Natural Selection

Photo by Tim Burleson
Photo by Tim Burleson

“I would gladly have bought the home myself, if my clients hadn’t,” declares Black Mountain architect Thomas Lawton, of the simply designed cabin that sits amidst a riot of rhododendrons, and whose charms had faded due to time and neglect.

But buy it they did. A couple with two teens, they lived in Winston-Salem but dreamed about the possibility of a mountain getaway after spending Thanksgiving at a friend’s rustic log cabin.

From their first peek at the woodland home, built in the ‘70s, they sensed its potential. No question, they’d need vision. The house’s challenges included of-the-era features — an inefficient heating system, warren-like rooms and a bank of windows whose Craggy Pinnacle views could only be accessed by those short in stature. In other words, the petite owner saw the view of the century — the husband and architect, both six footers, not so much.

Extant positives aplenty informed Lawton’s redesign: centrally placed mechanical systems, great bones and abundant natural materials. Just a few significant modifications would transform the house, corresponding nicely with his philosophy of thoughtful design analysis. “To add real value, throwing money and square footage at a project isn’t the answer. My modernist training emphasized doing more with less. The clients and I hoped to honor this home’s modern roots while giving it family-centric, practical livability.”

Three fundamental changes made the house live larger and smarter: removal of the wall between the kitchen and living area, a kitchen redo and the replacement of five north-facing windows. The front doorway was relocated as well; a new cayenne colored door, equipped with a vertical row of three centrally placed square windows, was added.

“Once we determined the project’s greater vision, I exposed the client to the mid-century modern aesthetic. I gave her an issue of Atomic Ranch, and she was off!” The client laughs knowingly, confessing her nocturnal online treasure hunts, obsessively scouring sites like “I had great fun finding pieces at thrift stores, online and at mid-century modern shops.”

Joyful simplicity permeates the home’s interior, achieved through a restrained, naturalistic color palette that succeeds in bringing the outside in, and several carefully curated furniture pieces and accessories. Had the owners veered toward Brady Bunch-era avocado and harvest gold hues, the interior could easily have turned muddy. The owner lucked out at Sherwin Williams when she discovered they carry original vintage colors; a chartreuse she chose is truly of the period.

The kitchen and living/dining area, which are separated by a streamlined breakfast bar, are bathed in natural light, adorned with honey-toned paneling and floors, and splashed with tangy citron and shots of persimmon. The kicky lemongrass, paprika and sunflower Fiestaware display serves as the kitchen’s visual exclamation point.

Color and texture dominate the living area, which owes everything to Mother Nature. A wood framed couch has textural, nubby cushions whose pale orange is not unlike the interior of a butternut squash. Wooden slat-backed chairs with grassy green cushions and a classic boomerang coffee table complete the uber-simple furniture grouping. The extra large-looped taupe shag rug, fresh floral throw pillows and woodburning fireplace add physical and metaphorical warmth. The pieces’ mixed provenance ups their casual quotient, encouraging relaxation.

The dining area follows suit with its circular, Saarinen-inspired dining table and Eames-influenced chairs. A multicolored oval box set in the corner offers uncomplicated graphic interest; rather than being lost in an ephemeral crowd, its statement is strengthened by isolation. The George Nelson bubble pendant adds sophistication, while a mounted cardboard deer head playfully references the lodges of yore, preventing the space from taking itself too seriously. A modest deck beyond begs visitors to enjoy an al fresco cup of joe.

The home’s finishes are dead ringers for the originals they echo, including bright silver circular cabinet pulls and streamlined light fixtures. The client’s dark Caesarstone countertops and understated appliances counter any hint of the contrived.

The clients and architect agree that teamwork was the project’s hallmark. The mother and daughter, both crafty types, helped place and lay the handcrafted milky white, chocolate and jade-swirled rectangular art glass tiles used under the breakfast bar and for the kitchen backsplash; the kitchen designer offered advice on how to make the stock cabinets appear custom.

The homeowner admits it’s harder to leave with each visit. “It’s incredible — we’ve got privacy, yet we’re within striking distance of Starbucks and downtown. We’ve never had TV or Internet here, and I don’t imagine we will,” she says.

Incontrovertible truth: this project’s “after” was worth the wait for all involved. Proof again that editing beauty is as important, if not more so, than speedily amassing the Right Things.

Call 828-669-8670 or visit for more on Thomas Lawton Architect.