Building a mountain lodge in Western North Carolina

Following the sale of GuildQuality, I’ve turned my attention to a handful of ventures that have been on my back burner for a long time.

The first new endeavor is the development of Big Ridge, a mountain club in Western North Carolina. Big Ridge will offer family and friends a simple and gracious home away from home, opportunities for convivial fellowship and quiet reflection, and a home base from which they can enjoy all the bucolic pleasures the mountains have to offer.

For those who are curious, here are a few answers to some obvious questions:

Who is Big Ridge for? Ultimately, there will be around forty owners. If you love the outdoors, time spent in front of a good fire, and the idea of a gracious and comfortable “summer camp”-type setting for families, it will probably be your sort of place.

What will be there? Pastures; woods; trails; a pool; a small lodge with a big kitchen, a dining hall, and a handful of hotel-style bedrooms upstairs; about five tiny two- and three-bedroom cottages; and two full-time caretakers. I expect we will also have gardens, bees, chickens, and more. And, of course, we’re surrounded by the North Carolina mountains and all of its delightful offerings. You might think of Big Ridge as a bigger version of the kind of place you’d like to have in the mountains, but with someone else taking care of everything.

Where is it? Big Ridge is in Glenville, NC about 2.5 hours from our house in Midtown Atlanta. It’s about thirty minutes from Highlands, NC, just outside of the wonderful mountain town of Cashiers, and up the mountain from Lake Glenville (the highest elevation lake East of the Rockies).

Where do things stand now? We’re interviewing general contractors and tightening up the architecture. We’ll soon be underway with construction documents. My plan is to break ground in the Fall, recruit the management team while construction is under way, and complete construction in late 2020.

Most of the work that’s happening right now is on paper and in meetings and not much is happening on the property itself: The apple trees are dormant, the woods are quiet, the grass in the pasture stopped growing in November, and Big Ridge is spending a decent amount of the winter blanketed in snow, with turkey, deer, and an occasional bear leaving tracks here and there.

How can I learn more? I’ll share more here from time to time and will share a good bit more at We’ll also host a proper unveiling in Atlanta in a few months. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your reactions and will happily answer any questions, so please reach out.

P.S. Here are some pictures of the property, along with a few videos. This one is my favorite (volume up).

Building a mountain retreat


Whenever we can, we visit the parks and forests around Atlanta, and while walking along the trails, we experience a taste of nature. As wonderful as those afternoons are, they also remind us that our daily lives lack real exposure to the wilderness. And when we manage to find our way to the mountains and hike deep into a dark forest, my family and I rediscover something special.

During one such hike several years ago, we came upon a waterfall in an isolated and seldom visited forest in Western North Carolina. While we picnicked, our young son played in the shallow pool beneath the falls. Watching him, I was overcome with both joy and regret: joy in that I knew this vivid memory would stay with him a long time, and regret in knowing that unless we changed our lifestyle, this kind of experience would be as remote for him as that waterfall was to our daily routine back home.

And so the seed was planted. Ever since that hike, I’ve been plotting an escape to the mountains. Not a complete relocation, mind you. At least not yet. But a place to go, where we can enjoy both the remoteness of that waterfall and the comfort of our family and friends.

Here’s the challenge: The obligations of our life won’t allow us to completely disappear, and our roots in Atlanta aren’t likely to let us go. Moreover, the cost of a retreat is too extravagant for us to carry alone, and even if that investment was within our means today, by ourselves we couldn’t create the kind of community I envision.

Our retreat in the mountains will be a place of luxurious comfort and peace for adults, and one of freedom and exploration for our children. My young son and daughter will adventure deep into the woods, and I may choose to join them. Or I may let them go — alone if they are old enough, or with a group of kids and their guide — while my wife and I stay at the lodge by the fire, enjoying a wonderful meal and the good company of dear friends.

On some days, we may be pulled to the river for fly fishing or stone skipping. On others, we may stretch our legs to the top of a nearby peak. Most nights, we’ll fall asleep with the windows open, listening to the sound of water tumbling over river rocks. And occasionally we’ll join our children on their overnight backpacking adventures, or roast marshmallows with them outside the bunkhouse, where they’ll no doubt want to spend every evening.

As I write this, I am thinking it may come across as extravagant and unreachable. But I believe it is well-within reach for a group of people that share a vision. Here’s how:

When we find the right property, I intend to find a dozen or so founding families to join my family in acquiring it and developing a simple cabin as the retreat’s first outpost. Each family will have fractional ownership of the asset. That means they’ll be able to sell their stake at any time, much in the same way one might sell a regular piece of land or a home. At first, it will be a simple place to visit — perhaps just one or two families at a time. And in truth, it may never expand beyond that.

But assuming the place emerges as alluring as we believe it can, then we’ll grow from there, inviting more families to join us in the development of a gracious lodge.

For our children, picture something like the perfect summer camp, but always accessible year-round. And for us, picture the beauty and scale of the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, combined with the comfort of the Old Edwards Inn in downtown Highlands and the friendly community of the High Hampton in Cashiers. And for all of us, picture a remote setting, by a beautiful river, far down a gravel road high in the Western North Carolina wilderness.

If you share my family’s longing for a special place like this, one that we can return to month after month and season after season, please register here to receive updates on our progress. The more interest I receive, the faster I’ll push the plan along. As much as this place will be about the wilderness, it won’t be possible to create it without a passionate community of wilderness lovers.

If you’re interested, please check out the other community that I’ve had a hand in developing. And thanks to Frank Kovalchek for the use of his beautiful photograph.