Tour of homes

Blowing Rock Tour of Homes logo. 

BLOWING ROCK — More than a million dollars — $60,000 to $80,000 annually in recent years — has been raised by St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church with its Tour of Homes special event, now in its 63rd year, to make community funded contributions to various special needs in the area. Thanks to modern Internet technology and the innovative minds of the church planning committee, the event survived the pandemic and lives on even in uncertain times.

The Virtual Tour of Homes launches July 23 and will showcase four Blowing Rock homes selected by the planning committee of the church — and thanks to the generous largesse and cooperation of the homeowners.

Loy McGill, chair of the planning committee explained that the group began its work early in the spring still facing a lot of uncertainty about COVID-19 and its impact in the High Country and beyond.

“Given current information from public health officials and the need to plan in the weeks ahead, we determined that the 2021 summer Tour will be virtual, showcasing the beautiful homes of Otis and Jean Sawyer, Jeff Roberts, Richard and Polly Gambill, and Lee Rocamora and John Thompson,” said McGill.

As a real estate broker in Winston-Salem, McGill brings firsthand knowledge about what makes a residence special, but each member of her committee brings a unique skillset and perspective to the task of raising money for the community, including their overcoming the challenges the pandemic limitations presented and the group’s use of technology in furthering the mission.

2019 Tour of Homes sketches

These sketches depict the four homes that were part of the 2019 Tour of Homes, presented by St. Mary of the Hills in Blowing Rock. Homes include the Molly Northern 200-year old Cabin (upper left), the Price Home (upper right), the Manor Condominium (lower right) and the Rice Home (lower left).

Owls Roost

Owls Roost, Nan and Edgar Lawton’s Home from the 2018 Tour of Homes.

“These four Blowing Rock homes have a variety of interior designs, art and antiques, and each have spectacular views that the homeowners are generously sharing on the virtual tour,” said McGill. “Their united commitment to bettering the community through the Tour initiative is inspiring. In addition to the Virtual Tour of Homes, the public will have an opportunity to participate in an Online Auction. Both will be online beginning July 23, 2021, and the online auction will be live until noon August 6. The Tour will be available for viewing through year-end.”

McGill summed up the impact of the 2021 homes being featured when she said, “Living with art is a lifestyle. These homeowners have mastered it with ease.”

St. Mary of the Hills descriptions of each home:

Gretel’s Haus

Custom designed for Jean and Otis Sawyer by Sketchline Architecture, Gretel’s Haus was built by 4 Forty Four Builders on a beautifully wooded site. There are many thoughtful design elements throughout, beginning on the home’s exterior that has a Bavarian ski lodge aesthetic. The woodwork on the gable are multiple S’s for Sawyer. Leaf cut-outs on the wooden banisters and gates were designed and executed to represent the trees on the estate. Why the name Gretel’s Haus? Gretel is the Sawyer’s beautiful dog!

The living room is the heart of the home and welcomes family and visitors alike. Mr. Sawyer is in the furniture business, and comfortable and perfectly suited pieces from companies that he represents are mixed with family heirlooms throughout the house. Collected pieces from their travels and special treasures are also front and center, inviting a story. A floating fireplace separates the living room from the dining room where a period console and lovely oil painting anchor the dining area. The deck, with ample space for relaxing and taking in the views, can be entered from the living areas.

The light and airy primary bedroom can be entered directly from the living area and also has access to the deck. The bedroom has a vaulted ceiling with an exposed Bavarian style painted beam. It is a very comfortable sanctuary and invites lingering over a cup of coffee and a good book. The primary bathroom has very special tile work in the walk-in shower and dual custom vanities.

The home is designed so that the homeowners can spend most of their time living on one level. A lovely additional bedroom and bath also provide guest privacy and all the amenities on the first floor. 4 Forty Four Interiors provided interior design assistance to the homeowners to assure that all needs were met.

A gourmet kitchen with Bosch appliances, features a soffit design and has a stained, knotty alder shiplap. Cabinetry houses a special collection of Southern pottery including wedding pottery from the homeowner’s parents, and Edgar Pearce watercolors are of the New Jersey shore near an area where Mr. Sawyer grew up. Significant art work anchors every room. There is every thought to detail in this home. Even the floor leading to the well-appointed laundry room is brick-laid, and a barn door is used to give the space some extra pizzazz.

