By Sherrie Norris
One of the most anticipated local events of the year will be taking place this coming Friday, July 26, as St. Mary of the Hills Church rolls out the red carpet for its 61st Annual Tour of Homes.
Known far and wide as one of Blowing Rock’s premiere events , the tour is expected once again to draw hundreds of people to the High Country for a glimpse into some of the area’s most unique and amazing private residences.
This year’s event co-chairs, Ron and Radie Armstrong, look forward to continuing the legacy of the tour for the church, as well as to the town and charities within Watauga County that benefit from the proceeds.
Having worked with the tour for the last five years, the Armstrongs said they consider it “an honor to work with dedicated folks who believe that sharing skills, experience and material wealth is a privilege and natural to this community.”
Furthermore, they said, “There is a joyous relationship across boundaries of business, church, citizenry, donors, volunteers and charitable organizations that supports the Tour of Homes each year.”
This year is no exception, they added, and described the kickoff gala as having exceeded expectations in attendance, as well as fundraising.
“Friday, tour day, is slated to bring good weather with 130 volunteers at the ready,” said Radie. “There were 19 committees that have been working on the tour over the last seven months.”
She likened their role of chairing the tour to air traffic control — “with many smart, experienced pilots doing the real work, surely and successfully.”
The Armstrongs are “newly full-timers in Blowing Rock,” she described, and are awed by Blowing Rock’s gracious generosity — which is exceeded only by its physical grandeur and beauty.
“We look forward to tour day and the anticipation of what it can do for Watauga county citizens.”
Always held on the last Friday of July, The 61st annual Tour of Homes gets underway in the church lawn, with chauffeured transportation to and from the four featured homes on this year’s tour. It all begins at 9 a.m. with the last tickets sold at 3 p.m. and the houses closing at 5 p.m. Tickets for the tour are $30 prior to the event and $35 on the day of the tour.
Tour tickets are available online at stmaryofthehills.org, at the church office at 140 Chestnut Drive in Blowing Rock, and beginning this Wednesday, they will be on sale at the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce office.
It is suggested that patrons set aside three to four hours for the tour, with extra time for lunch at the church café, for an additional $15 — and shopping.
“St. Mary’s notoriously good bakers and friends will sell delectable treats,” said Raidie Armstrong. “A Timeless Treasure Sale will provide browsing through art, kitchen and home items and sundries of all sorts.”
These added events, along with a few surprises, will take place under tents on the church lawn.
There are four distinctively different homes this year, the Armstrongs noted, and include the following:
STEVE PRICE MODERN HOME
Steven Carter Price had long admired the chic modern house that had been built at the entrance to the Ansley Heights neighborhood . It was of the Industrial Modern styling and not at all like any other house seen in the area. However, it was not available, so he built a new home nearby, and made it his special place. No sooner was he getting settled into his lovely and custom designed home than the house that he had admired became available — and the rest is history!
The new house needed a few interior modifications and there was no garage, and so a sensitive “updating” and “add on” was begun. For a house originally built on the edge of its beautiful wooded lot, there were space and zoning limitations, but a place for the garage was determined and construction begun. The new garage perfectly matches the house and not only serves its purpose, but also provides a studio and guest suite in its lower level.
Crossing a perforated metal bridge to the front door sets the mood to the industrial modern interior, but also gives you a view, below, of a beautiful setting in the courtyard of the lower level.
The house consists of three “boxes” or “cubes,” one that has the living room in the upper level, and a bedroom and bath in the lower, and the other with the kitchen/dining room on the upper level, and the master bedroom and bath in the lower. You enter into an entry “bridge” which serves as the only point that joins the two cubes together, but that immediately gives you views of the tree tops outside. The third cube contains the guest apartment/studio and the garage.
A bright red Volkswagen Beetle and a “silver” Airstream trailer, made of recycled steel drums at knee height, greet guests at the front door. The Airstream opens up to reveal an ice cooler, and the two “adult toys” give you a feeling of the easy and fun attitude that you will find throughout the house.
