Downsizing & Living Large

Downsizing & Living Large: An Asheville couple’s net-zero home overlooking Beaverdam Valley
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When John and Amy Ende decided to downsize after their youngest left for college, they began, like many others, purging large furniture pieces, extraneous books, and outdated clothing. The pair wanted to transition from the sizable brick colonial in which they’d raised their three children to something more modern and sleek. “We decided on a total shift in the vibe of the house,” says Amy. So, they sold, donated, and gifted all but the essentials—heirloom china, family photographs, an East Fork Pottery collection, and their favorite dual boiler espresso machine. “It felt extremely freeing to get rid of almost everything.” But unlike most empty-nesters, this zealous couple didn’t stop at the 12-person dining table. Their slim down involved an earthshaking reduction in carbon footprint, as well.

Both Western North Carolina natives who care deeply about the region’s natural character, John and Amy dreamed of owning a “super eco-friendly, as-off-the-grid-as-we-could-be home.” They set out to make a sustainable house that would ultimately produce more energy than it consumed. With some creative maneuvering and thoughtful guidance from experienced design and construction professionals, the Endes now reside in a net-zero energy haven near North Asheville. “Of course, we’re not completely fossil fuel free—we still have a propane grill and one gas car,” quips Amy.

The couple sought to be within easy reach of Asheville, where he works as a radiologist and she a pediatrician, but also outside the bustle of downtown. “John is a passionate cyclist and wanted to live on his circuit, which involves Webb Cove, Elk Mountain, and Town Mountain Road,” recalls Hans Doellgast, owner of Jade Mountain Builders. Situated just a half mile from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the site they chose boasts breathtaking views down Beaverdam Valley. “It’s a special spot,” muses John.

The location also appealed for its westward views, promising soft light and sunset vistas; the surrounding mountaintops offer protection from searing sun and cold winds. But with its steep grade and sizable granite outcropping, the lot presented a construction challenge, too. John and Amy favored one-level living, so Aaron and Calder Wilson of Wilson Architects initially pulled the design along the contours of the slope. Upon discovering how many rebar footings would need to be drilled into the rock (and learning of the associated expense), however, the team regrouped. “We had to go up,” says John. “The homeowners were into maximum efficiency, and a smaller footprint helped,” explains Aaron, who limited foundation and roofing costs by stacking the home on three levels, placing the primary bedroom, kitchen, and living spaces at the center. He also designed the overall dimensions to minimize construction waste.

The interior designer took a similar approach inside the petite kitchen. “We made sure every ounce was used,” says Liz Hackett, who peppered the couple with questions to tailor every cabinet and drawer’s function. “Where will the utensils go? Who cooks? Right-handed or left? Drawers or cabinets for pans? What’s in the pantry?” She had local woodworker Cris Bifaro customize floating shelves and frameless cabinets to accommodate everything from pots to pottery and, of course, the critical coffee maker.

To achieve the seamless, modern aesthetic that the homeowners desired, a subway-style backsplash from Appalachia-based manufacturer Crossville Studios stretches from counter to ceiling and wraps around the window frame. “We did lots of digging into the best tile and counter material,” says Amy. “Porcelain is one of the most eco-friendly choices and really durable.”

Throughout the home, warm white finishes and a neutral wall color (Classic Gray by Benjamin Moore) disappear into the background, placing an uninterrupted panorama of Beaverdam Valley in the spotlight. “We went monochromatic, because the whole point of this house is that view,” says Hackett. “John and Amy really wanted that connection to the landscape,” adds Aaron. To that end, sliding French doors open onto a screen porch, expansive deck, and outdoor shower that soak up the verdant mountain scenery. “By expanding past the temperature-controlled rooms, you double the living space,” explains the architect.