Upstairs, the grandchildren have their own special suite. At the top of the stairs, a large antique English voting box sets the stage for a very special room. Antique twin beds are dressed in bed linens designed by Ed Springs. Best of all, the room has a secret! Behind the built-in bookcases there is a room that is accessed by raising a lever hidden in a book. What a treat for the grandchildren – and to adults who find their way into the hidden room filled with toys and stuffed animals!

Landscaping by The Mustard Seed frames the fairy-tale home and begs you for a return visit. Combined with a lovely view, this welcoming home, filled with warmth, is a very special place.

Maison Dans Les NaugesMaison Dans Les Nauges, or House in the Clouds, is the home of Polly and Richard Gambill. First built in the sixties, it was described then by The Charlotte Observer as “a little French townhouse with a mansard roof…a little jewel” It has been totally remodeled and is now a large, comfortable mountain home with spacious deck affording spectacular views, making it the perfect full-time home for the Gambills. The French influence has been maintained and beautiful gardens have been newly created.

In the entry, art welcomes family and friends: glass by Fruin, steel art by David Russell Smith and metal floral-framed designs by Tommy Mitchell. The living room is a welcoming space and is the heart of the house. It is a comfortable lounging area with beautiful Southern art. Bass Lake is featured in an oil painting Summer Serenity by F. Baggett, lending a peaceful ambiance to the room. An eclectic collection of glass and clay art abounds in the room and on the shelves, including glass by Goldhagen, a Terry Lewis signature dogwood vase, and the homeowner’s collection of goats by ceramic artists.

On the dining room buffet, Longboat to Valhalla by an Asheville glass artist, and the painting Ever Changing by artist Brenda M. Councill take center stage. The table is ready for a night to remember, with a showstopper ceramic centerpiece made by Jenny Sherburn. The beautiful and spacious deck can be entered off the living and dining areas and has seating, dining and an area for relaxing in the jacuzzi.

Upstairs, the primary bedroom showcases David Eichelberger’s, Wall Tray Set, and other art pieces that are particularly special. There is a private balcony off the bedroom to enjoy a morning coffee or evening cocktail. The en-suite bathroom and spacious dressing room are every person’s dream. Additional second floor bedrooms offer luxurious amenities.

The downstairs guest apartment has wonderful extended living space and a kitchen. Framed world and United States maps pinpoint the sites and dates where the Gambills have travelled. The one billion-year-old rock on which the home was built is also exposed for viewing.

It may be a “House in the Clouds” but on a clear day you can even see the skyline of Charlotte! The views are truly magnificent!

The Jeff Roberts’ HouseLast year Jeff Roberts and his wife Casey Bastion were gutting, remodeling and updating their mid-seventies house to make an open floor plan that made living with their art seamless. Jeff continued the plans after Casey’s death, and the house that is now a home is a testament to their life together.

In addition to the contemporary art, notable features on the first floor include the steel fireplace surround. Above the fireplace Tim Turner’s Bird’s 53 grabs your attention. Cabinets flank the fireplace and a number of pieces purchased from artists at Art in the Park in Blowing Rock are displayed, along with Rick Beck’s Screw, and Sam McDowell’s Ambrosia Maple Burl that lends an organic element.

All spaces benefit from a touch of Oriental furnishings and the living room console is a handsome decorative element between the living space and the relaxed dining area. The dining room painting is by Jim Chapman. Joshwa painted the beguiling portrait of a Maltese maiden that hangs on a short wall separating the dining room from the gourmet kitchen. Accomplished chefs, the homeowners furnished the kitchen with Wolf and KitchenAid appliances to make cooking easy and fun.

The primary bedroom features art, antiques, and “newtiques” – round furniture complementary with the contemporary vibe. Additional bedrooms remind that comfort is luxury.

