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March 2, 2018

By Scott Koehler, Dream Kitchen Builders

With plans to build their retirement/dream home on an almost unbuildable lot in a remote area in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Stan and Montana Wakefield took a fearless approach and combed the planet to find inspiration and products to make their dreams come true.

The Wakefields were hands on in every facet of the project. After the shell of the house was built, they moved from their other home in Florida and assumed the role of general contractors for their new one so they could personally coordinate the local craftspeople and subcontractors. Montana did part of the manual labor, including staining, painting and caulking, and the only reason she didn’t stain the floors was because Stan thought she was working too hard. She designed the home inside and out and sourced and selected finishes for all the spaces. My job was to design custom cabinetry for the kitchen, the Murphy bedroom and the bathrooms.

Finding the Motivation

Montana’s inspirations came from her world traveling and her degree in fine art. European design informed her selections for authentic materials like the carved marble sinks in the bathrooms and in the kitchen. She did online image and text searches for months, looking for products in England, Italy, France and Spain. Alibaba, the Hangzoo, China, group of Internet-based businesses, “kept popping up.” She chose Alibaba because she found people who could make one-of-a-kind products to her specifications for less than similar off-the-shelf versions.

Montana wanted products that were decorative, functional and affordable. She found artisans in a small stone shop in China that made the custom marble sinks, as well as bathtubs and fireplace surrounds. An artist in Spain made a 10-lb. door knocker for the front door. Wood was repurposed from a 200-year-old cotton mill in South Carolina, which created the worn, old, rustic contrast with the clean white finishes chosen for the cabinetry, molding and trim. Montana chose sparkly things like the clear acrylic cabinet knobs, which were inspired by pretty things she saw in Paris.

Functional Kitchen with A Spectacular View

The most important requirement for the kitchen design was that it had to work well for baking, cooking, gathering and entertaining. Secondly, it had to look beautiful.

“The kitchen is the heart of the home,” said Montana. “It is so important for it to be beautiful, large and stately because it makes the house.”

She wanted lots of counter space for when she bakes several things at once, and the cabinet drawer interiors were customized to her cooking needs. We incorporated a baking drawer to store spatulas, biscotti tins, measuring cups and spoons, and custom drawer organizers in the prep area include a knife drawer, a two-tier utensil drawer and a spice drawer made from recycled wood. The walk-in pantry for food storage was important to the Wakefields because they buy in bulk.

Montana chose Crystal Cabinetry for the whole home because the product is made to order with a furniture finish and a lifetime warranty. The kitchen design features white-painted cabinets with classic Shaker doors.

“I selected white cabinets because white kitchens are classic, and white is always going to be in,” said Montana. “I like a bright house, and a light kitchen makes everything sparkle.”

Crystal Cabinetry’s commitment to green initiatives was another reason it was chosen for this project. The company not only has numerous green certifications but has also been directly involved in the development of the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) to promote green building.

The kitchen sink was inspired by an original marble farmhouse sink Montana saw in a 300-year-old home in Venice, Italy. The oversized single-bowl sink – carved out of one piece of marble and weighing about 325 lbs. – anchors the enormous island. Comfortable seating for four and large prep areas make this kitchen perfect for hanging out and putting some fabulous meals together.

Montana enjoys the changing view at the top of the Great Smoky Mountains while baking and giving online guitar lessons. The home was designed so the kitchen is oriented to take advantage of floor-to-ceiling glass, affording an unobstructed view of the mountains and lake.

There’s My Swing

The heavy marble fireplace surrounds in the living room and master bedroom, as well as the tub carved out of another block of marble, weighed so much that a special cradle had to be designed to move the pieces into place on top of finished wood and marble floors.

“There’s my swing,” said Montana when she first saw the A-frame dolly the workers were using to move the materials into place. She sanded and stained the piece, which is made from discarded lumber, and then she put a swing on it and moved it to the front porch.

Overcoming Challenges

The Wakefields chose their lot to capture the view of the mountains and lake, so the home had to be built into the rock on the side of the mountain, which resulted in an expensive and complicated foundation. Because of this, the couple had to compromise on the size of their dream house and carefully design and organize every square inch of space. Rooms were designed for optimum use since the total square footage was less than 2,500 square feet. Sliding barn doors were chosen to eliminate door swings in high-traffic areas, and glass railings were installed for unobstructed views.

The size of the house presented a design challenge for the kitchen and dining area. There was enough space for either a big island or a big dining room table – but not for both. We met onsite after the house was framed and did a cabinet mock-up in the space to figure out how big to make the island, which won out over the dining room table. Montana wanted the island to be large for functional reasons; it is where she does her baking and where she gives guitar lessons, and Stan uses it to work on his computer, pay bills and read books.

She didn’t want a dining table blocking the wall of glass since the majority of the time two people are living in the house. For occasions when they have company, Montana designed a long refectory table made of pine from the old cotton mill that can be easily pulled out to seat everyone and then tucked away when not in use. Refectory tables are elongated and were first designed in medieval monasteries. The homeowners can seat 12-15 people on benches when needed.

Lessons Learned

I chatted with them recently, and they admitted that they underestimated the cost of the labor required to build an all-custom home from scratch. Another major challenge was “buying and staging materials so they would be on site when needed,” according to Stan.

Montana spent several hours a day for almost a year searching online for products to make her dream home come together. During this process, she learned how to search and order from all over the world. A challenge in doing business with Alibaba was the language barrier because translators weren’t used. Montana relied less on spoken words and more on images and sketches for her communications. The world is now her marketplace, as she has learned how to search globally for products and suppliers.

“The thing I learned is that I can follow my gut instinct and that I can have a vision and make it come true,” she said.

Source List

Design Team: Stan & Montana Wakefield and Scott Koehler, Dream Kitchen Builders
Photos: McCardell Photography

Bathroom Faucets: Vigo Industries
Cabinet Lighting: Hafele
Cabinets: Crystal Cabinetry Works
Countertops & Backsplashes: Ivey Lane
Gas Range: NXR Duro Corp.
Kitchen Faucet: Danze
Pendant Lights: Seneca
Refrigerator: LG USA

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