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By Zoe Blackler
Set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with sweeping views across majestic landscape, SPG Architects' Leicester House serves both as a solitary retreat and a generous space for entertaining.
The client, a semi-retired executive based in Miami, wanted a second home where he could escape the June to December hurricane season. Nostalgic for the mountains of his childhood in Massachusetts, he discovered a 10.5 hectare site in similar terrain outside Asheville, North Carolina.
SPG's brief was to design a house that could accommodate regular guests but revert back to a convenient size once they left. The architects' solution was to split the house over two levels, creating a spacious one bedroom apartment with an additional two-bedroom guest wing nestled discretely below.
The primary space is a simple rectangle, the structure a combination of wooden frame and steel column and beam. Along the southern and western elevations, glass walls allow uninterrupted views from the open plan living area to the valley and mountains beyond. Tucked behind the kitchen at the north-eastern end is the master bedroom, bathroom and dressing room. The main entrance is set within the northern elevation which is clad in corten steel for privacy. The self-contained visitors' wing at the lower level also contains a media room which serves as a link between the two distinct zones.
Two external crises that unfolded during design and construction encouraged the client to turn Leicester House into a model of energy efficiency. After a severe drought hit North Carolina, he asked for rain water collection to be incorporated along with geothermal energy use, energy efficient lighting, automatic sun shading and reclaimed furniture. And when the economic crisis squeezed budgets and ruled out an infinity pool, plans were adapted to create a green 'infinity' roof instead. Planted with a combination of drought resistant grasses and succulents native to the neighbouring meadows, the roof creates the illusion of unbroken continuity between the house and the lush mountain flora that surrounds it.
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