The McParland Mountain Retreat

A lifetime of accumulated skill, a willingness to learn, and persistence enabled this elderly couple to build the mountain retreat that fulfilled their dream of getting back to the land.

| March/April 1983

Roger and Doris McParland began to plan the home that became their mountain retreat more than 20 years ago, when Doris was a personnel manager for Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Roger was in the Air Force. The couple, who are enthusiastic bargain hunters, started their long-term project by collecting materials — such as a half-dozen French doors bought for $2.00 apiece from Goodwill, bathroom tiles picked up at a church sale, and even handmade hardware that Doris brought back from a visit to relatives in Czechoslovakia. During that same period they also traveled to study buildings that had been designed by the architect whose work most impressed Mrs. McParland: the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright.

Yet today, seven years after breaking ground for the second time, the McParlands still haven't finished their home. And once you know a bit more about their innovative, experimental natures, you're likely to understand why they probably never will.

From Spray Booths to Beach Balls

Roger was discharged from the service in Port Huron, Michigan in 1964, and opened an automobile body shop soon thereafter. Not to be daunted by his own lack of experience, he taught himself the new trade, by reading books and practicing on the family car. In short order, customers were clamoring at the doors, and the fender-unbender business rapidly became a success. However, when a doctor told Roger about the respiratory problems that were beginning to be associated with the auto repair occupation, the health-conscious pair decided to sell the body shop and try again.

Before long, they announced to friends that they intended to start a swimming pool construction business. More than one acquaintance suggested that, given their northern location, they'd taken leave of their financial senses. (At the time, the mid-1960's, few people guessed that Michigan would rank third in the nation in private swimming pool ownership within ten short years.) Indeed, business was little slow at first for Pleasure Pools, Inc. But the combination of good timing and quality work got the firm on its feet, and soon Doris was able to give up her job and devote her time to keeping the office end of the concern under control. Within a decade, Roger and Doris had built the business to the point where the proceeds would allow them to realize their dream: constructing a home in the woods that would permit them be relatively self-sufficient.

The house sketches that Doris had been making — for years! — gradually became more detailed, and the couple located a 40-acre parcel of country property outside Port Huron. When they were satisfied that the sun angles were properly arranged and the floor plan was to their liking, Doris prepared a scale model of the home. Roger began the site preparation work in 1973, and the first of the concrete was poured before the cold weather came. The McParlands were alarmed to discover, however, that their 40-acre retreat was a little less tranquil than they had anticipated. A nearby tavern catered to sometimes raucous motorcyclists in the summer, and come the winter months, the snowmobile crowd took over.

This affront to their peace and quiet—coupled with the considerable discontent that the McParlands had been feeling over the weather and the tax situation in the Great Lake State—caused them to decide to stop construction and look elsewhere for a place to build their home. After checking out the sunbelt from coast to coast, they settled on western North Carolina and purchased 60 acres, set two miles back from the main highway, in Cherokee County. Eventually the Michigan property was sold; the purchaser inherited a partially completed, 105-foot-diameter slab and basement. (Roger chuckles today when he recalls the phone messages he got from the confused new owner, but admits that in the end the fellow did a good job of working with that semicircle of cement.)

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