At Home: Sunledge in Black Mountain
Story by Frances Figart | Photos by Olivia Marone
High on a ridge just south of Black Mountain, a couple has designed and created the home of their dreams at the end of a gravel road called Burnt Ridge Trail. Tucked into the hillside to capture passive solar heat, the timber frame house known as Sunledge was completed in 2012 and is designed by owners Banta Whitner and Bruce Grob and constructed by local builder Wayne East.
The couple relocated from Jacksonville, FL, in 2014 when Grob retired from a career in non-profit management, which included HIV-AIDS work in sub-Saharan Africa. While he continues to consult in fundraising and organizational development, his first love is building custom furniture. Whitner, a licensed clinical social worker, maintains a private psychotherapy practice both in Black Mountain and in Jacksonville.
Their green-built home reflects their intention to live more lightly on the Earth, which Whitner has chronicled in a book, This Congruent Life: A Spiritual Ecology Practice. The timber frame and structurally insulated panels (SIPs) that form the walls create a tight, cozy envelope against the strong winds on the ridge. Reclaimed black walnut flooring lends drama to the openness of the main level, which features vaulted ceilings and spacious windows opening to breathtaking mountain views to the south and east. A roomy yoga loft shares these vistas, and features skylights for stargazing meditations.
“We used as many reclaimed and natural materials as we could source locally,” says Grob, “and we put a lot of sweat equity into staining the trim and assembling the knotty alder kitchen cabinets.”
Grob designed a full workshop on the lower level, and the home features numerous examples of his work, from decorative pieces such as frames and unique boxes, to custom furniture—a free-form coffee table crafted of West African bubinga and walnut, a sofa table of spalted maple and cherry, and deck furniture in ipe, a sustainable Brazilian hardwood.
Having an artisan woodworker involved with the design of his own home made Sunledge an extremely satisfying and unique creation. “Any design project I dreamed up, Bruce found a way to build it,” says Whitner, “from a window seat that doubles as a file cabinet, to benches and shoe cubbies in the mudroom. He also built most of the garden structures: the double-covered compost bins, the potting table and herb boxes, all the raised beds and the beautiful garden gates, too.”
Whitner, an avid biodynamic gardener and the senior editor for Plough to Pantry, started with a blank slate (and depleted rocky soil) four years ago, and has since created vegetable, perennial, medicinal and herb gardens on several levels of their hilly three acres. Clusters of strawberry plants are scattered around the property. A small blueberry “orchard” dots one hillside, while apple and hazelnut trees grow along the driveway. Permanent asparagus and raspberry beds define the perimeter of one garden area.
“Visitors comment on the serenity of the space, the good energy here, the natural and created beauty of the surroundings,” she says. “When company comes, they settle in and never want to leave.”
When asked what they love best about their home, Whitner’s list starts with the magnificent long-range mountain views from nearly every window. “Sunrises, sunsets and stargazing on the deck,” she adds, “along with yoga under the skylights when there’s a full moon.”
Grob loves to create a roaring fire in the stone fireplace. He enjoys experiencing “the warmth of the walnut floors under our bare feet and windows open for cross breezes on cool days.” But his favorite is “the timber frame design that fits so well into this mountain setting, the way the house nestles into the hillside and feels so much a part of the mountain itself.”