When you know, you know…or you take an educated guess. Designer
Betsy Brown knew the Green River area of North Carolina, a popular rafting and kayaking spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where her daughter Sara Bell ran a wilderness adventure company. She had driven by the house years before, when she was looking for a vacation place near her family, and had eventually found the listing on a real-estate website — it was a 20th-century house in the American vernacular style: a pastiche of ranch, cracker and mid-century styles.
Scroll down for a full tour of this mountain retreat!
The 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom dwelling needed work. The designer learned that the house, which had an unusual 12-foot-wide central hall flanked by two large rooms, originally came from a 1960s kit. It was likely renovated in the 1980s, when the owner charmed it up with pieces of timber that made it interesting, but it still felt choppy. Betsy immediately called
Paul Bates, a Birmingham, Ala., architect and longtime collaborator — the perfect complement to her elegant, tailored aesthetic. She knew Paul, a friend for 25 years, would be able to navigate the quirky nature of the cabin. “He has such a mellow, unpretentious style,” says Betsy. “It’s really soulful.”
The listing didn’t show the view. “It looked like the area behind the house was in the clouds,” says Betsy, who lives in Birmingham, Ala. “Something about it felt good, so I decided to take a chance and buy it sight unseen.” The following week, Betsy met Sara at the house. Sure enough, when they walked to the back, the ridge dropped off to the river gorge and left nothing but view. “It was almost scary, it was so dramatic,” says Betsy. “Everyone was speechless. Sara had lived in the mountains for years and had never seen a spectacular panorama like this one. It was like we’d hit the jackpot.”
They eliminated drywall above and raised the ceiling to the roof rafters. With an easy back-and-forth, they made other changes, including Betsy’s idea to flip the floor plan so the living room could face the expansive view. “Some things just happened naturally,” says Paul. “We had a plan, but it was interesting to see things change, and Betsy was very open to that. Our language is similar, and what I find exciting about our relationship is that we teach each other. It’s always something new every time we work together.”
It was Paul’s idea to open up the front and back walls with steel-framed glass doors to reveal the mountain view clear through that wide entry hall. Come holiday time, family gatherings are focused at the dining table Betsy decorates with flowers, local greenery and candles. “The table’s finish has grown more polished with constant use, and the red wine stains and glitter in the cracks make me happy to see,” she says. “I like to use materials that will age gracefully and tell the story of our lives.”
“When I saw the place, my immediate thought was, this is a little too rustic,” says Paul. “I knew Betsy wouldn’t be afraid of the glass I wanted to bring in because she just thrives on natural light.” Built in to new wood-paneled walls and floors, the custom oak kitchen looks original.
The backsplash and stone counters echo the black-framed glass doors. Keeping the original timber in some places, they sourced reclaimed oak barnboards to panel other rooms. “Paul masterfully incorporated them into the kitchen and bathrooms,” says Betsy. “For me,” he adds, “it was an experiment.”
Black-framed glass and steel doors in the kitchen open wide for an indoor-outdoor feel.
Backed by widely chinked timbers, the principal bed is covered in a custom linen bedspread; a wool flannel drape can be drawn across the room for privacy. Passionate about vintage pieces, Betsy gravitates toward warmth, patina and mid-century design.
In the guest bedroom, Betsy combined rustic antiques and natural linens with modernist items like the sconce.
Paul designed the oak bathroom vanity with a black soapstone counter and a black oak– framed mirror that nods to the other black accents throughout the house.
After the year-long renovation, all the risks taken have definitely paid off. This vacation house is a sophisticated and cozy hideaway, a place Betsy can retreat to for downtime. The palette is restrained and comes from the landscape. Scandinavian and Japanese influences appear throughout, and both designer and architect embraced the imperfection inherent in the reclaimed materials. “The house feels humble, ageless and rooted to the drama of its setting,” says Betsy. “We wanted the atmosphere to be warm and authentic, with objects that have been collected over time.”
Author: Ellen Himelfarb
Betsy Brown; Architecture: Paul Bates Architects