The Nook is the minimalist retreat in the woods by the photographer Mike Belleme. Mike was inspired by a homesteading commune he documented in Western North Carolina.
At just 400 square feet, The Nook in Swannanoa, North Carolina, manages to meld Japanese tranquility, Scandinavian simplicity, and a handmade, Appalachian sensibility. Owner Mike Belleme, a documentary photographer whose images have appeared in National Geographic, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times, imagined the cabin as “an experiment in storytelling.”
How Did The Owner Come Up With The Nook?
The story behind The Nook originates with Mike’s five-year documentary project Wild Roots, which focuses on a 30-acre “earthskills homestead” by the same name in the North Carolina wilderness. His enchantment with the simple, nature-oriented lifestyle motivated a lengthy stint in an isolated tree house, an experience he describes as “magical and transformative.”
The tree house was only accessible via a hike through the woods; Mike found that coming home at night, he and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Kristen had to feel their way through the leaves, roots, and branches in the total darkness. “We knew those woods,” says Mike—and they also knew that they wanted to share this unique intimacy with the natural world through a medium more immersive than photography.
Mike Belleme built the steps on the path using the primitive building skills he’d learned at the Wild Roots community, hand-splitting logs with a mallet and froe (an L-shaped tool used for cleaving wood). To meet code, the house itself relies on more modern building methods.
Having a pathway to The Nook was of “utmost importance” as a “significant part of the mental shift” Mike envisioned for guests.
A self-proclaimed tree nerd, Mike has kept a mental inventory of the dead and fallen trees in Western North Carolina over the years. It was important to him to use local wood—white oak, red oak, black walnut, black locust—so that the bones of the house mirrored the trees outside. Much of The Nook was built from pieces he foraged. “Every kind of wood has a certain mood and personality,” he says.
The Interior Is Beautifully Decorated
Essentially one open space, the tiny cabin relies on various levels, inviting nooks, and differences in wood tone to differentiate between areas. In the breakfast nook near the kitchen and front door, where the lowered ceiling creates an intimate atmosphere, the team used black walnut.
As you enter this cabin, you will see the black walnut coffee table slides under the couch for additional floor space.
The swing in the living room is ash wood while the floors is ambrosia maple.
Its living area with its lofty roofline and enormous windows uses cherry wood which, Mike says, “has a lot of color to it and felt light and airy.” The cozier, darker side of the home has a Japanese-inspired aesthetic whereas the taller, brighter side skews more Scandinavian: “Both styles are minimalist and work really well together.”
The media loft features soft goods made locally by The Oriole Mill, Sew Co., and Echo View Mill. The ironwork for the lofts and the side porch railings were done by Iron Maiden Studios in Asheville.
Architect Rob Maddox and Designer Karie Reinartson of Shelter Design Studio enjoy tea in the Tea Lost. The tea caddy features an extra-long handle. When placed on a special shelf in the kitchen below, it can be lifted easily into the loft.
The Shelter team enjoys the breakfast nook. The kitchen is fully stocked. It includes a tasty variety of spices from Spicewalla, an offshoot of Chai Pani, an award-winning Indian street food restaurant in downtown Asheville.
The striking windows at back of The Nook were found on Craigslist. Mike was determined to disturb the surrounding trees and landscape as little as possible during construction.
The overlooking deck is surrounded by a forest.
Jappalachian Style Cabin
Building The Nook for short-term, vacation living allowed the team certain freedoms. There are two drawers under the bed and a single shelf by the entryway for food items that don’t fit in the fridge. They kept the space open. Instead of making either of the lofts a second sleeping area, they were able to indulge in some whimsical concepts that make the space special.
He notes that the cabin draws heavily from what he calls a “Jappalachian” style. The marriage of Japanese and Appalachian art, both of which emphasize nature, minimalism, and serenity.
Even now, as The Nook rents out week after week, the design process is ongoing, especially with respect to the environment surrounding the house. “We are re-planting native grasses and wildflowers. We want it to feel like a beautiful, native Appalachian forest.”