Woodland Beauty


            By thedictionary definition, "loblolly" doesn’t sound like a place onewould want to live — "a mire or mudhole." It certainly doesn’treflect the grace and beauty of Loblolly House, an Arts and Crafts-style homeperched high on a natural hillside on Witcher Creek near the Smith MountainDam.

            "[Thename] comes from the Loblolly pines that occupy the piece of land. And I thinkit’s a fun name," said owner Jim Erler, who built the home in 2004-2005with his wife, Catriona Tudor          Erler,author and photographer of nine gardening books.

            The couple,who bought their first home on Smith Mountain Lakein 1991, originally planned the home as a spec house to sell for profit, Erlersaid. But while attending a convention on Arts and Crafts tradition – afterhome construction had already begun – Erler changed his mind and decided tofulfill a fervent interest in the style that began when he was growing upoutside Los Angeles.

            "Whatreally happened to change my mind was, when I got into it, I discovered I had areal gift of a deeper understanding [of Arts and Crafts design] than I actuallyrealized," said Erler, who designed and was general contractor forLoblolly House, though an architect assisted with the layout, exteriorelevations and engineering.

            The Artsand Crafts movement (1860-1920) sought to escape industrialization and returnto hand-crafted things of earlier, simpler times, Erler said. The English stylewas brought to Americaby architects Charles and Henry Greene, brothers who melded it with theAmerican Craftsman movement and Japanese influences.

            Erler grewup near several homes designed by the Greenes, including the Gamble House (ofProctor and Gamble fame). Though Erler has degrees in physics, chemistry andoptical engineering, his passion has become design and construction of Arts andCrafts-inspired homes.

            From thedriveway of Loblolly House, Arts and Crafts style is shown inJapanese-influenced outdoor lights and brick driveway walls that becomeincreasingly natural and irregular, intersperse with and morphing into rocknear the bottom of the walls. Elements of the Greene and Greene Gamble House areechoed in the bungalow style, shingled siding, stained-glass entry door flankedby a stylish bench and the woven pattern that adorns the garage doors.

            Enteringthe home, one is struck by the open floor plan, an Arts and Crafts feature thatreplaced the Victorian central hall, and by the 18-foot tall ceilings. Yet thespace seems cozy, due in part to the prevalence of wood on floors, stairway,interior doors and trim.

            The wood,which matches beautifully, appears to be all mahogany.

            "Ohno," Erler said. "The stairs are maple; the floors oak, the windowswhite pine, and all the trim is poplar. For areas not needing durability, Iused softer, less expensive woods."

            So how doesit all end up the same color?

            "Idyed sample pieces of each wood, and through a complex process of dying,sanding, redying and finally finishing, I developed the right treatment foreach type," Erler explained. "Then I had the painters dye and finishall the interior wood accordingly."

            Arts andCrafts builders typically used aniline dyes, which color the wood moreconsistently and better maintain the grain, and so did Erler.

            The"inglenook," or "chimney corner," is regarded as the trueheart of the home. Ages ago it was a huge walk-in fireplace; Arts and Craftsdesign expands the inglenook concept to include a decoratively sheltered areabeside the hearth, unified by large overhead beams that curve to create a"cloud lift" – strong horizontal lines reminiscent of Japanese Toriigates. The Gamble House inglenook is reproduced in Loblolly House with ahand-carved bench near the fireplace inviting the visitor to draw near and warmup. The tile surrounding the fireplace replicates a Gamble House vine design.

            Thesimplicity of design and strong horizontal Asian influence is seen in the useof trim with foot-wide horizontal blank spaces between window and crownmoldings. This extends from entryway through the living area and open kitchen,visually re-emphasizing the horizontal lines. To determine the width andspacing of the trim, Erler photographed the rooms in bare wall stage thensuperimposed drawings of the moldings on his computer and photo. "Z"or scarf joints turn otherwise unattractive butt joints into lovely features.The valances’ finger joints and the subtle shaping of their end caps make forrichly sculptured yet clean-looking woodwork.

            Mahoganykitchen cabinets also feature the "cloud lift" pattern topped by asunrise detail. Hand-carved handles lend beauty to the cabinetry."Absolute Black" granite countertops add sleekness to the kitchen,which also includes a warming drawer that "makes entertaining abreeze," Catriona said.

            Interiordetails include Arts and Crafts furnishings and period English designer WilliamMorris fabrics. Stained glass appears in the library, master bedroom and diningroom in addition to the entryway doors. Rugs, custom made in India, weredesigned based on a Charles Greene watercolor. Above the inglenook woodwork,three-foot long stained glass lanterns hang, looking perfectly proportioned forthe space. The look is an example of Erler’s work-until-you-get-it-rightapproach to everything in Loblolly House.

            The woodenstaircase, modeled after one in the Greenes’ Bolton House, leads up to a guestbedroom and downstairs to two additional bedrooms used by the Erlers’ 25-yearold twin sons when they visit. The lake level has a wet bar in the great roomwith a grand piano on which Jim perfects his performance of Mozart sonatas. Anoversized closet houses Erler’s collection of 13,000 LP records, neatly categorizedinto jazz, classical, musicals, opera, rock, Beatles, and so on.

            A coveredporch for al fresco dining adjoins the main-level deck with glass railings foran unobstructed lake view. Should bugs arrive, a flick of the remote unwindshidden screens down to the porch’s railing tops.

            Outside isa patio with a fountain, and, true to Arts and Crafts style, the paving blendsinto the native landscape with rocks leading to a lovely fire pit. Wooden stairplatforms flow artfully from the house down the hillside to the dock amid amass of loblolly pines and lush Mountain Laurel, uniting the house, hillside,dock and lake into one beautiful entity.


For more information and photos, visit erlerdesign.com.