Nowadays, having a second home that serves as either a weekend retreat or summer escape is becoming increasingly prevalent. Most of the time, these spaces serve as the perfect place for families to go when the harsh winter weather arrives or simply to enjoy a weekend in another preferred area of the country. For an Ohioan couple, Jeff and Jennifer, the second home they recently decided to construct along the Appalachian Mountains in Knoxville, TN, functions as a bit of both, serving as a nature-inspired sanctuary they can visit anytime throughout the year.

“The home is a vacation home for extended families to gather for the weekend for recreation on the lake,” said
Jennifer, who worked very closely Principal Architect at Tectonic Design, LLC, in Perrysburg, OH, Tonino Vicari, on the interior design. “The house is conceived as a mini hotel with individual suites. There are large common gathering spaces in the kitchen and communal spaces in the lower level living area. The master bedroom and each guest bedroom also have their own private bathroom and shower, as well as private balcony.”

The 3,500-square-foot home, which “emerges from the side of the hill as part of the Appalachian Mountains,” was inspired by the natural elements that surround it, according to the homeowner. “Nature is always the inspiration for all of our designs,” she explained. “We seek to achieve a balance of sustainability and design, which we have termed ‘sustainable morphology.’ This means the morphology or form of the building is derived from the forces found in nature. The forms, roof lines — all aspects of our designs — all respond to both the site and the overall natural elements.”

When creating the layout of the home, Vicari and the homeowners paid careful attention to every detail, such as the positioning of the windows, which maximize panoramic mountain views. “The north facing facade not only takes advantage of the views, but the deep overhangs and roof lines provide shading in summer months for the low western and afternoon sun,” the homeowner said. “The vertical stair shaft and window placement also provide a stack effect for cooling, and the reflective metal roof keeps the internal spaces of the home cool in the summer months by reflecting the heat away. The home is largely unoccupied in the winter and was mainly designed for passive cooling for the winter.

“The feeling we wanted to create was that of coolness and comfort,” she went on to say. “To combat the high temperatures of the location, especially in the summer time, we wanted the house to feel as if it was emerging from the mountainside, from the rock itself.”

To achieve the desired “cooling” effect, a range of unglazed porcelain tile was employed throughout the interior for all flooring and bathroom shower enclosures, and large-format porcelain stoneware slabs were utilized to clad the exterior. For the interior flooring, almost 3,000 square feet of tile from Olympia Tile & Stone’s Regal series in the colors “Dark Grey” and “Grey” were utilized, which embrace a contemporary limestone-inspired look. Two different formats were selected, including a 12- x 12-inch tile with an unpolished finish and a 12- x 24-inch tile with a matte finish, which were both supplied by Beaver Tile and Stone in Farmington Hills, MI. Due to the house being on a lake, most of the interior flooring was tiled for low maintenance and high durability, according to the homeowner.

For the exterior of the home, which followed the same color scheme, approximately 5,500 square feet of larger-format, ultrathin porcelain stoneware slabs from Cotto d’Este’s Kerlite Over series were used, supplied by Ciot Detroit in Troy, MI. Kerlite Over, described as the “new skin” for spaces, has a bold, metropolitan feel. This series was utilized in Kerlite 3Plus, the company’s exclusive line of
3 1/2-mm-thick tiles with a fiberglass mesh backing, in the largest available size — 100 x 300 cm (40 x 118 inches). Two different shades of gray were selected and employed from the Over series, including “Office,” a light gray that mimics natural concrete, and “Road,” a darker industrial-like gray.

“We chose the colors ‘Office’ and ‘Road’ for the similarities to the cool granite tones, which are found in the Appalachian Mountains,” the homeowner said. “The cool dark gray and light gray of the tile in its angular forms are like the granite of the mountains themselves, jutting out to create the form of the house.”

Vicari, who mainly assisted on the design of the home and oversaw some of the construction, explained how some other materials were considered for the exterior of the home before the extra-large Kerlite tiles. “We considered going with a cement board instead of tile on the exterior, however, the exposed fasteners, as well as the fact that cement board absorbs moisture, [were the reasons] we forewent the cement board for the more durable Kerlite thin porcelain tile,” he said.

