Anatomy of a Room: Inside an Airy Living Room in a Tennessee River Home

In this Tennessee River home, an antique canoe purchased by the owners was fashioned into a light fixture and hung from the rafters.

After owning a piece of land adjacent to the Tennessee River for several years, in 2016, an active family of five decided it was time to take advantage of the Tennessee Valley more fully. They began construction on what would become their river home, working with a local team comprised of architecture firm JCC Design Studio and builders Graham Vannoy to create an environment in which they could relax, enjoy the outdoors, and entertain while surrounded by natural beauty.

Views from the main level entryway evolve into different perspectives as one descends into the lower level. 

The house, which is located on a sloping, wooded lot 20 minutes from downtown Chattanooga, was completed in 2018, and draws from southern vernacular forms coupled with Appalachian inspiration. In the center, a double-height living room welcomes visitors who enter the house from the main level entry above, and links to all the other public and private spaces. “The room is the center hub and heartbeat of the home,” says Chris Bailey, project manager at Graham Vannoy. “Every other room in the house is connected physically or visually to this room.”

Inspired by the surrounding landscape, the living room boasts a soaring ceiling and multiple windows and doors that provide stunning views of the river setting and let in natural light. “The space is designed to be bright, airy, and welcoming, with commanding views towards the river and the rising mountains beyond,” says architect Josh C. Cooper.

anatomy of a roomThe window seat is the perfect place to sit and read—and provides storage for board games and other necessities.

Adding to the airy feeling of the room is an eye-catching antique wooden canoe that the builders fashioned into a light fixture and hung from the rafters—a focal point that both Rob Vannoy, principal of Graham Vannoy, and Cooper say is one of their favorite elements of the space. The simple finishes and neutral palette lend a quiet beauty and sense of comfort to the room without competing with the stunning backdrop of the outdoors.

While the room’s scale is what makes it so show-stopping, it also posed a challenge. Architecturally, Cooper focused on balancing the appropriate scale and proportion of the space as experienced from multiple vantage points and elevations. For Bailey, the scale of the chimney stack proved to be a bit daunting, so the builder softened it by transitioning to shiplap above the mantel.

In addition to taking advantage of the views and light, the owners wanted the space to be the central destination linking all other spaces, public and private. 

Thanks to carefully designed vantage points and site lines, the viewer’s experience of both the interior space and the natural surroundings is harmonious. “I love how all of the energy of the public activities are part of, or directly connected to, this central room, and how the private areas of the home quietly disappear into the background,” Cooper says. “The power of this space is amplified by the separation and quietness of the private areas.”

From top to bottom, the room succeeds in both form and function—and has a wonderfully inviting feel that extends to both intimate gatherings and larger group get-togethers. “The space sets the tone of relaxation and leisure of easygoing weekends and retreats with family and friends,” says Cooper. Adds Bailey, “I believe that the room is a testament to the client’s love of quality, desire for simplicity, willingness to entertain, and overall warmth.”

Photography by Ricki Chester. Graham Vannoy and JCC Design Studio are featured in The Scout Guide Chattanooga.