Clouds drift past, the sun sets behind the mountains, and the lights of downtown Asheville begin to twinkle in the distance. From the Nova residence, set on a ridge north of Asheville, the passage of the day, the weather, and the seasons are on display through the floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the house, designed by Scott Huebner of Asheville’s Harding Huebner architects.
“The parti (an architectural term describing the organizing principle behind a design) is a roof plane and floor plane suspending a completely glass center,” says Huebner. The homeowners, who relocated from Austin, Texas, wanted, “as much glass as possible,” he adds, with the aim of taking advantage of the views and to create the visual sense that the house is floating above the land. Achieving that kind of delicate illusion on rugged terrain requires materials with fortitude, and Huebner and his team turned to “the strength and tensile qualities of steel, plus concrete to “anchor the house to the site,” he says.
Views as stunning as those offered by the home aren’t easy to come by, and building on a mountain ridge requires problem solving in the approach to design and engineering. “The site presented quite a few unique challenges,” says Huebner. “We knew we wanted to orient the broad side of the house such that it maximized the southern exposure, as well as the view to downtown Asheville. However, the half-acre lot is relatively tight with only a small portion near the street that is flat. The remainder is very steep with a prominent cross slope.”
The foundation of the house’s compact, 3,330-square-foot footprint is concrete with an exterior terrace cantilevered over the sloping terrain. “The all-glass wrapper conceals a complex, cantilevered steel structure. We were able to transform a traditionally solid material into something floating and weightless,” Huebner says. In keeping with the goal of harmonizing with the natural world, the exterior is clad in unstained natural wood siding that will, “weather gracefully to a soft gray and require no maintenance,” he adds. Exterior stone finishes were quarried locally, and sand from local waterways is incorporated into the design, creating an “almost inevitable synthesis of site conditions and the homeowner’s design objectives.”
Beyond the entry door—flanked in glass—the airy main space showcases the dramatic mountain views. All of the wood cabinetry in the home is walnut and the veneer was all made from a single tree. “Given that the ceilings are eleven feet tall, we needed veneers long enough to be unbroken from floor to ceiling,” explains Huebner. Sourcing this very specific type of veneer was a challenge, but the team was ultimately able to source a perfect match for the project. “This gave the cabinets a very integrated and seamless appearance.” Polished marble creates timeless surfaces that span contemporary and classic style in both the kitchen and in the shower surround. The understated fireplace surround was created with a combination of lime plaster and natural stone panels. Blonde oak floors and neutral-toned fabrics and furniture reflect the home’s quiet sophistication.
In 2022, the Nova residence received the AIA (American Institute of Architects) Asheville Honor Award, given to exemplary projects, as well as the organization’s Asheville People’s Choice Award, Asheville Student’s Choice Award. The home also won the National Association of Home Builders’ Best in American Living/Best in Region-Mid Atlantic award and Platinum award, both national-level honors. Getting that kind of recognition for the project is gratifying, says Huebner, especially considering the amount of time that such a home takes to complete—often up to a year in design and up to two years to build. While Huebner was the project principal, everyone at the small firm is invested in the team’s projects. “We learn to measure joy in the little things and the creative process,” he says.
For the homeowners, Ashley and Scott Mitchell, the careful approach to the aesthetic and structural considerations that went into the home has resulted in a deep level of satisfaction. Access to the beautiful natural surroundings outside their home has been truly life changing. “Experiencing and feeling closer to nature,” says Ashley, “has made a huge impact on our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Whether it’s watching a falcon soar by while having our morning coffee or watching a storm system roll in over the mountains, God is always impressing us!” The couple has taken full advantage of the views and enjoys opening their home to others. “We have shared so many beautiful sunsets on our terrace together, and with the many people we love,” she adds. The age-old desire to get away and be close to nature has always brought people to the mountains. The Nova residence represents an evolution from the classic rustic mountain cabin, bringing the access to nature elegantly into the modern design era.