At one with nature

08/08/2014 3:19 PM

08/08/2014 3:20 PM

In Cascade Forest, northwest of Chapel Hill near the old farming community of Orange Grove, there is a light-filled, passive-solar house that was designed and built in 2005 to be at one with nature.

Cascade Forest is beautiful and wooded and Cane Creek runs along some of the properties. Originally designed for 15 homes, each set on 10 acres, the neighborhood has fewer homes since some tracts near Cane Creek were donated to the Triangle Land Conservancy. There is abundant wildlife, peace and quiet with a gravel road called Mystic Lane that keeps cars rolling over the undulating hills at a speed befitting the slower pace of life in the wooded countryside.

“This is a nice, small community with a good mix of young families and retired couples,” David Cackowski, Cascade Forest Home Owners Association president, said. “You’ll see neighbors from Sugar Ridge walking and running with families here. We get together for social gatherings and work together during hard times like the power outage from this past winter storm.”

It is no wonder that architect John Hartley (1945-2011) was asked to design a home in Cascade Forest. From the late-1970s until his death in 2011, Hartley designed homes and communal gathering spaces in and around Orange County that were in harmony with nature and reflected Hartley’s deeply spiritual way of looking at nature and his study of building practices of indigenous cultures in America and North Africa.

By designing spaces specifically and reverentially for the person or family living on a given piece of land, Hartley created spaces that would simultaneously disturb the environment as little as possible and use it as much as possible to reduce humans’ carbon footprints.

From the early-1990s through 2009, builder Jay Condie worked on many of Hartley’s projects, as a lead framer and then for 16 years as chief construction superintendent. Condie was chief superintendent for the house at 4312 Mystic Lane.

“What we enjoyed the most was never building the same house twice,” Condie said of his time with Hartley. “There is no other house plan like the one at Mystic Lane, which was born out of a vision that the owners had. John Hartley’s design brought that dream to fruition.”

Hartley introduced all aspects of light into his designs, Condie said. The house at Mystic Lane stays relatively cool in summer and has sunshine in winter for much of the day. “You don’t even need lights in the main part of the main floor of the house,” Condie said.

Examples at Mystic Lane of Hartley’s love affair with natural light can be seen in the choice of large windows at the gable ends of the house that bring light into the two-story great room. That light reflects throughout the open spaces.

Another example is the transom-style rectangular window that brings light into the first-floor master suite from an adjacent stairwell that is lit naturally by a large round window at its apex.

The really nice thing about this house was how well the house was designed to bring the outdoors inside. Even the walk-out basement has light in all of the public rooms with only a large, walk-in cedar closet and the furnace room secluded by a screen.

John always had large and interestingly shaped windows in the homes he built, Condie said. And he was very aware of correctly placing a house on the site. Hartley talked about how a basement would be a good fit for the layout of the site on Mystic Lane. He always wanted to take advantage of the topography of any home site and keep as much of the woods and natural contour as possible.

Hartley brought his many years of expertise and design philosophy but was open to the clients’ ideas of how a home should feel and look. The clients wanted privacy and beautiful views. The rooms at the back of the house look out down the slope to trees. In the winter you can see the lights of a house off to the left and you can tell there is a farm below – but it is probably 30 acres away from the Mystic Lane house.

The kitchen, per the client’s request, has beautiful Shaker-style, custom cabinets and loads of built-in storage. The loft space, adjacent the second-story children’s bedrooms, was designed to overlook the main living room and have space for a love seat and comfy chair.

The house was designed with a walk-out basement that has a fourth bedroom and full bath; large, cedar walk-in closet; a home theater; a light-filled family room with wet bar and woodstove; a game room and workshop. After the home was completed, Condie came back to install vents so that heat from the wood stove could rise up through the living room floor.

Condie’s own firm, Condie Construction Corporation, has continued to build and remodel homes in the Triangle using many of the same craftsmen Condie worked with over the past 20 years. For more information or to contact him, go to or call 919-929-4310.

Children living in this house would attend Orange County Schools: Grady Brown Elementary, Gravelly Hill Middle School and Cedar Ridge High School. The four-bedroom, 3.5-bath house of 3,499 heated square feet is set on 10 acres at 4312 Mystic Lane, Hillsborough. It is being offered for $600,000 by Prudential York Simpson Underwood Realty listing agent Rene Hendrickson who can be reached at or 919-313-3427.

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