Once upon a time, Atlanta designer Bill Cook decided that his mountain home was just too small. He wanted to be able to share the magical feeling he had every time he escaped to his Highlands, North Carolina, cottage with more friends and family. So Cook decided to tear down his post-war weekend home (Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, August 2005) and expand up until it was just right.
“When I cross the state line, I feel bathed in the green light through the trees, and relief and relaxation wash over me—like I’m stepping into a storybook,” says Cook. “I wanted to take that feeling even further with the design of the house.” The designer worked with architect Michael Faust, and the early plans were inspired, in part, by Grimms’ Fairy Tales with exaggerated pitched roofs and more ornate details. Cook drew back a bit. “I didn’t want people to drive up and feel like they were going to be baked into cookies,” Cook laughs. “But I did want the home to look conjured from the imagination, like a dream.”
So fairy tale images were blended with the local architectural influences of the Appalachian region. “Dutch and Scottish details were added as a nod to his family heritage,” says Faust. The result is Laurel Nest, a home tucked into the hillside with exhaustive attention to detail inside and out.
Confined to rebuild on the previous home’s footprint, Faust took the opportunity to vault the foyer and second story in perfect proportion to the house, which suffuses the residence with airiness and light. Cook salvaged an array of objects from the demolition, reusing kitchen cabinets, light fixtures, wisteria vines and laurel branches—anything that might work with the new concept. Then he and Faust set out to find quality reclaimed wood and materials indigenous to the area, giving the new house instant character. Stonework was designed to look as if incorporated from the ruins of an old house. The hallway into the living room is a grotto that appears as a natural extension of the stone above the mantel. “I didn’t want to overkill the stonework,” said Cook. “This is not the Flintstones’ house.”
Cook was determined to be in by Christmas and started moving in while the paintbrushes were still going because there was a lot to unpack. “I did edit my old collection,” he says. “Then I gathered during the building process. Now, if I find something new, I have to pull something to switch it out or the house would be bursting at the seams.”
While designing, Cook was inspired by the personalities of friends and family, even the memory of one of his most beloved dogs, Diesel. But overall, he aimed for a balance between luxury and comfort. His guests had to feel invited into the fantasy. Humble pieces mix with fine antiques, and dogs and people alike are encouraged to put up their feet and relax. “I want visitors to be able to peer inside that feeling of loosing your way in the woods and finding yourself in a place of refuge.”
The layers, the history and the patina that fill the house may be the story, but it’s the welcomed flow of friends and family that creates the fairy tale.