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A Fantasy Cottage in the Treetops

“With the Snowbird Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest in the distance, all you see is layer upon layer upon layer of mountains.”
By Christy Heitger-Ewing
Published: March 1, 2008
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Photo by Great Camps of the Smokies
"What a view!” is uttered frequently at Lexy and Craig Zachrich’s three-level home – the main entry level sits 60 feet above Santeetlah Lake.
   
Aptly named the “Tree House,” this cottage is so high off the ground it’s literally sitting in the treetops. It’s located in the community of Santeetlah Lakeside – part of the Great Camps of the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.
   
“The first time my husband and I stepped foot in the Tree House, we were blown away,” recalls Lexy.“Everything about it was breathtaking – the views, the landscaping, the layout, the incredible workmanship of both the interior and exterior construction. It was like stepping into a dream!”
   
The dream originated with developer Jose Rosado, whose vision for the home was inspired by childhood visits to his grandfather’s 1920s Adirondack cottage in upstate New York. In developing the architectural design for the Great Camps of the Smokies, Rosado wanted to recreate that wonderful southern charm and simplicity by using rustic mountain lake architecture.
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This unique deck (one of three) is cantilevered and supported on exposed log columns and buttresses, making it seem as though it’s hanging in midair.
Photo by Great Camps of the Smokies
Fine Detailing 
   
To build the Tree House, Rosado collaborated with architect Bill Tunnell.
   
The vacation home offers 2,800 square feet of interior finished space plus an additional 1,100 square feet of covered deck space. Tunnell notes that while traditional Adirondack cabins use heavy log timber, creating a very muscular type of architecture, the detailing in the Tree House is more refined.
   
“We wanted to incorporate the historic architecture of the southeastern region by using the traditional local farmhouse as a model,” explains Tunnell.
   
The farmhouse style includes simple rooflines, deep roof overhangs with exposed rafters that have a tapered profile, all natural dry stack stone fireplaces and weathered copper accents on porch roofs, chimney caps, gutters and downspouts. The design also involved using muted darker stains on wood and trim to help the structure blend into the trees.
   
The frame seen inside the house is made of big cedar tree trunks: essentially the columns that hold up the roof. But elegance belies the simple frame, as a series of detailed wood trusses sit on top of each column. These are the types of special features that make the cottage majestic, yet so warm and inviting.
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The dry stack design on the 17-foot tall fireplace and the root and wood console table provide a casual natural air to the getaway.
Photo by Great Camps of the Smokies
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With an outdoor fireplace to take off the chill, and a view of the lake and mountains, what more could one need?
Photo by Great Camps of the Smokies
Workmanship Wonder
   
The incredible workmanship woven throughout the house is what makes the Zachrichs so joyful about owning this beauty. And really, what’s not to love? For starters, the exterior is comprised of cedar, impressive log elements and a stone foundation. Tunnell chose a Tennessee crab orchard stone, which is laid in a dry stack pattern. That stone can be seen on both the exterior of the home, as well as on the interior living room wood-burning fireplace, which also boasts a custom mantle of beetle-kill pine and a chimney that extends up to the 17-foot ceiling.
   
An open-air living space/covered deck occupies the northwest side of the getaway. This unique deck is cantilevered off the main living room and supported on exposed massive log columns and buttresses. With the absence of support posts positioned directly below, it seems as if the deck is hanging in midair – or floating among the trees.
   
“The open-air living room is one of our favorite spots to hang out,” says Lexy. “We can cozy up by the fireplace or look out over pristine Lake Santeetlah. With the Snowbird Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest in the distance, all you see is layer upon layer upon layer of mountains.”
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The sign at the entrance to the Zachrich’s treetop cottage says it all.
Photo by Great Camps of the Smokies
Outdoor Splendor
   
Stepping onto the property is like walking into a fairytale. It’s sort of a mix of the “Swiss Family Robinson” tree house and Cinderella’s castle. Only by crossing a bridge that spans from the parking area to the front porch can people access the front entrance of the getaway. Near the entry bridge, Tunnell’s wife, Karen (who works in garden design), created a grotto in the front yard. It’s complete with a soothing waterfall, which can be seen both from the bridge and from the master bedroom, one level below the entrance.
   
In the grotto/waterfall area, Karen planted mountain laurel and other shrubs and vines that commonly grow along rivers and streams. For the rest of the property, Karen selected native plants that were drought tolerant and well suited to steep mountain terrain. She chose many flowering vines, like Carolina jessamine, woodbine and dog hobble.
   
Four decks adorn the property – one entry deck which sits above the waterfall, one wrap-around deck, one deck off the master bedroom and one lower lakeside deck. All of them offer intimate viewing of nature, including birds and squirrels, as well as the soothing sounds of hooting owls at night.
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This getaway has a refined, southeastern style that’s part Adirondack, part farmhouse. Note the exposed rafters with the tapered profile and the homeowner’s cherished rustic furnishings.
Photo by Great Camps of the Smokies
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The hike from the treetops to the lakeside is considerable, but worth the trip. The yard area is ideal for relaxing, grilling and entertaining.
Photo by Great Camps of the Smokies
The Joys of Treetop Living
   
Given that the home is up in the trees, it’s a considerable, albeit beautiful, hike down to the lake. A series of stairs and terraces meander down the hill, but about halfway down a small, level area graces the slope. Here the owners have added trees, shrubbery, large boulders, a wooden swing and a wood trellis. This yard area is ideal for sunbathing, cookouts, picnics and entertaining.
   
Despite being a three-story home, the Zachrichs chose not to install an elevator just yet, though an interior elevator shaft space is already “roughed in.” If they do decide to add the elevator, they’ll likely have to make some architectural changes.
  
“If we use the interior space where the elevator is roughed in currently, we’ll be giving up some closet and storage space on each floor,” notes Lexy. “And no woman ever wants to lose closet space!”
   
So Craig, who is an architect, has come up with a plan for how to put the elevator on the outside of the house, with the elevator stopping at each floor via an entry into the stairwell.  The Zachrichs are hoping to find an old two- to three-person elevator carriage made of wrought iron, glass and wood so that it would seamlessly fit into the rustic southern décor. With the carriage consisting essentially of glass, light could continue to enter the stairwell. For the time being, however, the owners are happy with the house as is.
   
“Right now, we don’t want to change a thing,” Lexy says. “Besides, we want to keep exercising as long as we can. And believe me, the Tree House is a great built-in Stairmaster!”

Frequent contributor Christy Heitger believes that all grade school children who are looking to build a tree house should visit the Zachrich’s place for inspiration.
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5 stars
SUSAN STROMAN from NORTH CAROLINA said:
I LOVE IT!! EVERYONE IS LOVING TREE HOUSES!! PLEASE HAVE MORE ARTICLES ON TREE HOUSES. I THINK THEY SHOULD TIMESHARE TREEHOUSES!!!
5 stars
SHEILA THURBER from MAINE said:
This is a magnificant cabin. My husband (Lezime "Blacky" Thibeault) builds rustic furniture which may be used in any decor. Our small cabin and all outbuildings he built and visitors say "this is such a peaceful place inside and out." Many of his customers became friends who return every year from their homes in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Florida. I truly believe that someone has to love the actual feel of wood to live in a cabin and be content. I love tree houses and your's is exemplary.
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