Each of the cubes has a staircase that is enclosed in an open bookcase and shelving unit, and setting the direction for the other furnishings, while the polished concrete floors provide the industrial modern influence. The living room has a large gray sectional sofa that faces the fireplace. It is surrounded by classic midcentury furniture designs, including a Charles Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman, Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs, and a Noguchi Cocktail Table.
In the dining area, a rectangular rustic modern table has the place of honor, and is flanked by long seating benches. There are also two slipcovered chairs in gray fabric and leather. Down the stairs, the bedrooms are beautifully, but simply furnished, as expected from a modern house.
Throughout the house ,be sure to notice the art on the walls.
This is just part of the owner’s collection of local area artists, including several Raymond Chorneau paintings, who was a previous owner of the house. You do not want to miss seeing this very unusual and very personal house.
After a thorough look at the Blowing Rock houses available at the time, Tim Hamilton and Ron Wootten knew the minute they stepped into the Mayview condominium and saw the stunning view, that this was the one. In just over a year, the two have furnished, decorated and added personal touches, making this place their own special mountain home.
In the entry ,you are greeted by a group of nine paintings covering a large wall. Ron and Tim painted the artworks, modern and abstract renditions of natural elements seen in the area. The art sets the relaxed tone of the home. Stepping into the dining room, you get your first glimpse of the unsurpassed view of Grandfather Mountain, Hawksbill, Table Rock and all the beauty of the Johns River Gorge.
With the view as the focus, the owners have kept the interior colors neutral and understated. Using grays and soft browns accentuated by the blues of the sky and the greens of the trees, it is a serene color palette.
A black painted accent wall holds a large carved wooden fireplace and over-mantel that were imported from England by a previous owner. Large stone Doric columns brought from Italy frame the opening to the living area and give the otherwise contemporary space a feeling of permanence. Another black wall defines and anchors the dining area which is furnished with casual contemporary furniture.
A guest bedroom serves as a homage to the historic roots of the property with a large photograph depicting an aerial view of the Mayview Manor Hotel. The historic building once perched on the lip of the gorge where the condominium now stands. The hotel, torn down in the 1970’s, was a tour de force of chestnut wood, with an exterior of chestnut bark. Using similar bark, Tim and Ron designed a large custom headboard which extends behind the bedside tables. The room also features an enlarged image of a promotional brochure for the hotel, dating from the 1940’s.
A master bedroom suite and an upstairs loft studio/bedroom complete the condo, but the deck and its views are the joy of this home. It is the place to sit, relax and take in the wonder of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
MOLLY NORTHERN CABIN
To find a 200 year-old log cabin hidden in the woods in the center of Blowing Rock may sound like a dream, but that is exactly what Mike and Molly Northern have done! As the owner of Blowing Rock Property Services, Mike had long taken care of the cabin for the Williams family who had moved their original family log house here in the 60s from Booneville, in Yadkin County. As an interior designer, Molly (owner of Molly Northern Interiors and The Bee & The Boxwood in Boone) has used her talent to transform the old cabin into a fresh, updated mountain retreat.
The original log cabin has undergone several remodelings since its beginning, so, structurally, all the Northerns had to do was add a master bathroom. The interior required a lot of clean up and updating. Lots of white paint was used to lighten everything, Including all the ceilings and trim. New countertops and backsplash, along with a farmhouse sink, were added to the kitchen; the upstairs bathroom was completely renovated, but the charm and character of old log house has been kept intact.
Outside, the Northerns had the grounds around the cabin landscaped and added a flagstone patio featuring seating around a cauldron-style fire pit. They also painted the board and batten exterior with a color Molly felt best complimented the beautifully aged logs.
