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Secret gardens in Asheville area

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5/19/2011 - Secret gardens in Asheville area
by Paul Clark

Old houses may be charming, but beneath the beauty can be some tired old bones.

Catharine and Gerry Brown found that out three years ago, when they undertook renovations to the 1923 bungalow in Kenilworth.

A delightful "airplane bungalow" - a cottage-type house with windows for walls in the "cockpit" on the upper floor - the house that seduced them 17 years earlier turned out to have significant structural problems.

The floor under the bathroom had rotted. The "cockpit" hadn't been supported properly. The ceiling had sunk a few inches. The rafters were undersized.

"It wasn't long before there wasn't going to be a house any more," Catharine said.

"It was falling in around our shoulders," Gerry said.

But being the "compulsive home improvers" that he said they are, they had the house shored up. Gerry, a woodworker, complemented the wood beams in the coffered ceiling by adding woodwork of his own - the exterior doors and the "Tansu" traditional Japanese-style cabinets in the kitchen. He carved the panels in the living room.

Perhaps the biggest delight is in the Japanese garden that the Brown family created on their half-acre corner lot. Surrounded by ornamental trees and Japanese lattice fencing, it's practically invisible from the street.

"I'm interested in creating a little Japanese paradise," Catharine said.

Open to living

Japanese woodblock prints throughout the house attest to the Browns' love of Japanese architectural and ornamental simplicity. Soft leather chairs and a sofa in the living room lend credence to Gerry's claim that the house is comfortable. A bright blue vintage chair and ottoman there support Catharine's claim that the house is funky. "This house functions very well," Gerry said. "The layout is very open, which you don't see in houses of the era."

Saving, splurging

That wasn't always the case. Before the renovations three years ago, the kitchen was much smaller and cramped. The Browns opened it to the living room by taking out a wall, closing off a breakfast nook (to add to their bedroom). They reworked the countertops, putting down a leather-finish granite that has a streak of quartz that glows with the morning light. They put in a pantry where a chimney stood. Because they saved money by having Gerry build the cabinets, they splurged on traditional Tansu hardware for the drawers. Catharine now calls it her "dream kitchen."

Quiet spaces

The Japanese garden that surrounds the house was begun by their son, Teal (now a musician with the Asheville band Toubab Krewe). Working with Barnardsville landscaper Masashi "Mike" Oshita, Teal (then in high school) transformed the property by positioning rocks, shrubs and pathways in a classic Japanese style. Catharine's sculpture is naturally at home in the gardens, tucked among the plants and in and around the circulating stream that feeds the koi pond. An abundance of Japanese maples creates walls that divide the gardens into separate areas, each as distinct and reflective as a meditation room.

Getting away, at home

The gardens separate the view from the Browns' breezy bedroom to the guest cottage, which Gerry and Teal built years ago. A cool, quiet studio apartment with a wrap-around covered porch, the cottage is the place not only for napping but also for retreats, meetings and living. The Browns lived there while much of the renovations were going on three years ago.

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