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Late evening light casts David Fason and Diane Johnson’s Floyd County house in silhouette.
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Noire, one of the couple’s resident felines, joins David Fason at his laptop.
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Peg construction marks the home’s timber frame design.
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Even the kitchen’s cabinet pulls reflect the outdoors.
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David Fason and Diane Johnson stand in their living room.
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Local pottery reflects the independent, artistic bent of the county the couple calls home.
Husband and wife David Fason and Diane Jackson fell in love with the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains around Floyd, Va., six years ago, not too long after the high-school sweethearts reconnected at a reunion and fell in love with each other again. Although they were living in Greensboro, N.C., they made weekend pilgrimages to Floyd, where they became winter innkeepers at Stonewall B&B. As they plotted going rural, Fason and Jackson compiled a list of must-haves for their dream house.
“A small house with lots of light and wood,” Jackson began.
While light and exposed wood aren’t unusual preferences, the next items on the couple’s list were – laundry facilities in the bedroom, a recording studio and an in-floor radiant heat system.
Fason, a guitarist who has opened for the Allman Brothers and Atlanta Rhythm Section, wanted a built-in sound system so high fidelity “you feel like you’re in a headset.” The couple requested a kitchen and living room that merged to accommodate parties and a wrap-around porch for viewing sunsets as well as winter views of Haycock and Bull mountains. They also had a notion of watching the moon from indoors.
They started with their passion for wood. Jackson, 53, and Fason, 54, set their hearts on a timber frame house using exposed posts and beams joined with mortises, tenons and wooden pegs. In the U.S., this style of construction is often synonymous with vaulting, barn-sized homes.
“When we went to our first timber frame company and told them what we wanted to do for around $200,000, they practically laughed us out,” says Jackson, a high school language teacher.
Then Fason’s friend and fellow Windfall band member Michael Kovick mentioned a craftsman who had started his own timber frame company, Appalachian Rhythm, in Floyd County. The couple tracked down Larry Smith at a timber raising and were impressed with his meticulous work – and his assurance he could work within their adjusted budget.
They hired lead designer Deborah Chevalier, assisted by her architect husband, Alfred, for their extensive experience creating architectural plans for timber frame structures. Chad Clark of Handcrafted Log Homes in Dublin, Va., was brought in as the builder.
The Chevaliers, advocates of Sarah Susanka’s Not-So-Big House philosophy, enthusiastically supported Fason and Jackson’s interest in low-impact, green construction materials and techniques, such as efficient radiant heat, SIP (structural insulated panel) ceiling and the use of wood and tile.
The Chevaliers helped them obtain their essentials without feeling cramped. At the architectural team’s suggestion, the staircase was located outside the main footprint of the house to preserve open living space. And, thanks to Deborah’s touch of arched doorways and thoughtfully placed arched windows, Fason and Jackson have their moon views, with a nice frame.
Since they moved into the 2,300-square-foot stone and cedar-sided house in March 2006, the couple loves to share the beauty of their Douglas fir-beamed living space by hosting informal gatherings for up to 100 friends and family. Their parties feature first-class music as well as good wine, sunsets and hot tub sitting on the porch that wraps its fan-shaped railings around two sides of the house.
“It’s an extension of our living room,” says Fason.
The pair considers a formal dining room wasted space and eat their dinners on the porch, before the fireplace or at the granite counter separating the kitchen from the great room. The drop-leafed table can be extended in the great room for semi-formal occasions.
Focal points of the great room are the west window (in daylight) and the two-story rock fireplace (at night).
“We’d planned for a wood stove, but the north wall cried out for a rock fireplace,” Fason says. Jackson’s parents gave them a positive-pressure, glass-enclosed fireplace, so the couple now has the best of both – energy-efficiency and the rosy glow of a fire.
Soft tan leather couches face the fireplace, and small table lamps, a clock and Alfred Chevalier’s handmade lantern lend a chorus of varied wood tones to the room. A WWII Liberty Ship’s battered pine hatch cover has been retired as a coffee table after serving on the S.S. Matthew Lyon at Guadalcanal. According to Jackson, the ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, but managed to reach land under its own power.
The granite counter flanked by a row of metal swivel chairs (from Lowe’s) separates the great room from the kitchen. Mexican Saltillo tiles, handmade and sun-dried, coordinate with the salmon walls. The kitchen, a major focus for this cooking duo, features a steel five-burner Kenmore Elite Dual Fuel range with two ovens and a double-door stainless steel refrigerator. Black granite countertops and “cherry chocolate glaze” cabinets round out the sleek, clubby atmosphere.
The couple’s ultimate sanctuary sits directly overhead. The loft above the kitchen catches the sunrise and sunset through arched windows. This intimate space offers a good vantage of Larry Smith’s carvings of the phases of the moon on wood pendants of the frame. The couple shopped the internet for the perfect log furniture for this casual setting. Noire, the more adventuresome of their two cats, uses this nook to access exposed beams for walks around the top of the great room.
The stair tower, between the kitchen and master bedroom, is decorated with a wrought iron chandelier with a woodsy, pinecone motif that harmonizes with sconces on the floor landings. Builder Clark worked the Douglas fir of the timber framing into the design of the staircase.
The bottom floor contains two bedrooms, one of which doubles as an office, and the Undertoad Recording Studio. A cabinet made with wood salvaged from New England church pews decorates the snug smaller bedroom, which is separated from the studio by a carved wood screen. Fason’s folk/blues band, Windfall, recorded tracks for their latest CD in the cozy studio.
The couple plans to grow old in this house, so they put the master bedroom on the main floor. The room is adjacent to a step-in shower, and a washer/dryer stack in the bedroom closet makes laundry a snap. Fason, who sells financing packages for telecommunications gear, had the house wired for voice, audio and video inputs in every room and a smart box installed to someday control lights, burglar alarm, climate and communications.
“We even have a box wired for TV above our bed, so when we’re old we can live in there,” Fason jokes. But right now, Jackson adds, they’re nurtured every day by the beauty and comfort of the entire house.
Timber Frame: The Artist
Anyone who has admired Larry Smith’s work is not surprised to learn the timber frame craftsman is descended from a family of Irish shipbuilders. In fact, Smith himself declined an apprenticeship at the Newport News Shipbuilding Company after he graduated from high school.
Instead, he served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam conflict, then earned a B.A. in sociology from Christopher Newport University and studied classical guitar at Radford University in Montgomery County, Va. But Smith has always been a kid who climbed under tables to see how the legs attached, he says. So when he began helping retired Henry County Sheriff C. P. Whitt at his woodworking shop, all other interests took a back seat.
“It was a calling rediscovered,” Smith says.
In 1982, Smith opened a custom woodworking shop in Blacksburg, Va. with woodworker Rocky Lusk, and later apprenticed with renowned Scottish cabinetmaker Douglas Charteris.
“Practically all of the furniture I've done in my own shop has been one-of-a-kind,” says Smith. “If I can avoid using a power tool, I will.”
In 1990, he signed on with Dreaming Creek Timber Frame, a Floyd company whose first contract was to build a 200,000-square-foot frame in Sundance, Utah – the nation’s largest residential timber frame structure. After learning all aspects of the trade, Smith was ready for the next step when his brother asked him to design and build his timber frame house. This marked the beginning of Smith’s own company, Appalachian Rhythm LLC, in 2002.
“I wasn’t surprised to hear Larry is a fine furniture maker,” says designer Deborah Chevalier, who worked with him on the Jackson-Fason house. “A well-done frame is like a large piece of furniture. It’s done by hand and fits together perfectly. He did beautiful work." —SCW
Photography by Paul Calhoun.
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