World’s End rises solidly out of the Blue Ridge Mountain mists.
World’s End is the name of a part of London where Chelsea gives way to Fulham. It is the name given to mountains in Nepal that rise so high they are beyond the curving of the earth. And it is the name of a house in North Carolina, a solid old house of the kind in which you might dream of laying your weary head if you were in fact at the end of the earth. The house rises bluff against a streaky sky. It stands in the middle of an enchanted garden of strangely lush vegetation fed by the Blue Ridge Mountain mists; through this garden there runs an intricate series of waterways that form a sort of moat, as though this stone house were a castle, the last encampment before the unknown, the world’s end. Inside, everything seems as though it has been in place forever, and as you look more closely at the juxtapositions, you find that they are odd and nostalgic and comical and almost wistful. Perhaps it would be like this if you came to the end of the world with only a jumble of favorite things picked up along the way.
The house in on Satulah Mountain, near a town called Highlands. “I went to summer camp near here,” the owner of the house explains. “And I hadn’t been back in years. Then my husband and I were visiting friends nearby, and I came to this town to do some shopping. I’d heard Highlands was the Palm Beach of North Carolina, and that put me right off. But it’s not the Palm Beach of anywhere. It’s itself.”
“I thought the town was lovely,” she continues. “I wanted to see about renting someplace. But the rentals were all full of orange shag carpeting, and I couldn’t cope with that. I kept describing the kind of house I’d like, and finally one broker took me to see World’s End. As we drove up the mountain, my husband and I both fell in love; we agreed we had to have this place, so we bought it.”
The house was built by Robert Eskridge, a cotton broker, at the turn of the century. He had visited Scotland, and wanted to build a mountain house on the model of the grand houses of the Scottish Highlands. World’s End is built out of granite quarried off the property. Within the decade, a rival cotton merchant built another stone house on a nearby mountain. Some locals say the two were in made competition; others say they were the best of friends. In any event, the two neo-Gothic stone rooflines give Highlands a feeling unlike anyplace in the state.
The interior of the house was designed by David Kleinberg of Parish-Hadley Associates. “I’d done the primary residence for these people in Tampa,” says Kleinberg. “So I knew them and we could work together easily. She has a real maverick streak, and I wanted to make them something simple and luxurious with a lot of character. Hooked rugs, tramp art, rough Gothic things. I found material in New York, in London, locally, everywhere I went. It was a collecting process, the kind of thing you would do over the course of a lifetime compressed into ten months. I could walk into any shop anywhere and instantly see the things in it for World’s End.”
Indeed, this is the feeling. The house has bright quilts, turned bedposts, clear floral fabrics, and odd pieces of furniture that seem stiff but are divinely comfortable, chairs with the awkward stance of good-looking adolescents first engaging with society. It could not be more charming. “I am not a mainstream person,” says the owner, “but my Tampa house is a mainstream house. It was built out of years of looking at interior design magazines. I do have mainstream longings and mainstream elements to my personality, but the mountain house is more me, more quirky, more fun, more casual. If I had to choose one identity, I’d take the mountain house.”
The setting of the house is remarkable. “For most of the year,” says Madison Cox, who planned the garden, “this area is completely shrouded in fog. The first time I came down here it was winter, and I drove up with the owner. She kept saying, ‘Here’s a flowing stream. Here’s a view of the mountains. Here’s a grove of pines.’ But I couldn’t see a thing, not even the road. I wasn’t sure why I’d come down from New York. Then I came in the summer, and I saw that the house sat high on the mountain looking out across three states. You can see almost forever.
“There are a number of plants that are indigenous only to this part of North Carolina and to China. For the garden I imported nothing, not even from out of the state. I planted mountain laurels, rhododendrons, native azaleas, dogwood, and pine trees. I planted bulbs and ferns in the forest, and created walks and paths through it. You can’t imagine how romantic this place is now that it’s finished — like a Caspar David Friedrich painting.
“I made stone terraces and created a system of rills that flow through the whole 40 acres. The water accumulates in pools and tanks; there are waterfalls everywhere, all gravity-driven. I put in a large orchard of apple, plum, and pear trees, and a flower garden. I left some terraces in grass, and put in benches and croquet lawns. There’s still a tradition here of great stonemasons and woodworkers and carpenters, so all the benches and fountains were made locally. World’s End is an old-fashioned idea of an American vacation, with no movie theater and no big parties; it’s the opposite of the Hamptons.”
The owner laughs. “My kids have a strong connection to the mountain,” she explains. “They love the pasture-size lawn, following me in the garden, going on hikes to the top of the mountain, rolling down the lawn. Last year we found a local lake with a little beach and a diving platform out in the middle of the water.” She smiles broadly. “I hope this house will pass down through the generations. It’s magic. It’s a place where I can be me, or where I can be me as I imagine myself — a kind of cross between I Dream of Jeannie and Glinda the good witch. You know? I want to be Glinda because she’s so good and nurturing, with a loving and spiritual feeling, but I want to be Jeannie because she’s more human and fun. Glinda had those long sleeves all the time, and I don’t want to have long sleeves — though I like all those layers of tulle.” She bursts out laughing, and I am suddenly reminded that, though the world is full of interesting places, there is in fact no place like home.