You can forget the old “cutesy” decor that you might think of when you hear the words “log cabin.” Instead, think of fresh, clean and happy, and you would be describing this cabin. Yes, there are some antique chests and chairs used throughout, but all of the upholstery is contemporary, and white is the overall theme of the house. There are white fabrics, and white with a touch of green, used in every room.
From the large comfortable swing on the porch filled with accent pillows, to the two “spool chairs” that flank the huge stone fireplace, almost everything is upholstered or slipcovered in white cotton.
In addition to antlers, accessories consist of prints of ferns and leaves. A large painting by Asheville artist, Bee Sieburg, adorns the wall next to the dining table, and carries through the touches of fern green.
On the main level there is the two story living/dining area, the small but adequate kitchen, the cozy master bedroom, and the new and very luxurious bathroom. Up the stairs is a twin bedded guest room, a bath, and another cute single bed in what was the original loft overlooking the living room. The overall effect is compact and charming.
You will definitely want to sit on the porch of this delightful place, enjoy the views of trees and woods, and have an iced tea. This house is a dream not to be missed.
Karen and Bobby Rice have spent two years renovating and updating their home on Shadow Lane. But then a renovation job is not a new thing to the 99 year-old house. It has seen many, many renovations and remodelings in its history. So many in fact, it is near impossible to find the original house and know for sure what was added when and where.
That is all history, but the results are spectacular. What you see today is a house that has a very open and spacious floor plan, a very “today look” in its decor, three floors of spacious living and dining areas, six very luxurious bedrooms, and then, as an extra bonus there is the
outside with numerous covered sitting and dining areas, and a beautiful patio. If all of this is not enough, there is the view from nearly every window, as well as the decks and the patio, they are superlative. A large and important collection of antique Majolica has served as the inspiration for the color theme used throughout the house. You are greeted at the front door by an entrance hall, painted a bright shade of turquoise. This blue/green color is seen in much of the Majolica that can be seen throughout the house, and the then again, on select pieces of furniture. It is really a standout in the set of Chippendale dining chairs that have been lacquered in the color, as well as the antique French sofa that has been lacquered white then upholstered in a lienee version of the color. Pay particular attention to the collection of art and pottery by North Carolina artists. This pretty decorative color scheme is what you might expect in a house decorated by Karen, who is an artist and painter. You can see her paintings used judicially throughout the house, as well as her own small studio on the second floor. This is just one of many not-to-be-missed rooms the house. You must also see the extremely large and luxurious master bath. And don’t forget the charming wine area that is off of the large downstairs family room. All in all, this is a house for entertaining, and large groups! It is a house that has been loved and then added on to in the years of its history. But then we think that it has finally seen an end to its remodeling, and with the two years of additions made by Karen and Bobby that it has found its completion. It’s a fabulous home.
Showcasing homes for a good cause: Annual Tour of Homes has long, storied history
In the late 1950’s, a group of civic-minded women in Blowing Rock came up with an idea to showcase some of the area’s homes as a way to draw people into their quaint village. Archived notes from scrapbooks collected through the years described the first tours as those giving visitors the opportunity to see “a variety of architecture and decoration.”
Sponsored from the beginning by the women of St. Mary’s of the Hills Episcopal Church, with a few years of partnership with the Blowing Rock Women’s Club, the Blowing Rock Tour of Homes has stood the test of time, with very few major changes occurring along the way.
Always held on the fourth Friday of July, with “official drivers” providing rides from the church lawn to each home, the tour has opened doors to a variety of homes — from those with treasured and sometimes surprising histories, including one reminiscent of a European castle, to the more contemporary dwellings, condos and practically everything in between. While some have had their single moment in the spotlight, others have been featured on the tour numerous times, such as Shadowlawn, which boasts the largest acreage in Blowing Rock, and the Graystone Tower, the “castle” described above.
One note states, “Blowing Rock residents have been generous in offering their homes for the tour, and in doing so, have benefitted many local charities.”
The one-day event has brought thousands of guests to Blowing Rock and has generated more than $1 million for local nonprofit organizations.
