Renee Baker wonders aloud about where she could put a tree house.
She has her pick of places to choose from, a whole five acres worth, here in the Pisgah Forest.
Perhaps it’d be best if the tree house were down by the creek, since the kids naturally flock there. But oh, what about near the two oak trees? Their trunks rise above the morning fog like the legs of mythical giants. That would be nice, too.
Baker mulls over placement a little while longer as she walks the length of the pasture at Fodderstack Farm, but she doesn’t arrive at any decisions. No matter; there’s time. She’s hoping to spend the rest of forever here, anyway. And when others — family, friends, or strangers — visit the retreat she’s created, of which a converted barn house is the centerpiece, they feel the same way.
Baker, along with her husband Drew, moved from the Chicago suburbs seven years ago and acquired the farm about three years after that. They had never been to the area before but were looking for a place to spend semi-retired life when Drew was offered a professorship with Brevard College.
The couple thought, Why not? It’s not going to get any nicer than this.
Friends were amazed. Are you kidding? We researched for 10 years where to retire, they said.
But when you know, you know.
Renovating houses has been a longtime passion for Baker. After they moved to the area, she got a call from her realtor about a foreclosed property a few hollers and winding country roads over.
“We went immediately,” Baker says. “I walked in here, and then I saw the property, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got to have it. I’ve got to have it.’”
The barn was built in the 1920s or ’30s, but Baker can’t figure out for certain the exact year. The only clues she’s found are markings in the cement and old newspapers.
Although the barn was converted into a house in 1985 — well before Baker purchased it — it was on the decline and needed a good bit of work done before it was ready to be lived in once again.
There were a lot of unseen issues — electrical, plumbing, structural — but the stunning and sturdy barn wood that covers the majority of the walls and ceiling made them worth fixing.
“A lot of people are building log homes to have a feel like this,” Baker says.
Here, the charms of an old house come standard.
The heartwood pine countertops and the chipped porcelain sink in the kitchen are both original to the house. An open stairwell, with its smooth and worn steps, overlooks the large den. And children who stay with their families here are left transfixed by the secret passageway that’s formed by the connecting closets in the two upstairs bedrooms.
Anyone can book a stay at the house, but Baker considers it to be her family’s guesthouse, first and foremost.
When decorating the house, she wanted to highlight its warmth and rustic allure through personal decorative touches. Mason jars line the space above the sink, patterned rugs add subtle Southwestern flair to the floors, and throw blankets beg you to be wrapped up in them just five minutes longer. Please?
As dawn breaks, you might briefly stir from your stupor when you hear a faint rattle coming from outside the house. The city slicker in you wonders if it’s a burglar, but then you recall that you’re in the country, and chickens are scuttling in and out of the coop outside of your window.
You’re lulled back to sleep by the promise of an omelet made with farm-fresh eggs, which you can gather yourself, when you wake however many hours later. But the chickens have the right idea because the views are worth rising early for.
Fodderstack Mountain, which overlooks the farm, was saved from being developed several years back. Once the mist clears on crisp fall mornings, the hills become a canvas of vibrant oranges and yellows upon which you can paint your dream for life to remain this simple when you return to wherever home is.
It’s the peace felt here that led Baker and her husband to eventually build a small house of their own on the farm after they renovated the barn house for guests.
“I’d have to come over every day to take care of the animals. To leave … I just hated to leave because I just loved it here so much.”
From ducks to horses, animals roam all about the farm. When Baker bought sheep, she’d of course need two donkeys to protect them from predators. Their names are Charlotte and Anastasia, but they’ll probably answer to anything because A) guests are always renaming them along with the chickens, and, B) they’re just that friendly.
Baker credits her newfound interest in livestock to her struggle of becoming an empty nester once her daughters grew up.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I filled up my nest with 40 animals,” she jokes.
Farm life has proven to be quite the change in pace for Baker, who only rode horses as a teenager but had to stop once she became allergic. Leave it to the mountain air to heal such maladies. As large as the learning curve has been, she could get used to this.
“I have a friend who’s my chicken mentor and sheep mentor. I have lots of horse mentors,” she says. “People are very willing to help you learn.”
Both inside and outside, Fodderstack keeps Baker dreaming in ways she can’t always put to words.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” she says. “There’s a lot of positive energy or love in this place.”
To which we simply say yes, on both counts.
Presented by Andrew Roby
Andrew Roby is the premier custom residential contractor in the Carolinas, serving communities from the mountains to the coast. Specializing in custom homes, remodeling, kitchen and bath renovations and handyman services, Andrew Roby “makes it home” for clients through exceptional quality, craftsmanship and customer service for life.
Andrew Roby: General Contractor & Home Builder
2000 W Morehead Street
Charlotte, NC 28208