At Home: The “Toy Box”
Story by Frances Figart | Photos by Adrian Etheridge
From the outside, Jack and LaNita Cloninger’s home in Weaverville’s Reems Creek Golf Course community appears to be perfectly ordinary, even “normal.” But, as Jack is fond of saying, “It’s all in the details.” From the moment you step inside, the details come to life—much like when a child opens a toy box—and you realize this space is anything but run-of-the-mill.
Jack and LaNita call their three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home the “toy box” because they have designed it as a showcase for all that they love: vintage retro décor, collectibles of the 1950s, Hollywood film memorabilia, and toys and games of all kinds.
“We have been friends since the second grade, started dating at 15 when we were freshmen at Enka High School, married at 21 in 1977 and just celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary,” says LaNita. “We grew up with a love of the ’50s—our childhood experiences were very inspirational.”
Both Asheville natives who’ve always lived in Buncombe County (except while they were in college), Jack is an attorney with Cloninger, Barbour, Searson, Jones & Cash, PLLC, and LaNita is a realtor with Beverly-Hanks & Associates. Jack’s dad was co-owner of Biltmore Iron & Metal and a collector of Coke memorabilia, Lehmann Gross Bahn model trains, bronze statutes, and coin-operated machines like those for candy and soda. LaNita’s dad ran the Model Barber Shop in West Asheville, which she likens to Floyd’s in Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. One of her favorite pieces is her great uncle’s antique barber chair, which reminds her of the shop.
The couple had a small collection of ’50s memorabilia in their first house, where their son Justin was born. When Tyner Construction began building their existing house in 1992, Jack and LaNita wanted to better display their vintage treasures—and add more to the collection. They designed a classic formal dining room, where LaNita seats the adults at large extended family gatherings. But the young folks love to eat in the kitchen, which is a ’50s-style diner like what you would see on Happy Days. Also much loved by the kids is a game room with pool table, pinball machines, Skee-Ball, Donkey Kong, a baseball machine, and a train that runs along the ceiling. Off of this room is their blockbuster film collection room, including a karaoke machine, Rock Band game, and enough movies to fill a small video store.
“I enjoy our home theater, or, more appropriately, the theater attached to our home,” says Jack. “It has a ten-foot-wide screen, seating for 16, popcorn and soda machines, digital surround sound, movie posters, and ticket booth topped off with a marquee. It is an immersive experience.”
Another of Jack’s favorite things is a tasteful collage of several black-and-white photographs, mostly of 1960s icons like Broadway Joe Namath in his Jets uniform, President John F. Kennedy at the podium with Jackie looking on, James Bond on the beach with a bikinied Ursula Andress, and the Rat Pack playing pool. “One of our son’s friends said, ‘Most people just collect things to the point of clutter, but for you guys, it fits who you are,’” he recalls.
LaNita agrees: “We designed this house for us, not worrying about resale, so it suits us to a tee. You walk in and you just know you’re going to have a good time! We plan on living in this ‘toy box’ for a long time.”
If you would like to visit, Jack and LaNita will host fundraising dinner and a movie at their “Toy Box” in support of Asheville Community Theatre on Saturday, August 20. Seating is limited and a $100 per person donation is suggested. Email email@example.com for details, putting “Cloninger Dinner/Fundraiser” in the subject line.