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Down the Rabbit Hole
Vanessa North looked through the looking glass when designing and building the home of her current dreams.
by Nicole Jovel and photography by Turner Photography Studio
The most apt single word to describe it would be enchanting. The Rabbit Hole is a one-of-a-kind cottage on nearly 12 acres, tucked away (minus the one or two neighbors you might glimpse in the far-off distance) from the outside world. Here, the charm and personality of the house might make you believe that Rapunzel, or perhaps the three little bears, are right around the corner. Vanessa North — the owner, designer, and builder — gave the home its name-sake from her favorite book, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and continues with that theme by describing it with fairytales. “It’s the Goldilocks house because it’s not too big and not too small. It’s just right.”
Vanessa also references Goldilocks when explaining her process. “She went around and tasted and tried things until she found things that were just right” — and that’s how Vanessa approached the project. Starting with her ideas and a piece of graph paper, she tweaked it along the way until she felt it was exactly what she wanted with no compromise. Once she had the idea, it only took her one afternoon to sketch out and design the cottage, including the unique touches and quirks that add so much meaning for her.
“The world is too serious,” says Vanessa. “I like surprises and a little bit of magic.” And that’s what you feel when you drive up to the property and see the mailbox — a miniature replica of the cottage itself — then take in the shrubs and flowers before your eyes meet the stucco and Pennsylvania stone, and the balcony where Vanessa can sometimes be found waving to greet her guests (which most definitely adds to the magic).
The garden and grounds are impressive in their own right — in lieu of grass, Vanessa has filled the “yard” with perennials, wild-flowers, pumpkins, and ferns. Behind the house is an expanse of trees leading to a creek that runs through the property. But the house is so charming that it draws you in at first sight, with wonder for what you might find inside.
Fit For A Mad Tea Party
On the ground floor you enter through the garage which, sans car or other storage, doubles as an enclosed sitting area or a screened-in porch when the garage door is raised and the screen wall is lowered. From that first impress-ion, you already get the feeling that efficiency (an important factor in a 1,004-square-foot home) has been considered at every turn.
The bathroom on the first floor is an ode to the bootlegging that happened in the area during prohibition, with old mason jars and barrel rings on display that Vanessa has un-earthed on the property. One of two closets in the cottage is across from the bathroom and then you’re at the back door where beyond you’ll find an outdoor shower and an expansive view of nature.
Back inside and up the stairs you’ll reach the main living area, which features hardwood and natural slate flooring, a masonry heater fireplace — where you can heat the home for nearly a day on a two-hour fire — and custom arched French doors leading to the princess balcony. Vanessa has decorated the living space with a custom-built cabinet, an antique desk, and a neutral sofa and chairs that she dresses up with throw pillows that she changes out with new covers regularly to give the area a punch of character.
Around the corner is the sunny kitchen, with locally handcrafted cherry cabinets, walnut accents, granite countertops, and copper grating. “Every-thing is down to the millimeter in here,” says Vanessa, who had to find just the right ceiling fan to fit in the small space and designed slide-out shelves so that appliances are still handy but not sitting on the countertops.
A full bathroom, with built-in medicine cabinets along one wall for maximum storage, is just beyond the kitchen at the back of the house, along with a three-season room. This space has vinyl windows on all sides, and you can take in both the mountainside and the valley. In the winter when the trees are sparse, you can see all the way to West Virginia. This is another spot in the house where Vanessa can be inside, 13 feet up from the ground, but also get the feel of being outside. “It’s glamping to the extreme,” she says.
Upstairs, the third-floor loft, overlooking the living room below, is where Vanessa’s bed with its custom-built bedframe is. The area also features plenty of built-in storage, as well as a window seat with storage, a guest bed, and a trundle bed. “The heating and cooling transfer much better in the open space,” Vanessa says. The loft also has a solar-powered skylight to bring in more natural light during the day and a glimpse of the stars at night.
Surveying The Queen’s Croquet Grounds
Once you take it in as a whole, you can see how much thoughtfulness went into each and every element of the cottage and how personal it was for Vanessa, who was on-site daily during the seven months of construction. “I was in a space where I thought I had lost and compromised myself,” she says. “I wanted to reconstruct myself, and if I were a house this is what I’d want to be like.” Vanessa says the project was just what she needed for a self-rediscovery. “Where you see quality and precision, it’s because I wanted to rebuild myself in that way. Though the silliness is also very much me.”
Vanessa’s not a builder or architect most of the time — in fact, she’s a retired schoolteacher turned volunteer EMT, and the Rabbit Hole is only her second home construction project. The first was her former home, a log cabin, that she says gave her the confidence to tackle this dream project.
Not only is Vanessa happy with the end result of the project, but is also comfortable with it rep-resenting her as a person and a celebration of her uniqueness. She also sees it as an investment in both the home and herself. “The custom French doors cost more than my first new car,” she says. Though the project, like many, had some un-expected and unanticipated expenses, Vanessa says she has no regrets.
“I think it represents the best part of me,” she says. “Sometimes, in this space, I can imagine impossible and magical things before I’ve even eaten my breakfast.” Though it’s her current dream come true, Vanessa admits that it may not be her forever happily-ever-after home. “I love it here, but I have more ideas. Maybe I can use them to help other people do what I’ve done here, to make something that is uniquely them. The creative process calls to me.”
She references her favorite quote — “Be the change you want to see in the world” — when she thinks about her home. “I want to see the Goldilocks idea more, the idea that I put into this house, where people don’t go for what’s big or fancy, but instead go for what’s just right.”