It’s not a spot that would immediately appear to be an ideal home site — but, then again, sculptor Dave Taylor is well versed in recognizing the potential in what others overlook. For more than two decades he’s been forging assemblages that convert metal scraps into witty works of art. So when he saw the creek that ran smack dab down the middle of a hilly parcel in Black Mountain, it set his creative juices flowing.
“I come from the Adirondacks — from a lake in the woods — so I had to have some sort of water feature on my property,” explains Taylor. “I knew I wanted a modern approach for my house — I’d been saving pictures from magazines of design features that I liked.”
Among those inspirational images was Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous structure “Fallingwater.” For Taylor, however, the iconic house was lacking a key element: “I wanted to be able to see the water beneath the house.” He envisioned separate pods linked by a conduit that, in his initial sketches, “looked kind of like a hamster tube.”
Enter architect Chris Larson, who wasn’t at all intimidated by the challenges of the narrow, almost vertical parcel or his client’s unique criteria. “I really enjoy difficult sites and interesting problems, like shoehorning a house in on an unusual site and making sure that it works well, doesn’t abuse the landscape and provides all the things that the owners really want,” he says. “I think that’s great fun.”
Taylor and his partner Nancy Burns required a compound of three buildings: the main residence, an ample garage and a separate structure for Fire, Steel & Rust, Taylor’s sculpture studio. Given those parameters, Larson agreed, the house would need to straddle the creek.
He envisioned the main living space as a bridge, encased in glass to create the sense of being outdoors. “The house gets narrower and taller right where the stream is, so you feel like you’re spanning the waters,” Larson notes. To amplify the immediacy of the streambed — and satisfy Taylor’s desire to view it — three rectangles of double-pane, half-inch tempered glass are inset into the bamboo-clad floor.
From the organic baseline of the creek, the certified HealthyBuilt house is a sculptural counterpoint. Its metal roofline has an old-world alpine air, but a decidedly contemporary sensibility. Larson starts with a single gable from which he riffs angles and planes like a jazz composition, soaring at the entry and dipping low — three feet from the ground — in one corner. Windows, often trapezoids, appear like grace notes, tucked into niches at lofty points or near ground level.
“Chris designed it so that the light would move through the house,” observes Burns. “When you walk in, you get a tremendously positive feeling.” The geometric energy is almost kinetic, so, to balance the soaring ceilings and angled walls, strong horizontal elements anchor the space: glossy, lipstick-red UltraCraft kitchen cabinets; a long, low, linear fireplace; and the exposed steel support beam which bisects the great room (a tip of the hat to Taylor’s métier).
The interiors bear the stamp of the artist’s delight in industrial materials and reductionism, lightened by a touch of whimsy. Taylor fashioned a steel “barn door” — hung on vintage French clothesline pulleys — to cover the entrance to the home office, then inset an illuminated stained-glass window into it. An antique Victrola, retrofitted as a liquor cabinet, is tucked into the wall of streamlined kitchen cabinets. A polished, purple retro bumper car sits in a corner as if poised to take a spin around the living room.
Outside, Taylor’s intentionally rusted pieces sit comfortably in the landscape, punctuating the deceptively natural-looking stonework done by Jeff Nelson of River Rock Construction, which chiefly utilized stones unearthed on the property during his excavation. At the base of the house, concrete slabs, artfully hidden by well-positioned boulders, ensure that the structure will remain steadfast should the creek swell.
Artfully conceived, positioned and constructed, the Taylor/Burns home is a joyful interplay of the manmade and the natural. “I wanted to do this house from scratch — to do it my way,” says Taylor. “I basically wanted a piece of sculpture I could live in.” And a unique sculpture it is. A river runs through it.