The home capitalizes on open space and generous circulation areas for comfort and entertaining. Seating for a large dinner party is a breeze, and every room in the home is functional and versatile.

The couple consciously placed seating at the kitchen island to give guests a place to relax and let the cook do the cooking. But parties often migrate to the screened-in porch. If it weren’t for the special pollen-filtering screens, the porch could be taken for a second living room.

“Especially when the interior decisions grab hold of the space,” says Phelps, “it becomes an outdoor living area.”

It’s been the biggest surprise of the project. The porch has become an important personal decompression chamber for the couple, whose entrepreneurial lives keep them on the go. The design originally specified a larger space. But the Brooks downsized the first plan, and the porch shrunk by four feet. They’re glad they stopped there.

“We had no idea it was going to be as important as it is,” she says.