In fact, the finished property boasts about 1,600 square feet of functional outdoor area beyond the home’s 2,500-square-foot interior (just a third of which the Endes utilize day to day). That bonus space includes a garage for John’s cycle collection. “I ride often,” he says, explaining that easily accessed storage was essential. The Wilsons responded by enclosing the breezeway between the carport and front door. Now, John can roll directly off the gravel drive and through a 10-foot barn door into the bike room, which includes a bicycle stand and tool wall. With the sliding door pointed at that incredible westerly view, “I can work in there while looking at Pisgah and the setting sun,” beams John.

A sort of symbiosis exists between the Endes and this slice of earth. The couple lives deliberately in the best interest of the planet—opting for green building materials, forgoing fossil fuels, and treading lightly on the land—and in return, the environment provides them with natural resources for a modern existence. For example, a geothermal system takes advantage of stable underground temperatures for efficient heating and cooling. And solar panels capture sunlight to be converted into electricity.

A steeply pitched gable roof (under which guest rooms are nestled for when the children visit) aligns with the home’s southern exposure, providing an ideal spot for the nine-kilowatt solar system from Sugar Hollow Solar. After lots of research (a pandemic pastime), the Endes installed two Tesla Powerwalls for storing electrical energy. “It’s like a game,” says Amy, who tracks their consumption using an app. “We first power everything we’re using, then fill up the power walls and charge the car [a Tesla, of course]. After that, we give power to Duke Energy for credits.”

That interface has enabled the homeowners to hone in on exactly how much electricity their technology and appliances require. The entire home relies on energy-efficient LED lighting, and the kitchen boasts an induction range that’s three times more efficient than gas (and better for air quality). But Amy noticed that the dryer caused a dramatic jump in their energy use. So, inspired by a family trip to Europe, where sun-drying laundry abounds, she had the builder drill a deck hole to accommodate an umbrella clothesline. “I have the best view of clothes drying anywhere. And I try to convert everyone I know,” laughs Amy, dubbed the “clothesline disciple” by her daughter.

While modern technology certainly supports the Endes’ low-carbon lifestyle, much of their energy efficiency stems from this sort of simplicity. “They leave their thermostat in the 50 degree range in winter and just wear sweaters,” jests Doellgast. (“More like 58,” retorts John. “And 76 during summer.”) At a 3,000-foot elevation, the house naturally remains cooler than town in hot months and, thanks to altitude inversion, warmer in cold months. A glass-fronted Danish wood stove also helps keep the main floor toasty, emitting a “hygge vibe,” says Amy. “It’s really clean burning,” adds John, “and much more efficient than a stone fireplace.”

And in this house, efficiency reigns. “The Endes wanted only what was absolutely essential, so we used every inch of space we could,” explains Aaron, who achieved multifunctional living areas through an open floor plan. “Overlapping the spaces makes the interior feel bigger than if it were split into individual rooms. This house has a small footprint but functions very well.” The couple says they rarely come inside, preferring to sit on the porch swing and gaze over the majestic horizon while sipping lattes or wine. It seems that in scaling back their environmental impact and downsizing their home, John and Amy Ende have discovered the secret to living large. 

Ambiente Modern Furniture
13401 Rosman Hwy., Lake Toxaway (828) 412-5505;
Biltmore Hearth & Home
6724 Boylston Hwy., Mills River
(828) 687-8314;

Cris Bifaro Woodworks
Crossville Studios
15 Design Ave., Fletcher
(828) 687-7166;

6 Colonial Pl., Asheville
(828) 412-0626;

Haywood Appliance
1378 Hendersonville Rd., Asheville      
(828) 274-4140;

Jade Mountain Builders
362 Depot St., Asheville
(828) 216-3948;

Lavoro Lighting
(828) 776-2453;

Liz Hackett Interiors
(828) 242-8042;

More Space Place Asheville
1025 Brevard Road, Suite 7, Asheville
(828) 665-9665;

Sugar Hollow Solar
2 Miller Rd. East, Asheville
(828) 776-9161;

Wilson Architects
309 Kenilworth Rd., Asheville
(828) 257-4930;