By Matt White
Photography by Beth Mann
After selling a home in Chapel Hill in 2015, Kate Paradis and Scott Zimmerman thought about buying a vacation home. “We decided to look along the Haw River for a house rather than a beach or mountain house,” Kate says. “We wouldn’t use those houses often, and this would be close enough that our children wouldn’t feel like they were a world away.”
A home with a view of the Haw is one of Chatham’s most prized real estate parcels. The river – wide and broad enough to have once powered more than 40 textile mills as it passed through the county – has almost no waterfront development along its length. Scott, an attorney, soon found out why: the Haw is protected by a 100-foot riparian buffer that forbids disturbance for development.
Still, the pair was able to find a thin strip of land along a river bend a few miles north of the Haw River Bridge, where Highway 15-501 crosses the waterway. Scott met the owner and took a walking tour of the property, which was little more than a heavily wooded, long gravel driveway through undisturbed forest and trails.
“I walked it with this guy, and he gets to the end of the road and takes off into the trees,” Scott remembers. “I asked, ‘Where are you going?’ He said, ‘Where you’re going to build your house.’”
The hike into the woods ended atop a bluff that overlooked a series of rapids– the exact spot where, after 536 days of construction, Kate and Scott moved into the home early this year.
In 2017 the couple began working with Chapel Hill architect Arielle Condoret Schechter. Arielle’s final design produced a low-slung, light-filled, 2,700-square-foot home as unique as its views. Prior to construction, however, huge rocks needed to be removed where the house was to be built and a completely custom-built home contributed to the lengthy construction timetable.
The property includes both a woodturning workshop for Scott and an art studio for Kate, who owns Galerie Pied-a-Terre art gallery in Carrboro.
The couple even have a word they use for their new home: “Hawsome.”
Much of the home’s exterior surface is either windows or a combination of wood and tan stucco, which helps the house blend into its environment. Much of the living room wall is dedicated to a 20-foot sliding glass door.
“That’s why we’re here, to look at the river,” Kate says. She jokes that, from the water, nobody will actually see their house: “Going down the rapids, people look straight ahead.”
To build the house, they enlisted Scott’s step-father, Bill Tate, who owns Village Building Company, and Scott’s sister, Laura Zimmerman Whayne, to oversee construction. The home’s plans outlined a place that would not only be an escape from workaday life, but also a place to detach, which extends to its utilities. They wanted a net-zero house that could be as much off the grid as practical. The home has a 20-megawatt solar system and geothermal heating. The roof is convex, sloping inward from the edges, funneling rain to two 5,000-gallon water tanks on either side of the house. The rainwater system could provide 100 days of water after just one or two big storms. They also have a well.
With just two bedrooms, it is a home designed almost exclusively to the specifications of Kate and Scott. The couple lives alone, but they often get visits from their grown kids. Kate’s daughter, Lili, lives in Durham with her daughter, Nina, 3 (Kate’s other daughter, Maggie, lives in New York City) while Scott’s sons, Matthew and Bradley, live 20 minutes away.
“Our kids are out of the house, which is why we built a relatively small home,” Scott laughs. “We tell them the extra bedroom is for parents or for grandchildren.”