Our Mountain Home: Fingerprints on a Mountaintop

The authors tried to exert a light touch when they built their mountain home.


| November/December 1981



072 mountain home 2 hand hewn stairs

These stairs were hand-hewn.


JAMES WALTON SMITH

Reprinted by permission, from the June/July 1981 issue of American Craft, published by the American Craft Council. 


Our first responsibility when we undertook to build a mountain home was to understand the mountain meadow where it would be located. We began to ruminate quietly upon the land, to study its personality, its idiosyncrasies, its will, its contours, its soil, its watershed, its juxtaposition to neighboring mountains, and especially its exposure to sky and weather. We needed to know the strengths and directions of its prevailing winds, to record storm patterns, and to plot the path of the sun as it warmed our soil.

Moving to Penland, North Carolina was easy for us. It was a little like coming home, since Penland lies in an extraordinary natural landscape and is the home of the Penland School of Crafts, which has long served as a crossroads of creative energy. This growing crafts community was where we wanted to be.

Our backgrounds are very different. One of us (Louise) has lived both in the suburbs and in a city, while the other (Don) has spent years in rural Scandinavia. But we've both been teachers: one in the classroom and workshop, the other through writing books. We wanted to translate theory into practice.

We each, in our own way, have long been professionally committed to a celebration of personal space. Our challenge was clear: to create a personal, handmade living environment. What kind of space did we have in mind, and what were our priorities? First, we had elected to build on a totally exposed mountaintop, so warmth was a major consideration. Next, we wanted our interior space to feel limitless, like the sky above our meadow. We wanted to eliminate those right-angled hiding places where energy gets cornered. The form had to flow, to feel organic. But how do you go about translating an abstract idea into an environment?

Initially we tried sketching our ideas on paper, but the sketches were only an extension of the abstract. There was no way of capturing in them the reality of what we wanted. We tried to disengage ourselves from our intellects and trust our intuitions. That was when we came up with the idea of the rope.





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