Only one mention in the archives, and happening in the formative years, has any monies been used for the church itself, and that was in 1964 when proceeds went to purchase pew cushions. That year, the tour made $1200.
Tickets for the tour started out at $3 and remained so for a number of years, eventually going to $6 in 1980, and rising with the times from $10 in 1984 to today’s $30 price. The attendance, too, grew through the years from a handful to hundreds, coming from all across the southeast and beyond.
There is mention of only two years when the tour was cancelled: In 1979 when the church parish was undergoing “massive overhauls” and again in 1982, when notation reflects “no homes available for the tour.”
Otherwise, each year, at least four, but no more than seven homes or establishments have been featured on the tour.
While remaining the backbones of the event, the women of the church have served and continue to serve in a number of capacities — from enlisting home owners to participate, to working closely with same in preparation of the tour, including writing descriptions of the homes for the media, to organizing drivers to and from the homes, providing traffic flow tips, and assigning hostesses at each site — and sometimes several, depending on the property size — and keeping a close eye on the home owner’s treasures during the tour. Additional responsibilities of the hostesses, in addition to welcoming and greeting patrons, include pointing out to them significant architectural details and describing artwork, furnishings and artifacts The hostesses learn these facts during a preview “walk-through” prior to the tour
There are many stories the hostesses have told through the years, including the one of the male guest who, passing by a formal dining room laden with beautiful delectable desserts, for display only and not for consumption, began eating from the table, which horrified the hostess.
And, there were the English teas on the church lawn that were discontinued because some guests filled their purses with “goodies” that were not meant for take-outs.
What seemed like a good idea at the time, records indicate, was utilizing buses for transportation, rather than dozens of cars. However, that idea was short-lived when one bus failed to return to the church to pick up a second group, another bus was unable to maneuver between steep driveways and another experienced burning breaks while trying to get down a hill, and unloading its passengers while trying to get to a level spot. Needless the say, cars and vans were used most every year afterward.
The weather has also factored into the tours, as one time when the restored historic Greystone Tower was to be featured, heavy rains came during the patron’s party at the castle. To reduce tracking of the castle floors the next day, the owners arranged for overnight delivery of several hundred pairs of surgical booties to be worn by the patrons. At the end of the day, the castle floors were still relatively dry, but the hostess was not, as she had to move used booties outside in the rain from the back door back to the front door for other patrons.
As one archived “reflection” notes, the list of tour homes reads like a “Who’s Who in Blowing Rock homes,” as well as several businesses, including Westglo Spa, the 1917 home of renown artist, Elliott Dangerfield.
Listed as the most successful Tour of Homes, up to that time, was the Golden Jubilee in 2008, to honor the 50th anniversary of the event. Marge Bartlett, “a Blowing Rock treasure,” was chosen to serve as honorary chair, and the celebration included a number of special events over the weekend including the Patron’s Party, a “welcome back picnic,” with many of the former home tour chairs present. The “main event” perhaps, was the appearance of Barry Dixon, who was described as one of America’s “hottest designers,” presenting a “Glorious Homes” lecture. He was joined by the esteemed horticulture expert Hunter Stubbs, who provided a slide and lecture show titled “Gardens and Landscape.”
Back at the church, the beautifully landscaped lawn has served not only as a terminal of sorts, but also, through the years, it has provided a place for guests, before and after their tour, to enjoy lunch and other fundraising efforts, including a bazaar, a bake shop, silent auction, raffles and more under the festive tents.
In recent years, a Patron’s Party has served as the official kick-off to the tour a couple of weeks before the event and is usually held at one of the featured tour homes.
Six decades later, after a small group of church ladies decided to make good use their historic and spectacular dwellings, The Blowing Rock Tour of Homes is still considered one of the south’s most treasured annual events and is open to the public. You, too, can be a part of history in the making by planning to be part of this unique opportunity in one of the High Country’s storybook settings.