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The art of craft in Montford in Asheville



4/26/2011 - The art of craft in Montford in Asheville
by Paul Clark

The Montford Historic District was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, making it one of North Carolina's oldest Historic designated neighborhoods.  Few neighborhoods in the state express turn-of-the-century architecture like Montford - and it's difficult to transition new housing into something already so established in the article below, and follow this link to learn more about Historic Montford, Asheville, North Carolina!


- Tammy Mansell




The challenge: Fitting a new house into an old, eccentric neighborhood.

The solution: Building a house less crazy than its cousins. But still filled with character.

Architect Michael McDonough's walks through historic Montford must feel like a stroll around a Monopoly board - from beginning to end, the houses are a jumble of styles and states of repair. A Federal house stands next to a Victorian, which resides next to a regal Queen Anne.

For his family's home, Michael designed something simpler - an Arts & Crafts house, no doubt far simpler than the Victorian that stood on the lot decades ago.

"Victorian is very fussy and busy. Arts & Crafts is more honest," he said. Emerging at the end of the 1800s as the antidote to extravagance, Arts & Crafts was a move toward the beauty of functionality. As Michael sums it up, "the simple art of wood joinery is the working man's elegance."

It's an elegance celebrated in the home Michael shares with sons Corey, 17, and Matthew, 13. Fine woods treated with oils and waxes gleam in the soft light brought in by the house's many windows.

"I like the expression of craft in the building," Michael said. Handy with tools and a lover of wood, he meant "building" as an act of construction, and for him, as an act of love.

Living out back

Michael first saw this lot several years ago when a couple hired him to design their house there. Changing their minds, they offered it to him. He liked its nearness to downtown, and he liked that it had an old cottage and carriage house. He, wife Caroline Yongue (they have since separated) and sons Corey and Matthew lived in the cottage during construction. His office was in the carriage house. About five years ago, they moved into the new house.

Fitting pieces together

Michael loves the living room's wood trim and siding, which came from Appalachian Sustainable Development, a non-profit organization in Abingdon, Va., that supplies forest products (Michael wanted to get materials from local sources). The trim is poplar and the floor - walnut and cherry - is finished with oils and waxes, not polyurethane. The surround around the fireplace is spalted maple, fitted by Asheville craftsman Brian Fireman. Michael scavenged the marble pieces in the fireplace from Mountain Marble "and spent way too much time piecing them together," he said.

Surfacing in the kitchen

Under a tall ceiling, a large bureau-like divider separates the living room and kitchen. Encasing the refrigerator, the oven and a small kitchen office, it stands soldier-straight opposite the soft light coming in from windows above the kitchen sink. To the left of the sink the countertop rises to accommodate the dishwasher beneath (raising the appliance makes it more comfortable to unload). The concrete island is by Mandala Design of Asheville. Benbow & Associates of Asheville did the hickory base and cherry cabinets.

Good morning's greeting

Just off the kitchen is a "true breakfast room," Michael said - a southeast-facing nook that gets morning light. The alcove is surrounded by windows, illuminating two principles of Arts & Crafts construction - having lots of light and bringing the outdoors inside. On the other side of the glass door into the yard is a patio floored with Pennsylvania blue stone slabs. Across the small yard are the cottage and carriage house, which Michael rents.

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