Off the Grid and Outta Sight
This family redefines what it means to go off-grid.
When real estate developer Ted Prosser and his wife, Sharon, first started snooping around the Asheville, N.C., area for land on which they could build a timber frame cabin, they knew they wanted something private and serene. Then they stumbled upon a piece of pristine property on Bear Lake, located high up in the mountains – an area surrounded by a chain of lakes and thousands of acres of national forest. With less than a dozen houses built on the 476-acre lake, the spot promised a good dose of tranquility.
“Most bodies of water are clustered with houses and development,” says Ted. “But this was a beautiful, rustic, underdeveloped piece of land with long, beautiful coves and fingers surrounded by red oak and white pine trees. It was just what we wanted.”
Though the land was lovely, it was also very isolated given that it was on a peninsula on a landlocked piece of property accessible only by water. At first it seemed as if building their dream cabin would be a nightmare. However, Ted’s background in construction, development and design – plus the fact that he was a U.S. Coast Guard captain – helped him solve the problem.
“I built a barge,” says Ted. But not just any barge. He constructed a gigantic 16-foot-wide, 24-foot-long barge with a carrying capacity of up to 12 tons. Equipped with steel ramps to withstand the weight of bulldozers and other equipment, the barge moved seven tractor-trailer loads of materials in one week.
“Every bag of concrete and every stick of wood were moved across the lake on that barge,” recalls Ted.
Besides being a complicated construction project, living off the grid meant the Prossers would have no power to the home, nor would they have a well. Therefore, they had to build a green, solar-powered cabin – which suited them just fine.
“We wanted to make it completely energy-efficient and sustainable,” says Ted. “So we collect rain water and run-off from the house. We use this water for drinking, showering, washing dishes, everything.” To make the water potable, it’s run through multiple filters: as it goes into the tank, as it’s pumped from the tank, and again at the sinks and refrigerator.
The Prossers also installed LED light bulbs and green appliances, used non-toxic insulation, chose environmentally friendly paint, and used mostly natural products and recycled materials such as a metal roof, wood and bark siding, and walnut floors.
A New, Old Cabin
As a boy, Ted spent time at a rustic cabin community in Georgia, so in designing his cabin, he wanted to incorporate an authentic, old-looking farmhouse style that hearkened back to his childhood days.
“Those cabins had 1x6-inch boards nailed to the interior walls. I wanted our place to have that kind of olden-time look. As it turns out, getting an old, cheap look costs a lot!” says Ted with a chuckle. “For instance, when the kitchen cabinets were delivered, they weren’t distressed enough for our taste, so we beat them up some more and had them re-stained and re-glazed.”
Ted and Sharon also wanted the walls to look aged and weathered so they chose pine, which they knew would oxidize and turn a golden hue over time. As for flooring, they chose black walnut for its high-density durability, so that it would hold up against dirt, debris, sand and doggie claws.
They also made sure to choose woods throughout the cabin that would nicely tie the black walnut floors to the white pickled pine walls. The cabin’s interior windows and doors are stained knotty alder wood. And for contrast, they trimmed all doors and windows in pine and then laid a glaze on top to make the color slightly darker than the walls.
Despite his rustic tastes, Ted did choose to indulge in one contemporary feature: a giant master shower, complete with multiple showerheads, fancy jets and separate temperature controls.
“We upsized the pipe to ensure we would have enough water pressure at full capacity when Sharon and I showered together,” says Ted.
In the kitchen, the Prossers installed a farmhouse-style sink and granite Italian countertops with hammered edges, a choice that beautifully blends the old with the new.
The Prossers love to entertain – both inside and out. So they built a screened porch with its own sink and prep/cooking area and multiple grilling stations. The family also constructed a massive 2,600-square-foot deck that features an enormous outdoor den. The outdoor living area is centered on an energy-efficient fireplace that has a Swedish lightweight concrete liner to help retain the heat.
The decking material is western red cedar, and the outside deck and inside stair railings are all made out of rhododendron grandiflorum – a distinct brown, gnarly wood.
The covered deck and outside den area are great for entertaining – and for sleeping. Just ask Little Bear, the Prossers’ big, fuzzy brown and tan mixed breed dog that regularly naps in the fresh air. Jazz, the family cat and avid hunter, also uses the deck to perch-and-pounce, keeping unwanted critters at bay.
“We appreciate her skills,” says Ted. “But not so much her findings, which she leaves on the front door step.”
When not disposing of Jazz’s precious findings, the Prosser family is often on the water. Any time they need groceries, gas or supplies, they take their boat across the lake, hop in their car and drive 20 miles into town.
“Sunshine, rain, sleet or snow, we’re in the boat!” says Ted. Being self-proclaimed water bugs, the family has a ski boat, two pontoon boats, a paddleboat, a canoe, a PWC, kayaks and a “working barge” for hauling purposes.
The couple loves the water so much that they designed their two-story, 1,820-square-foot home to follow the length of the peninsula so that every room of the cabin has a view of the lake.
The couple also enjoys hiking, gardening, painting, cooking, swimming and stargazing – which is especially good at this island cabin due to the absence of light pollution.
“The moon is incredible. It reflects off the water at all times of the year,” says Ted. “I find living off the grid to be rather romantic.”
Frequent contributor Christy Heitger-Ewing thinks that anyone who designs their cabin to ensure lake viewing from every room in the house is a genius.