Welcome to our architectural review newsletter. This up-close look behind the scenes and the mind of Harry Gandy Howle reflects how each finished home is a project of energy and enthusiasm that represents an intense level of attention to details.
This idyllic cottage is located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and was a labor of love for Harry and his wife, Claire. The home was once owned by the publisher of the “Blowing Rocket” newspaper and later owned by the founder of “Twigs,” a delightful Blowing Rock restaurant.
Claire and I grew up in the small town of Hartsville, SC. In Hartsville, there are basically two choices for vacation plans: the beach or the mountains. Many families from Hartsville have homes in Blowing Rock that had been in their families for generations. I always looked forward to an invitation to spend some time in that quaint mountain village, with its cool summer temperatures and relaxed Southern-Appalachian hospitality, which is a great contrast to the hot Carolina sun and sand.
People who have homes in Pawleys Island, SC have a slogan to describe their lifestyle, “Arrogantly Shabby.” I like to refer to Blowing Rock as “Elegantly Rustic.” Claire’s parents decided to leave their beach home in the Pawley’s area, primarily because of two major hurricanes that twice led to extensive damage and major renovations. Apprehensive of another such destructive event, they made the decision to pull up stakes and move to higher ground – Blowing Rock, where they had many friends from Hartsville and surrounding areas. It was a perfect choice and a wonderful change of venue for them and our family. We enjoyed traveling here every summer for the Fourth of July. Soon it became apparent that we needed our own house to allow Claire to be close to her parents for the whole summer. It also allowed us to enjoy all of our friends and family who summered here, including friends from Vero Beach, FL!
We found what we hoped would be a temporary home until we could build a new house on our other property, which has a tremendously long view of the Great Smokey Mountains. On a clear day you can actually see the skyline of Charlotte, NC from that vantage point, 78.29 miles as the crow flies. Our decision was to purchase this very small home within walking distance to town, with a soft view of Grandfather Mountain and an orientation that captures the mountain sunsets, which made the spot even more desirable.
Though we were pleased with the location, the house itself needed an “Architect’s Touch” and additional space. We agreed to renovate, taking the existing 1,400 square feet and revive the dark, narrow front porch by making it an architecturally positive addition. This provided us with an elegant foyer, a dining banquette, and a small functional office as a work-from-home space for me. We also were able to bring some of Vero Beach to the design by having The Hill Group build our Gothic doors, beams, and casework for the house. Once built, I loaded them on a truck and hauled them up the mountain, and the artistry of those additions made the home even more invaluable because of the connection between the two places in our lives.
The Gothic Cottage vernacular that we chose rendered the house a much greater presence, while still respecting the natural environment of the property and not disturbing the graceful woodland setting, which includes a small creek and waterfall that offers a soothing cadence to the charm of the location.
I like to joke and say that my wife collects “roadkill.” The real story is that she and I used to love traveling all over Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, and beyond to hunt game – in our favorite antique shops. For years we had gathered all of these interesting treasures along with bits of furniture and Black Forest trophies. We stored them in a warehouse, with no idea of what we would do with them all. These items became the catalyst for our interior design in our mountain home. Everything fit perfectly, as if we had planned it. That’s part of the magic we created for ourselves, and the watchful gazes from our forest friends are so comforting.
Beyond the essential addition of the necessary square footage, the one thing we enjoy the most is our beautiful, organically designed covered porch. We hired local artisans to build the rhythmic “twigged” rhododendron railings and the fences surrounding the garden. Part of the porch is covered and part is not, providing both a sheltered area and a sunny spot to enjoy. So many people don’t realize how important a covered porch is in this rainforest setting. Being able to relax outside, even in a deluge, is a primal experience. Thunderstorms create theater when you can remain in the midst of it without getting drenched. That’s what architecture can provide: not only can we help you capture the environment in which you live, we can also make it as friendly to your needs as nature will allow.
Most of the folks up here give their homes a name. I chose “Gothic Relief” for obvious reasons and had it carved into a granite headstone that sits at the end of our driveway. My wife wanted to name it, “Dogs Breath,” because of all of the Cavaliers we have in that small house. There are moments however, when I think we should have named it “Halcyon,” because that’s exactly why we have remained in our little cottage for the past 20 years. Claire’s parents have moved on, my parents too, as well as some of our friends up here. We have had some of the best of times here with them all, but for now our memories are as real and sweet as those times we all shared.
“Halcyon: characterized by happiness, great success and prosperity. Golden, often used to describe an idyllic time in the past that is remembered as better than today.”
That’s what memories can provide to a place, a time and a home. That’s why we still love our little place in Blowing Rock.