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Ten Roofs House: A Dream Home for Two Retirees

When it came time to retire, a North Carolina couple traded in the daily grind for a life brimming with joy and recreation.

| January/February 2013

  • Marvine and Knox can pickles, tomato sauce, and jams made from the blueberries, strawberries and cherries they grow in their yard.
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • Knox Worde and Marvine Cole
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • Knox has taken woodworking courses at local arts and crafts schools. He gives bowls, jewelry boxes and vases as gifts, and sells them on Etsy ( and at arts and craft shows.
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • Marvine lays out a quilt pattern on the wall of her sewing studio.
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • Marvine has been a sewer and quilter her entire life, a passion passed down from her mother, Leona. Leona visits Marvine for several weeks twice a year, and the two make quilts together.
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • A boat house provides storage for Marvine and Knox's many kayaks and canoes.
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • The open, light-filled kitchen is perfect for growing plants indoors and for Marvine and Knox’s canning and food preservation.
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • Multiple roof lines create interest and the “compound” feeling Marvine wanted.
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • The partially cleared site is perfect for solar electric and solar thermal panels—and for Knox’s astronomy hobby.
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • A large, “sociable” kitchen is central to many of architect Chris Larson’s designs.
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • Marvine and Knox wanted a home that was more pared down and less traditional than their former home, but filled with interesting and artistic details.
    Photo By Steve Mann
  • The well-insulated passive solar home includes two wood-burning stoves.
    Photo By Steve Mann

When the opportunity to retire arose for Marvine Cole and her husband, Knox Worde, they were ready to leave behind the daily grind, but certainly not to settle down. Instead, they replaced their professions with a life overflowing with passions—some old, some new—in their dream home in the wilds of North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains.

Ten Roofs House: Into the Wild

Both Marvine and Knox are avid outdoor enthusiasts; they met hiking in the New York Catskills. When they moved from New Jersey to the Atlanta area more than a decade ago, they replaced winter sports, such as snowshoeing and ice climbing, with boating. Today, they both “paddle”—Marvine canoes and Knox kayaks, and both guide trips or teach with the local outdoor center—so when it came to choosing a place to retire, they knew they wanted to be somewhere near the water.

Knox and Marvine had traveled to the beautiful Smoky Mountains for paddling trips many times and had friends in the area, so they decided to search there for land. Knox, who worked three days a week as a nurse, would drive out to check sites when he had a few days off. When he found one he liked, the two would return and camp for a night or two to get a feel for the space. Marvine says when they visited the land they now call home, they knew it was right. “We felt it when we first stepped on the land—the sense that there was something about it that felt really special in some way we could never put our fingers on,” she says. “I don’t know if anyone else feels it, but we felt it instantly, and the house went right where we were standing when we felt it.”

Tucked into the side of a mountain, the remote plot is the perfect site for the two. It’s convenient enough for spur-of-the-moment trips down the river. “We’re a half-hour from the local river, so we can just say, ‘Hey, let’s go boating this afternoon,’ and load up and go paddle,” Marvine says. And, surrounded by woodland views, nature-lovers Knox and Marvine feel connected with the outdoors even when they’re inside.

The south-facing plot also enabled them to achieve some of their building-efficiency goals. They wanted to take advantage of passive solar heating and cooling, so large windows all around the home—particularly on its south side—let in the sun’s warmth, as well as the gorgeous mountain views. They also took advantage of the sunny plot by installing a solar electric array and solar thermal hot water panels.

Even the site’s flaws worked in Marvine and Knox’s favor. A partially developed logging site that had since been abandoned, the site was damaged—not the pristine wooded space many homeowners would be after. But because it already had cleared spaces, Marvine and Knox were able to build their home removing minimal trees. “Building the house there actually improved the land,” Marvine says.

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