Tennessee Modernism: McCarty Cabin by Bruce McCarty

Structure: McCarty Cabin / E.H. McCarty Summer Home
Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Architect: Bruce McCarty
Date: 1952
Story: If you’ve ever searched Google for Knoxville mid-century modern architecture, chances are pretty high you’ve seen work designed by legendary Knoxville architect Bruce McCarty. Not even this blog is immune to Bruce’s charm…as evidenced by our recent feature on the two residences he designed for himself.

But more than just a talented architect, Bruce was a family man. Now, Bruce’s mother “E” lived in Orlando, Florida. Every so often, she’d come up to Knoxville to visit Bruce and his family (especially her grandkids). Sometime around 1950, E asked Bruce to design her a summer cabin, something near to Knoxville that had enough room for the family to come stay with her when she visited.

Original house rendering (© McCarty Holsaple McCarty)

First, the site. They selected a wooded, five-acre parcel of land in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. In the winter, when the trees thinned out, the hilltop lot looked straight out at the Smoky Mountains.

1950s photo of the cabin’s south-facing exterior (© McCarty Holsaple McCarty)

Next, the functionality. Bruce wanted to ensure the house would be able to serve two functions: it would be a summer home for E, yes, but it also needed to be a place where he and his three brothers (along with their families) could vacation — separately or all at once!

Let’s talk layout. The cabin is a split level house with a mirrored layout. The sleeping area is the upper level and the living area is the lower level.

Each upstairs bedroom features its own outdoor balcony which cantilevers over the ground. In the early days, these floating balconies were used as sleeping porches!

The space connecting the two bedrooms forms an indoor sleeping balcony. From the balcony, you can look out over the downstairs living room or look out to the south (to get the view of the Smokies).

1950s photo of the cabin’s heavy stone living room (© McCarty Holsaple McCarty)

Material-wise, the house features an impressive amount of mountain stone. It forms the fireplace and a lot of the living room wall, making the house feel very, very solid. Originally, the house did not have air-conditioning, so the heavy stone worked to keep the house cool in the summer. Speaking of solid, the floors in the downstairs are built of Tennessee Marble, waxed until it shines.

There is an abundance of wood throughout the cabin which offsets the harshness of the stone. The glass (especially in the huge living room) was all salvaged by Bruce from old store fronts!

1950s photo of the cabin looking into the kitchen. Living room is on your left, the patio is on your right (© McCarty Holsaple McCarty)

Lastly, let’s talk about the living room + the view. Frank Lloyd Wright is known for using a technique architects call “compression and release,” where a smaller room with a low (compressed) ceiling opens (releases) directly into a larger room with a view of the outdoors. In the cabin, Bruce employee this technique in an excellent way. When you enter the house, you go down a few stairs and enter into the living room which has very, very low ceilings. It doesn’t feel claustrophobic per se, but the structure pushes you to look ahead. And what lies ahead (at the south end of the room) is stunning: a two-story glass window looking out at the most incredible view of the Great Smoky Mountains. When you’re seated in the living room, this glass almost disappears. The structure of the windows is designed in such a way as to never restrict your view. Looking left or looking right reveals only more nature.

Here you can see the low ceiling of the living room
Looking down from the balcony, you can see the ‘release’ of the space as it opens up to the view

Now, you may have noticed that this blog is a bit more experiential than some of my previous blogs. That is because I have visited this place in person, I’ve seen it with my own two eyes! The McCarty cabin recently hit the market, and was purchased by a modernism-loving couple. The new owners have spent the past six months renovating the house, updating its internal systems and giving it a little more modern functionality.

Mid renovation, don’t mind the mess!

The owners were kind enough to let me document the renovation and see the finished product. However, not content to keep the McCarty cabin to themselves, the house can be rented on AirBNB! I couldn’t be more grateful to the new owners and would like to express my heartfelt thanks to them for letting me help bring the history of this architectural gem to light.

Oh and here’s a bunch more photos!

One thought on “Tennessee Modernism: McCarty Cabin by Bruce McCarty

  1. Hi,
    Great article and it’s awesome to know even more of the history of this gorgeous home. It’s been my privilege to have done a lot of the most recent remodeling and repairs to The McCarty House, in particular the carpentry. I salvaged all I could of the Clear Douglas Fir woodwork that Bruce used on the inside and re-used it where necessary to hide ductwork and other newer implementations, along with some that I’ve had in my stash for over 30 years, lol. I also made the cabinet beside the stove since the old one was so much larger than our typical modern day units.
    The new owners were emphatic about keeping the original Soul in the home and I was honored that they wanted me to perform the work.

    Like

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