Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, 20 minutes north of Asheville, is an Arts and Crafts, Prairie-influenced home that could almost fit in along the streets of Oak Park.
No real surprise since the owners, Pete and Lin Von Dreele, lived in Oak Park for 31 years and took a bit of Oak Park with them when they retired to their native state a decade ago. Pete, co-founder of Von Dreele-Freerksen Construction Company in Oak Park, conceptualized the couple’s dream home to replicate aspects of their former 1905 Tallmadge and Watson-designed home on North Elmwood.
Making a connection between Oak Park and Asheville isn’t difficult. Asheville is teeming with vintage Arts & Crafts bungalows and hosts the Annual Arts & Crafts Conference at the renowned Grove Park Inn, which draws hundreds of international experts and collectors each February. Also similar is the rich connection with social, political, and volunteer involvement in which the Von Dreeles have immersed themselves.
“What we love about this area is the cultural vitality of the mountains, the beauty and amenities, such as a top-rated medical complex,” said Lin. “From fine dining and theater to music of all sorts — from symphony and opera to mountain music — this region has it all and draws many to the area. Our daughters and their families were just here, 12 of us bedding down in our house — six on air mattresses and couches. Besides a festival in downtown Asheville, we went hiking, zip-lining, swimming, and golfing. There was lots of good eating, conversation, and laughter on the porches. This is a gathering place.”
One memorable gathering took place in the fall of 2013 when former Oak Parkers, the diaspora currently living in other towns and states, came for a weekend. The Von Dreeles hosted a dinner party for Jean and Dave Radford, Wood and Jane Caldwell, Jo Miller and Rob Webster, Kary and Jim Deuel (who now live down the hill from the Von Dreeles), and this writer who sampled Southern hospitality and warm remembrances of Oak Park.
While they cherish their one-of-a-kind home, the Von Dreeles are preparing to downsize and build a smaller one, closer to town. Their marketing to a broad audience, yet the couple hopes it might lure a Midwestern Prairie-style enthusiast to call this their mountain retreat.
The house is located in Horseshoe Ridge, a small community in Barnardsville, on a 2+ acre lot, surrounded by mature walnut, poplar, pine, and maple trees in a park-like setting. At a 2,300-foot elevation, the 4,300-square-foot home has year-round vistas facing east toward 6,300-foot peaks along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Two-tiered decking, including a screened porch, span the length of the house. The exterior detailing of the home, designed by Oak Park architect Scott Simmons, exudes an Arts & Crafts flavor, with the open front porch, reminiscent of a large California bungalow, its broad overhanging eaves beckoning visitors to gather and rest awhile under its shelter.
Inside, Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of bringing the outside in is evident in every room. Sun streams through a wall of windows across the side facing the mountains. The floor plan, which Pete envisioned and drew to scale before handing it off to Simmons, is a blend of traditional styles and modern design, especially in the kitchen, with added eco-friendly technology.
“We put solar panels on the south-facing roof to provide hot water for domestic needs as well as heating,” he said. “The four-zone, in-floor hot water radiant heat provides even heat, just as our radiators did back in Oak Park. The heating backup during cloudy days is an efficient propane-fueled furnace.”
“We intentionally incorporated some of Vernon Watson’s architectural features, especially in the living room,” added Lin. The locally crafted front door opens into the heart of the house, where, like in early Prairie houses, there is the wood-burning fireplace with custom Motawi tile surround and hearth and built-in bookcases on either side. Pete designed and built two wooden “light screens” to provide natural light in the adjoining hallway. The screens mimic Watson’s radiator covers in the Oak Park house. Running trim and cased openings are consistent throughout the main floor.
The home is designed for living on one level with living room, kitchen, sunroom/informal dining room, office, and master suite. The very functional kitchen has state-of-the-art appliances and granite counter tops. The 7 x 3.5-foot work island becomes a gathering spot when the Von Dreeles entertain. At the end of a long day, the seven-person hot tub just outside the master suite is a perfect place to unwind.
On the lower level, two sizable bedrooms are situated around a large common room, which they call the project room. Down the hall is a media room, where, Pete said, “some of the younger generation slept when the family was here earlier this month.” On a rainy day, the project room can serve as a second family room where kids play games, and just outside the door is the screened porch for family meals or quiet reading on the swing or hammock.
Given Pete’s mechanical aptitude, the house would not be complete without a basement workshop. He’s into furniture building now, requiring, of course, more and more tools. Lin encourages this endeavor, which has produced a lovely Mission-style side table for the living room. Two cherry bedside tables are on the drawing boards.
“We have loved this home and the comfort and pleasure it has provided us, our family, and friends,” said Lin. “In the morning, the front porch is perfect for a cup of tea; at the end of the day we sit with a glass of wine on the deck to watch the constant movement of clouds and changing color over the mountains. The birds are with you throughout the day. Then, depending on the season, we can retreat to the screened porch or fireplace to end the day.”
It doesn’t get more sublime than that.