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Asheville homebuilder's 'Jappalachian' architecture on TV tonight



7/13/2011 - Asheville homebuilder's 'Jappalachian' architecture on TV tonight
by Paul Clark - Asheville Citizen Times

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ASHEVILLE -- Japanese-influenced Appalachian architecture near Asheville? You can see some on TV tonight.

DIY Network's "This New House" opens its second season tonight with a segment on Jade Mountain Builders of Asheville, whose "Jappalachian" design -- and its building success during the Great Recession -- caught the producer's eye.

Company owner Hans Doellgast describes "Jappalachian" as "a mixture of Japanese Zen and honoring the old architecture you find in the N.C. Appalachian mountains."

The show's film crew learned all about it April 14, when it spent the day -- "about eight hours to get six minutes worth of material," Doellgast said -- shooting footage of carpenters working on his own house near Fairview (see it at

"One of the things they focused on was the way we do things," he said. "We're an anomaly during the recession -- we doubled in size after it started. And we've doubled again since then."

That certainly got the show's attention. In May, home construction was a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000 units per year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

While a slight improvement over the month before, the pace of construction is far below the 1.2 million homes per year that must be built to sustain a healthy housing market, economists said.

Jade Mountain defies expectations. The small company has 11 houses going -- two to three times its usual project load. It is remodeling and doing other work on another nine houses.

Doellgast employs 27 carpenters. On Tuesday, a crew was working on their boss's house, the weathered wood barnlike structure that will be on TV tonight.

"'This New House' is always looking for new ways to spin traditional approaches to building," DIY Network General Manager Andy Singer said. "Hans Doellgast's Jappalachia style is a combination of homebuilding traditions from Japan and the Appalachian Mountains that have both survived the test of time.

 "These two styles of building, along with Hans' modern ingenuity, demonstrate to our viewers a new kind of home that is both practical and a work of art."

 "He builds a heck of a house," Jade Mountain client Dean Folds said Tuesday. He stopped by the Doellgast house to watch the trim go up. 

Folds and his wife, retiring here from Winston-Salem, were passing through after having spent a couple weeks minding their twin grandchildren, the children of musician Ben Folds, their son, who was away on tour.

"One of these trim carpenters is going to do the trim on my house," said Folds, whose house near Fairview is be ing built by Jade Mountain. He spent a lifetime in the construction business and can appreciate the work the company does.

Folds chose Jade Mountain through an association his wife had with Doellgast's father, the late George Doellgast, a physicist in Winston-Salem. The Folds saw the work the company could do and selected it among other builders they were considering.

"The key to the company is craftsmanship," Folds said. "A lot of builders just want to get it done and get the money today. Hans and his crews have pride in their work."

"(DIY) made the comment," Doellgast said, "that in an age of specialization where you have an army of contractors and one or two people running the company, with us, it's so different. Our project managers are also swinging hammers."

Starting small

Doellgast got into building in a roundabout way. An environmental education student at the Swannanoa work-study institution Warren Wilson College (1996-2000), he was on the carpentry crew. When he was a sophomore, he used the money he made at a wilderness therapy program to buy eight acres outside Boone.

Using materials recycled from Warren Wilson College, and with the help of his friends, he built a 500-square-foot cabin for about $3,000. He lived there for years after graduating.

Moving to Asheville, he began remodeling houses and started his company.

His "Jappalachian" style came from his admiration of the work of George Nakashima (1905-1990), a Japanese-American woodworker, architect and furniture maker who was one of the leading innovators of 20th-century furniture design and a father of the American craft movement.

The Doellgast house featured tonight is a 2,150-square-foot house with three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths. It is covered in weathered white oak and is "a strong mixture of stone and wood and water, with most of the gutters coming down through rain chains," Doellgast said.

His crew is building it next to Hickory Nut Gap Farm, a working farm whose owners are Doellgast's best friends.

In true "Jappalachian" style, the house has seven shoji doors made of rice paper. Rooms are small, and the common ones -- living room, dining room and kitchen -- all focus on the fireplace, throughout history the heart and hearth of the home; today's kitchens are electronic versions of the fireplace.

"By not having the TV on the main floor of the house, you do things around the fire. It brings our family closer together," Doellgast said. The fireplace will be the house's primary source of heat, though it also has a geothermal heat pump.

Hans' family is wife Tina and their two little girls, Sierra and Oriah Sparrow Doellgast. Their father designed the house in such a way that the children would know where their heat comes from -- the wood they split.

Electricity will be generated from photovoltaic panels on the roof. Food comes from the garden and meat from Hickory Nut Gap Farm.

"That's just the right way to live -- to be as connected (to the earth) as is humanly possible," Doellgast said.

That's the way he plans to continue to build houses.

"We're trying to be one of the best homebuilders in the Asheville area and to continue to build better and greener and more affordable homes. And have happier and happier clients," he said.

"We definitely not trying to grow any more. We've grown enough."

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