For this family of six, their new home in The Ramble brings them back to their roots. A multitude of timber, a deeply personal art collection, and family heirlooms remind them of their life in the Pacific Northwest.
“This is an Oregon timber frame home for Asheville,” the owner says.
Griffin Architects and builder Tyner Construction worked together to create a masterwork of reminiscence. Its timber-framed great room, walnut floors, Brazilian ipe decking, and two acres of mature trees recall the Pacific Northwest bioregion, one historically steeped in forestry. The family even considered milling trees from their property and using sustainable wood — a practice that’s gaining popularity — but time and intention got away from them.
The wood, stone, and brick residence in The Ramble sits amid homes influenced by grand mountain traditions — but it more broadly reflects the Asheville of today. Because the homeowners are originally from the Pacific Northwest, they believed they’d return to Portland someday, but opportunities and raising four children kept them in the Blue Ridge.
Architect Robert Griffin used his palette of historical knowledge to bring local touches to the drawing table. For example, the bracket details on the timber frame in the great room can be found in the residential architecture of picturesque Montford, a few miles away. Pulling ideas from the local vernacular into the design places the house in a category not easily labeled. He calls it Asheville Transitional.
I don’t think I’d put it in a historic style,” says Griffin. “It has the feeling of a shingle-style house, but it has more contemporary features and proportions. It has the symmetry and wings of a Palladian or Georgian house, but there’s nothing Georgian about it.”
The house breaks one of Griffin’s usual standards: he rarely draws a symmetrical design. However, the site, at the end of a short cul-de-sac, called for a new look — two garages on either side of the house. The facade presented challenges in designing the floorplan, but from the outside, the grouping of buildings tells visitors they have arrived at a distinguished centerpoint.
“In 39 years of practice, it is the second ‘almost’ symmetrical house I’ve done,” says Griffin. Besides the cul-de-sac, it was “the way the land was shaped,” he adds, that “just sort of said ‘symmetry.’”
Incomparable Art and Light
During summer, the sun comes up early and stays out longer above the 45th Parallel. Although the correlation may have been unintentional, the owners wanted lots of natural light in their new home. If the sun is up, they said, artificial light shouldn’t be necessary.
Griffin concurred, and, together with Marc Tyner, incorporated expansive mullioned windows toward the backyard, paired with short eaves that fulfill the family’s desire for day-lit rooms. Light floods the upstairs through several skylights, purposefully splayed to allow the maximum light penetration. A skylight in the kitchen, which looks like a light fixture, is a chimney of mirrors to capture even more light. Most of the rooms, save for a few closets, don’t need a light bulb on during an ordinary day.
All the better to view the family’s art collection. It’s an important part of each area, especially the wide hallways. Griffin says on a recent visit, “I like galleries, not halls.”
The home is filled with original paintings and photographs. Some evoke family stories; others are more formal. The first piece of acquired art is propped on the fireplace mantel. The colors of the painting, by Asheville’s Douglas Freeman, and the hue of the stonework, from Table Rock Quarries, are an uncanny match.
Because so many of the family’s artworks contain trees — again a nod to a wooded Oregon — there’s a tongue-in-cheek moratorium on acquiring any more.
Modern furnishings, including glass and crystal items, are deftly blended with traditional pieces. A side table in the master bedroom catches light and adds a a bit of sparkle to the muted beiges and soft blues of the space. These contemporary elements are often juxtaposed with an heirloom — an inherited upright baby grand, an antique bed frame, a conversational objet d’art weathered by the elements (namely, a few steer skulls that once hung on a family barn in Oregon).
Interior designers Lizzy Summerlin and Shawnna Graham of LS Interior Design worked closely with the family in selecting most pieces of the furniture, decorations, rugs, and fixtures.
“Often as interior designers we are primarily concerned with the aesthetics, but with this particular client it was a delicate balance of finding elements that were handsome as well as meaningful,” Summerlin says.
For example, in the guest room, the eye is drawn to a set of fiber-art pieces by the family’s great grandmother — three stars made by tatting, a heritage craft of lace-making — and a perfect example of preserving the old while living in the new. Summerlin decided to frame the delicate fabric stars.
In a stairwell passage, a wall quilt of gingko leaves hand sewn by the client’s mother is framed and on display. If the owners had their way, they’d also rescue the timbers of an old barn from back home, but there’s just nowhere to use it in the new place.
Taking Comfort and Green Seriously
For a family of six and two indoor/outdoor dogs, the house accommodates generous living, entertaining, and comfort. Inviting furniture, an extra-large kitchen island, and striking views coax visitors to sit and stay for tea. A finished lower level puts the house at close to 8,000 square feet.
No room goes underutilized, and yet, astronomical utility bills aren’t part of the bargain: many green features keep the environmental impact low. Certified a Healthy Built Home, the house has five geothermal wells. Far more efficient than forced-air systems, they heat and cool the house by a water-to-air exchange. Having more stable temperatures underground maintain the house at an even temperature in all seasons.
Also, cellular insulation raises the bar on its efficiency, according to Tyner. The house’s HERS score (Home Energy Rating Score) is 57, compared to the typical new-home construction range of 80 to 100 (meaning it will use only 57 percent of the energy that an identical house built to code would use).
Another ecological feature, a rainwater catchment tank, is buried beneath the back porch. Downspouts send water into the tank for future use on the grounds, and for an existing fountain made of pottery that adds a serene element to the extensive landscaping.
Proportionally, aesthetically, and practically, the home suits the clients in nearly every aspect, Tyner says. “It’s a comfortable family home that recognizes sustainable building practices within the context of authentic Asheville architecture. Every detail has been realized with meticulous execution.”