Heading downstairs, the gently curving staircase shows the creativity of Roberts who fashioned the pedestal, and the legs for the downstairs table. The cozy den has a comfortable sitting area in front of the fireplace. There are numerous paintings by Sam Ezell, Julian Davis’ Back Alley takes everyone back to urban roots, and The Polka Dot Cat by Norma Murphy is a fun riff on Manet. A study dedicated to baseball memorabilia, is jammed full of baseballs, gloves, signed pictures and baseball bats from Hall of Famers. It is an amazing experience to be in that room!

Additional bedrooms and baths round out the lovely downstairs.

From the living, dining and primary bedroom areas you can enjoy the view and enter the decks. The views of Elk Knob, Snake Mountain, Cone Manor, the Parkway, and Wilkesboro are inviting and spectacular!

Laurel Cliff

The home of Drs. Lee Rocamora and John Thompson was designed by Fryday and Doyne of Charlotte, NC, to blend into the neighborhood, and sighted to take advantage of the expansive view of Grandfather and the John’s River Gorge. It was also designed to mitigate exposure to sun and wind. Rocamora and Thompson are collectors: the spacious house was designed to showcase the stunning art. Most of the artists in their vast collection are North Carolina painters, including Blowing Rock artist Philip Moose. The focus of the decorative arts includes Penland artists.

From the moment one enters the home the attention to detail is apparent. The vaulted ceiling and walls are all white oak, as are all doors and cabinets throughout the home, to provide an organic continuity of space. The first impression is that the home is something extraordinary; spectacular art welcomes in the foyer. Then, in the living room, a fireplace table by Nakashima and lamps by ceramic artist Tom Suomalainen reinforce that the home is a collector’s paradise. The see-through stacked stone fireplace is framed on both sides by lighted glass shelves filled with notable glass and ceramics by renown artists. On the living room mantle is a collection by ceramic artist Michael Sherrill. The main floor living area features paintings including those by Gatewood and Payne, Moose, and Kahn. A collaborative glass sculpture on the sofa coffee table is by glass artists Kate Vogel and John Littleton. In the dining room a Bruton pyramid table and Norman Cherner chairs hold center court. Cordova’s The Guardian overlooks the dining area from the mantle. Pablo Soto created the dining room glass chandelier.

The kitchen was designed by Beth Merrell of Donlon Merrell, Charlotte and fashioned with a combi steam oven, and 2 dishwashers for easy clean up. The Subzero refrigerator and freezer seamlessly blend into the white oak quarter sawn cabinetry designed by NC Crystal Cabinets. All in all, the kitchen sets the scene for culinary success for the enthusiastic cooks, as does the adjacent butler’s pantry that has more than ample storage for anything you could ever need. Burled walnut counter chairs by artist Wyatt Severs allow for casual in-kitchen dining or a casual cup of coffee while watching the ever changing weather.

The primary bedroom has a direct view of Grandfather. A table by ceramic artist Herb Cohen, previously from Blowing Rock, directs the gaze to the window. A wall-sized frieze-like painting called Sand Castle by Summer Wheat is of women doing daily tasks — the same as men would perform. Giraffe bedside table lamps by ceramic artist Jane Peiser anchor bedside tables. The generous en-suite dressing room and bathroom have many custom features.

Grayson Gordon hand-forged a Weldon fabrication staircase bannister leading to the downstairs where one is immediately captivated by a Heather Allen quilt. Wendell Castle made a handsome table in the downstairs entry.

A floating fireplace and cozy den seating area welcome all to enjoy the beauty of the tree-tops and gentle vista of the mountains. Stunning art competes for the visitor’s attention. A stacked stone wall includes lighted niches with extraordinary ceramic and glass art. There is also a bar with ice maker and a warming drawer to make downstairs entertaining effortless.

In the study, Emily Wilson’s birds notably hold court. A cabinet contains significant glass pieces, that represent the beginning of the homeowner’s collection. Handsome hand-crafted chairs by Michael Brown, a hand drawn birthday card from Eric Carle, and Bird and Fish by Daniel Essig, are just some of the collectible items. The office also has a series of Mykonos paintings by McKnight.

There are two comfortable guest bedrooms in the downstairs – both furnished thoughtfully and showcasing important art and ceramics. The mountain views from the rooms are soothing. In addition, en-suite bathrooms provide lovely amenities for guests. Who would want to leave?

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