The descendant of the original owner buys it back, then builds a beautiful namesake.
Cabin Stats Built: 2013 / Location: Western North Carolina / Square feet: 2,400 / Bedrooms: 3 / Baths: 2Hidden deep in the Pisgah National Forest of western North Carolina, the humble retreat was called the “Kibbin” because its owner’s youngest son, aged 3, could not pronounce “cabin.” “In the 1930s, my grandfather, who was a judge in McDowell County, bought the land and some locally harvested timbers from a young mountain man, who planned to build a home for his fiancée,” says today’s homeowner, Larry. “She left him and went to California, so my grandfather took the land and the timbers off the young man’s hands for $50.00. “We all have great family memories there,” Larry continues. “The mountain was very high, the creek was very cold. As kids, we played in that creek, tucked up against that mountain. My grandfather also used it as a connections place when he held ‘Kibbin parties.’ They became quite the tradition.” But in 1971, over the objections of his grandchildren, the judge sold the one-story wood cabin. Its memories continued to resonate. When in 2011, the original Kibbin and 7 surrounding acres came up for sale, Larry – the judge’s grandson and an Atlanta attorney – was overjoyed. And Larry’s wife, Dana, an Atlanta financial management professional, was happy for her husband, and more than a little relieved that his long-held dream had come true. “For years, he would go by and leave his card in the door with a scribbled note asking for a call if they ever wanted to sell. The place has incredible meaning for him.” Thrilling as it was to own the Kibbin, the place was falling down. “There was no way to save it,” says John Altobello, a Cambridge, Mass., architect who came to know the homeowners when he designed houses for them in Atlanta and on Cape Cod. “They said, ‘Can we at least keep the site?’ So we set out to create a new Kibbin on the exact spot of the original.” However, it was not an easy building site, occupying a sliver of land wedged between the creek rushing downhill and the mountainside rising up behind it. To fit the narrow lot, Altobello designed a 50x22-foot, two-story house that overlooks the creek. Crowned with a metal roof, its exterior is sheathed with stone from a local quarry. “They (the cabin owners) were inspired by Cotswold cottages when they traveled in England,” Altobello explains. “When we talked about the design, they sent me stacks of books with pictures of Cotswold stone houses. The stone on the Kibbin is, in fact, a face applied to a wood frame.” To build against the steep wall of the mountainside, Altobello designed a hefty retaining wall. It forms the back of the structure on the lower level, “So that the mountain does not come sliding down into the water,” the architect says. “It was the most challenging aspect of the design: how to make the house fit with a 2-foot-thick retaining wall at ground level.” “Even though it’s on 7 acres, most of that acreage is forested and set at a 50-plus-degree angle heading up to the ridgeline 170 feet above and behind the Kibbin,” Larry explains. “We are so tight against the mountain, that our builder, Larry Gibson of Clayton, GA., said that it was the hardest site he had ever worked with.” The lower floor of the 2,400-square-foot structure houses a bathroom, a bedroom and the utility areas. The main living space is on the upper level, where a vaulted great room encompasses a living room, a dining area and a kitchen arrayed against one long wall. Curved trusses designed by Altobello support the great volume of open space. Furnished with clean-lined, traditional furniture, the room is oriented towards a large fireplace and a chimney built of the same stone that forms the building’s exterior. “I wanted a room where everyone would be together,” says Dana. “We all sit in that room, reading, talking.” At the fireplace end of the room, a Dutch door leads into a screened porch, a spacious indoor-outdoor room that is also oriented around a stone fireplace. The two fireplaces back up against each other and share the chimney. “We eat outside until it gets too cold,” Dana says. Also on this level is the master bedroom; a staircase climbs to loft bedrooms. “At first, we talked about installing a spiral staircase,” Altobello says. “But we realized that it’s not so easy to negotiate circular stairs with a basket of laundry in your arms. Instead, we decided to make stairs that are an architectural element. They also balance the big stone fireplace opposite.” Altobello’s design places four tall windows on the great room walls. Additional light pours into the room via four skylights. “They line up with the big windows,” he points out. “Natural light is very important to that big living space. There are also windows above the fireplace. The shutters opening to the great room from the upstairs loft are left open during the day, bringing light into that area.” Larry and Dana come here for weekends, vacation and holidays. “I love that it’s so remote; we have great family time here,” Dana says. Larry says that one of their year-round activities is to hike in the surrounding old-growth forest. “But our very favorite thing to do,” Larry adds with a smile, “is to sit on the porch and listen to the music of the creek.” Now that is the cabin lifestyle at its finest.