Those Thousand Little Decisions

By: Catherine Brooke Eastman

“Rocky Branch” stone (from French Broad Stone & Supply) and “Autumn Smoke” brick (Cason Builders Supply) announce the exterior of this English-style cottage, built by Buchanan Construction to fit the requirements of one of Asheville’s more secluded historic neighborhoods. Steeply pitched, cross-gabled rooflines keep the look authentic, and Project Manager Collyar Barksdale with Buchanan notes that “the stone was locally sourced and thin cut … and using the same dark-colored grout as we used with the brick really added that historic feel.” He cites local Chester Stucco for all stone and stucco work.
Photo by Ryan Theede

“We wanted to be able to walk to a quality cup of coffee.” So goes the frequently repeated maxim of a retired GE Aviation engineer, who became hooked on the healthy lifestyle after he and his wife lived in a pedestrian- and bicycle-centric German town. Following a long search for the local version of that sweet spot, Keith and Jan built a European-style cottage in one of Asheville’s small, lesser-known historic pockets — a neighborhood that’s walkable to downtown with its bistros, boutiques, and many artisanal coffee shops.

Husband and wife both saw their fathers confined to wheelchairs late in life. That’s probably not in the near future for this active couple, who have a daughter in college. But even so, they launched their dream home with foresight, using the latest aging-in-place/universal-design components featured in the plans of Lisa Sandlin, a residential designer near the couple’s original home base of Cincinnati. Buchanan Construction of Asheville materialized the project, adjusting the plan to a tight urban space. “It’s always tough building a house on a very confined lot,” notes project manager Collyar Barksdale. He credits an “amazing neighbor” who allowed the firm to store materials and park vehicles on his property. 

 Local architect Tad Dotson adjusted the one-story blueprint for even more ease, lowering the garage level and siting infrastructure for a future elevator, as well as implementing all the subtler components of the aging-in-place concept (wide entryways, modified appliances, etc.). 

The homeowners’ practical needs were specific, but they took a temporary back seat to the exigencies of building new in an old district. That challenge fell to Madison McGraw, who presented plans to the Historic Resources Commission of Asheville (a division of city and county government). Buchanan Construction’s in-house interior designer, she helped with all aesthetic selections — “I was at every meeting,” says McGraw — working with Dotson on the all-important brick-and-stone exterior. “Rolling with” the Sandlin plan, Dotson nevertheless had to make the exterior look like it belonged in a district with 100-year-old houses. “It had to be more traditional, to fit with the neighborhood,” he explains.

Inside, McGraw selected tile, countertops, and cabinetry, plus the all-important interior palette: light and fresh, but still faithful to a vintage-cottage feel, it aesthetically supports Keith and Jan’s collected antique furniture. That meant a low-key “Level 2” paint finish instead of sleek and modern. And though the homeowners chose new hardwood ceiling beams, they enthusiastically distressed those beams with hand tools to make them look weathered and settled in.

“They really roughed them up,” says McGraw. 

The couple is proud of their all-in approach, whether it’s putting in sweat equity or deciding cabinetry height. Jan reports that she and Keith spent “an enormous amount of time with all our subcontractors,” and Keith agrees: “There were a thousand little decisions that had to be made.” 

“There wasn’t a detail of this home that was not already years in the making,” notes Barksdale.

Easy Prep

In the kitchen, antique-white, flat-panel cabinetry with high-contrast fixtures (High Country Cabinets) upholds the mix of freshness and vintage charm found throughout the house. Less apparent are subtle aging-in-place features, including a side-hinged oven and an under-counter dishwasher and microwave. Blackwood matte “Cambria Quartz” countertops on the perimeter are from Mountain Marble. The six-sided island, topped by “Statuario Maximus” Caesarstone quartz, includes extra storage and bookshelves. The glass-paneled butler’s pantry shows off the couple’s china and crystal.

Photo by Ryan Theede, Styled by Sandra Ford

 In the great room, more Rocky Branch stone forms the handsome surround of the ventless gas fireplace. The rustic mantel pays homage to a 108-year-old white-oak tree formerly on the property. The hardwood beams were enthusiastically hand distressed and stained by the homeowners for an old-timey look. 

Photo by Ryan Theede, Styled by Sandra Ford

Hidden Benefits

In the dining room, hand-distressed beams contrast with textured plaster walls (seen throughout the home) and are further dignified with family antiques, including a late-19th-century English armoire and dining-room table. French doors lead to a screened-in porch. Chandelier is from Christie’s Lighting Gallery. Hand-hewn hickory floors throughout are sourced from Leicester Flooring. 

Photo by Ryan Theede, Styled by Sandra Ford

Porch Life

Thanks to architect Tad Dotson, builder Buchanan Construction, and designer Madison McGraw (with Buchanan), not to mention continual input from the homeowners, the exterior of Rocky Branch Cottage was impeccably constructed to look old. And yet the residential design (by Lisa Sandlin of Cincinnati) features the very latest in “aging in place” features both inside and out. This includes having all the main-level living spaces on one story. The deep front porch is graced by an antique oak swing owned by homeowner Keith’s grandmother. Here it absorbs all the camaraderie of a tight-knit historic neighborhood.

Photo by Ryan Theede, Styled by Sandra Ford

A working antique sewing table acts as a bedside table in the master suite, complemented by an august four-poster bed.  Art and furniture are from the homeowners’ lifetime collection.

Photo by Ryan Theede, Styled by Sandra Ford

The beveled glass door panels are from the original family home in Cincinnati. All furniture was selected by the owners. Jan’s project room includes a reading corner and work table.

Photo by Ryan Theede, Styled by Sandra Ford

A European-style walk-in shower with hexagon floor tiles transitions to a marble surround. The teak bathing bench and his-and-her shower heads fulfill the aging-in-place ethos of residential designer Lisa Sandlin while also maintaining a high level of sophistication. 

Photo by Ryan Theede, Styled by Sandra Ford

Setting a Spell 

The covered back deck features a pocket version of the great-room fireplace — this one is woodburning — with dark-stuccoed stone lending a bonafide vintage feel and another mantel repurposed from a century-old tree on the property. Antique wicker chairs are from the homeowners’ collection.

Photo by Ryan Theede, Styled by Sandra Ford


Builder: Rick Buchanan, Buchanan Construction (Asheville)

Project Manager: Collyar Barksdale (with Buchanan Construction)

Interior Designer: Madison McGraw, Allied ASID (with Buchanan Construction)

Architect of Record: Thomas A. “Tad” Dotson, Jr., T.A.D. Architect P.L.L.C. (Asheville)

Residential Designer: Lisa Sandlin Design (Hamilton, Ohio)

Landscape Architect: Greg Cloos, Cloos Landscape Architecture, P.A. (Horse Shoe)

Appliances: Haywood Appliance (Asheville)

Brick: Cason Builders Supply (Flat Rock); Installation: Blue Ridge Masonry

Building Materials: Builders FirstSource (Asheville/Hendersonville)

Cabinetry: High Country Cabinets of Asheville

Countertops: Mountain Marble (Asheville)

Stone: French Broad Stone & Supply (Asheville/Brevard)

Stucco: Chester Stucco (Asheville)

Tile: Horizon Tile & Stone (Fletcher); Tile Installation: C&S Stone & Tile (Hendersonville)

Lighting: Christie’s Lighting Gallery (Fletcher)

Flooring: Leicester Flooring (Asheville)

Landscaper: Raymond’s Garden Center & Landscaping (Hendersonville)

Plumbing Fixtures: ProSource Plumbing Supply (Hendersonville)

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