After relocating to Atlanta from Louisiana more than a decade ago, a pair of empty nesters had their hearts set on building a second home on Lake Burton, a favorite destination among Atlanta dwellers. “I have a natural affinity for this kind of environment,” explains the husband, citing this North Georgia escape’s pristine mountain lakes, waterfalls and hiking trails.
The couple spent a year relishing peaceful weekends from a restored 1940s cabin they furnished themselves, just trying to get a feel for their Lake Burton property. Quick to determine they’d want to be as close to the water as possible, they began to envision the warmly inviting guest cottage their cabin would one day become. During that time, they also came to know the work of residential designer Todd Pritchett and architect Craig Dixon through their numerous projects in the Lake Burton area. In particular, the husband admired how Pritchett’s and Dixon’s work demonstrated a deferential relationship to the environment. “We have a sensibility as to what belongs here and how to live on this lake,” Dixon explains.
A photograph of a pavilion provided by the husband was the impetus for the home’s ambitious architecture; Pritchett and Dixon translated that openness to a timber-framed structure with 10-foot-tall metal-and-glass folding doors that serve to blur the boundaries of the living room, kitchen and observatory-like sleeping loft on the third floor. “When you’re inside the home, you feel like you’re on a boat,” Dixon notes. “You can’t see anything but water.”
Pritchett and Dixon excavated the site extensively to position the residence so that it seemed to soar above the lake, located just 15 feet away down a steep slope. Familiar with Rabun County’s heavy rainfalls, the duo also employed hipped rooflines and large overhangs to prevent precipitation from entering the house, even when its expansive glass doors are open. The stacked-stone walls borrow influences from Appalachian-style stonework–which generally uses smaller pieces–but Pritchett and Dixon mixed in larger specimens to suit the scale of the house.
Landscape architect Alec Michaelides established a sense of cohesion via the hardscape, which incorporated the same tumbled North Carolina granite fieldstone along the steep slope. Working with landscape designer and builder Newton Tilson, Michaelides installed boulder retaining walls, instead of vertical concrete ones, to hold back the topography. The living room’s massive fireplace, meanwhile, represents another elite feat from Tilson, who incorporated a stone lintel so large, it had to be hoisted into the house by a crane.
Structurally, Pritchett explains, this residence is not unlike a multilevel tower, with a dramatic central staircase connecting its three stories. In a nod to his Louisiana roots, the husband requested stair steps of reclaimed cypress, a wood also used for the home’s framing and much of its flooring. Says general contractor Lincoln Blackwood, who typically works with local pine or oak, “it’s a unique product for this application. It has a lighter feel to it.”
Designer Christy Dillard Kratzer, who’d been furnishing the owners’ in-town house all the while, took her decorating cues from the tactile materials Pritchett and Dixon specified for the North Georgia retreat, selecting understated yet elegant furnishings that would complement, not compete.
Over the course of more than a decade, Kratzer had established a fluent design language with her clients, so she innately understood which of their pieces would best be repurposed and which should be purchased anew. “The owners have always liked a more traditional style with European influences,” Kratzer explains. “But this house called for a cleaner look. They wanted it to feel relaxed and comfortable–a family home.”
The sight line from the front door provided wonderfully unobstructed views of mountain and lakeshore, so Kratzer approached the interiors similarly, orienting the living room furniture toward the vistas beyond. To keep the look of the home collected, she incorporated sentimental pieces, such as the owners’ personal pottery, a favorite turned-wood bench and a bleached-wood poster bed the couple acquired when they were first married. “These things hold a lot of meaning for them,” Kratzer explains. “My main challenge was mixing those special pieces with ones that expressed contemporary style.” Keeping the palette neutral served as a grounding force, and items that split the difference between the two styles–like transparent-glass table lamps–helped with the sense of harmony.
This quiet backdrop also allowed the bold kitchen to play a leading role. The custom island’s crimson tone draws its color cues from the knobs of the stove and boasts tailored “X” details signature to Pritchett and Dixon’s portfolio–a motif also replicated in the windows above the sink. Pritchett says the homeowners drove the decision to incorporate the striking black steel-and-brass vent hood, which reinforces the strong style statement. “They love to entertain, so they wanted this room to be a talking point,” says Pritchett.
Not that the home needed one; even with its glass doors closed, the almost-visceral impact of nature is enough. But when open, the effect is especially dramatic. Says the husband, “You can literally open up the house like an accordion. It’s all crystal-clear water and fresh mountain air.”