Saturday, December 12, 2020

Octagon Mountain House: Nature is Art



I'd always wanted to live in an octagon shaped house, and when I saw the Octagon Mountain House on AirBnB near where we were planning on vacationing in the Shenandoah Valley, I leapt at the chance to rent it for a week, to serve as our homebase while we explored the hiking trails, historic sites and scenic drives in the Shenandoah Valley.


Bonus, the Octagon Mountain House also came with an incredible view.



The space is fairly small -- really only one bedroom the way the house was set up, although there was a futon that could be used in the room that served as a front entrance to the house which could sleep another two people. There is another full bath off of that front room.


But with just one bedroom, it was perfect for us and our treeing Walker coonhound for the week! So often we can't find vacation home rentals that accommodate our empty-nester needs, and find ourselves paying for extra bedrooms that remain empty and unused. This one was a treat.



The house also offers two levels of decks -- the top one open, and the lower one covered -- so you can enjoy the view and the outdoors no matter the weather.




I'd always wondered about octagon houses. Did you know there was a brief North American fad of building octagon houses in the 1850s? These Victorian lovelies often featured a flat roof and a porch or veranda all around, in addition to their eight-sided design. There are still a couple thousand of these 1850s octagon-shaped homes still standing across North America, and so now I want to stay in an historic octagon house. Even in their heyday, octagon houses were never mainstream -- their proponents were individualists, standing defiant among four-sided neighbors.


Their unusual shape and appearance, quite different from the ornate pitched-roof houses typical of the period, can generally be traced to the influence of one man, amateur architect and lifestyle pundit Orson Squire Fowler. 




According to Fowler, an octagon house was cheaper to build, allowed for additional living space, received more natural light, was easier to heat, and remained cooler in the summer, benefits caused by the geometry of an octagon, almost a circle. Fowler believed the shape enclosed space efficiently, minimizing external surface area and consequently heat loss and gain, and bonus, reduced building costs. Fowler actually believed that a circle is the most efficient shape, even for a home, but because circles were difficult to build with the design materials and engineering know-how of the 1850s, the octagon was close enough.  




However, there was a second brief octagonal fad in the 1970s. These contemporary octagon houses tend to feature open-plan interiors with few partitions and contemporary materials: wood, concrete, steel, glass. Many of these contemporary octagon houses came in kits, making them a cost effective choice for vacation homes.




I particularly appreciated the zen-like furnishings of the Mountain Octagon house, the serene interior augmented by the beautiful views outside, which were allowed in through the floor to ceiling windows.


 

Just below the house, on the "lower driveway," was a fire ring, which invited us to enjoy a campfire for several nights during our stay. Each evening we looked forward to finishing dinner and then heading down to the awaiting Adirondak chairs to light the fire and chat about our favorite parts of the day's hike.



We sat by the light of the glowing logs and lingering flames to listen to ghost stories told over one of our favorite podcasts, "Haunted Places." 


One night, though, our coonhound let loose with a "baroooooooo" into the darkness and then we heard something walking through the leaves and the brush. We didn't need a scary ghost story to be properly frightened! We splashed water on the remaining embers and quickly retreated inside!


There's lots of hiking near the Octagon Mountain House, which four days and four hikes didn't even scratch the surface of. The owners of the house have left a number of local park pamphlets and trail guides to get you started on exploring the area.

We enjoyed our hike around Sherando Lake.


The George Washington National Forest virtually surrounds the house. There are countless hikes -- all day long ones and shorter ones to views and waterfalls and lakes, all within an hour's drive.

Shenandoah National Park (SNP) and to the south, the Blue Ridge Parkway are both within an hour's drive, easy to get to and offering even more hiking options. Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we encountered what became our favorite hike of the trip, the White Rock Falls Hike. 

We also checked out the Dark Hollow Falls Hike in SNP, which although crowded and very popular, offered a spectacular falls and a pleasant hike. 


Website: Mountain Octagon House 


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