Although Vicari wasn’t onsite as frequently as the homeowners to supervise the installation, he explained how the large-format material isn’t widely used in the area, which was one of the challenges the installation team encountered when building the home. “The Kerlite is relatively new, and the thin tile format has not been installed very much, especially as a facade material, so there was a learning curve for the installers,” he explained.

The installation, which took about two months and required a team of four installers, was completed by Foust Floor Covering in Maynardville, TN. Since the homeowners don’t reside in Tennessee, they contacted a local friend and retired industry veteran, Elvin Helton, who assisted them in all aspects of the installation, from finding the right crew to supervising the job to ensure it all went according to plan. “Jeff contacted me and told me he needed help putting things together,” said Helton. “So I told them, if they wanted me to, I’d bring in everybody I know [to work on it] and also help oversee it. And, that’s exactly what happened.”

Helton, who used to own D&H Framing in Maynardville, TN, until he retired about 10 years ago, has been working in the construction industry for the last 40 years. Because of his experience, the homeowners entrusted him to oversee all aspects of the installation that they weren’t able to being about six hours away.

“They came to visit every two weeks, and we’d talk on the phone all the time,” explained Helton. “They’re the best people I’ve ever dealt with in my life. I go deer hunting with them in Ohio. We’ve become super great friends.”

Helton introduced the homeowners to Johnny Foust, owner of Foust Floor Covering, who completed the installation of both the interior and exterior tile. “We used Laticrete’s 4-XLT for the interior tile and Mapei’s Ultraflex LFT for the exterior tile,” said Foust. “I’ve worked with large-format tile like that from Kerlite before, but it was challenging getting the material up as high as we needed to [on the exterior] of this house. We had to use suction cups to get it up more than 8 feet off of the ground.”

Although the interior of the home didn’t present any problems, the sheer size of the material used on the exterior and weather in which it was being installed in were two major factors that contributed to a prolonged installation time, according to Helton. “The material comes 40 inches wide by 118 inches long, and it’s like glass,” he said. “You have to have special suction cups to carry it with and special stuff to adhere it to the walls. It’s beautiful, but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with. Some days, the most we ever put up was 10 pieces. It’s hard to solve, but beautiful when you get done with it. It’s a lifetime material that you won’t have to ever think of replacing.

“The time of the year we were working in also wasn’t favorable,” Helton went on to say. “You can’t put it on walls when it’s cold because it won’t stick, but when it’s 80 degrees, by the time you get all of the thinset on the wall and tile, it’s already starting to dry. What you have to do with this tile is different. You have to build a backer on the outside like you would for hardwood, then there’s a special waterproofing you put over that. After that, you put the thinset on the wall and on the back of the tile and install it; and you have to use a special trowel.”

When Vicari was onsite to supervise the process, he made sure the large-format material was being installed correctly. “We looked for clean joints and clean corners, as well as smooth and level wall installations,” he said. “The waterproofing layer was critical.”

Despite the few complications the team encountered, everything ultimately went smoothly, and everyone is enthralled with the end result. “We were aiming for a timeless design and expression of modern sustainability,” said the homeowner. “The Cotto d’Este material really assisted us in achieving this goal of durability, clean lines, sustainability and timeless modernism.”

“Everything about the job was interesting, but the greatest thing was the owners,” added Helton. “They love it to death and so does everybody else. I love the inside of the house; I think that’s the most beautiful. But, I think everything is beautiful. I love that house.”

Private Residence

Knoxville, TN

Architect: Tectonic Design, LLC, Perrysburg, OH

Tile Installers: Foust Floor Covering, Maynardville, TN; Elvin Helton, Knoxville, TN

Tile Suppliers: Beaver Tile and Stone, Farmington Hills, MI (Olympia Tile & Stone’s Regal series); Ciot Detriot, Troy, MI (Cotto d’Este’s Kerlite Over series in Kerlite 3Plus)

Installation Products: Laticrete, Bethany, CT (4-XLT); Mapei, Deerfield Beach, FL (Ultraflex™ LFT™)