Genie and Bud Mann’s luxurious tree house perched in the Blue Ridge Mountains

By Helen Clay

Photography by Robert Clark


Nestled into the mountainous terrain of Cashiers, N.C., Oldestone, home to Genie and Bud Mann, provides a rustic haven for the entire family. Looming over vast gardens decorating the mountain’s slope, Oldestone towers above treetops, perched in the lush vegetation as if a tree house. However, as the driveway climbs past the home’s elevated back porch, Oldestone transforms into a quaint, stone cottage burrowed in flourishing greenery on the mountainside, concealing the home’s grandeur. 

“The exterior of the home is very much reminiscent of a Cotswold cottage — very English with its stone exterior and steep pitched roof. It just seems to have always been here,” says Genie. 

Built in 1938, this architectural wonder underwent six years of construction before completion. Frederick Dale, an engineer who designed the Lake Glenville Dam, purchased the original 230-acre tract and built Oldestone in sections until 1945. 

“I saw the height of Oldestone, and I thought, ‘How did they get all of this up here?’ They didn’t have modern equipment such as lifts back in 1938,” marvels Bud. “It was when men were men.” 

Frederick implemented his ingeniousness derived from years of engineering into various aspects of Oldestone’s design. The front door knob serves a duel purpose as a wooden door handle and double lock. Bud laughs incredulously as he lifts the handle, “It’s the original door and everything … and it works! Isn’t that something?” 

Frederick’s innovative spirit continued to manifest itself through his construction of a hidden staircase carved within a wooden wall dotted with pegs. Located adjacent to the kitchen, the rounded wooden wall opens up as if a hollow tree, revealing the spiral staircase inside. “They chopped it out with hatchets. You can see the marks where they chopped — it’s just incredible,” Bud says.

The narrow stairs ascend to a snug bedroom, originally an attic, concealed from the rest of the house. “We call it the secret room. Our grandchildren think it’s just hilarious,” shares Genie. 

Frederick originally carved these stairs in order to access organ pipes in the attic. He created a “music room” by installing a large pipe organ in the main living room, accompanied by a harp and a piano. “The slats in the ceiling used to open up like an attic fan to hear the pipe’s melodic tones coming from the attic,” Genie explains. “Can you imagine how the organ sounded in these stone walls?” 

Mrs. Dale contributed to Oldestone’s productivity by raising sheep. “She set up a big loom in the middle of the den where she wove cloth from her sheep’s wool,” Genie explains. The Dale family sold Oldestone to non-relatives in the 1960s, transferring ownership to various families until Genie and Bud, residents of Columbia, made the cozy cottage their home. “We love that the house has its original character and soul — it is full of texture,” says Genie. 

Oldestone has six bedrooms, an elegant living room, a rustic den, a charming dining room, a spacious kitchen, a sprawling basement and a comfortable back porch. To the right of the front foyer, the plush stonewall living room has an exquisite wooden bar tucked into the corner. “I am awed by the old timbers and thick stonewalls structuring the main living room,” says Genie.

Refined wooden floor paneling stretches across the living room, extending throughout each room on Oldestone’s main level. “We refinished the old floors on the main level, sealing and renewing the old wood throughout so not to lose the flavor of the home,” Genie explains. 

The den, lit with large windows and a prominent antler chandelier, features a cathedral ceiling and a large stone fireplace with a built-in inglenook. By opening into a spacious dining room, the den directs attention toward the enchanting kitchen linked to the dining space. “We opened up the wall separating the den and kitchen space for that heart-of-the-home feel,” says Genie. “I love how the kitchen is not isolated and is the hub of activity for our family, as it should be.” 

A center island covered with a granite countertop dominates the focal point of the Mann’s rectangular kitchen. The previous owners of Oldestone renovated the entire kitchen in the early 1990s; however, the Manns merely altered the kitchen countertops. “I like the lodge feel of it,” Genie says with a smile. 

The Mann’s 1954 Wolf stove contributes to the kitchen’s charm while also crafting Oldestone into an endearing home for the grandchildren. Bud cooks the Mann grandkids breakfast on his cherished stove each morning. “It is a special tradition for me,” he shares.

Upon Genie and Bud’s purchase of Oldestone, the 1954 Wolf stove required more knobs in order to function. After learning about Wolf’s policy of keeping all parts for company-made stoves, the Manns renovated the stove, restoring its former productivity. “I called the people who own the propane company down here and asked, ‘Can y’all get parts for this stove? Because I would love to redo it.’ They got the serial number and sent it to the Wolf people up north. Now I get the pleasure of cooking my grandchildren breakfast. It’s always a hit!” tells Bud. 

As an extension of the kitchen, the dining room stands parallel to a wall of windows paneled with wood. Dangling from an antler chandelier, vases filled with fresh flowers along with votive candles in tiny containers hang above the wooden table. “It is neat to have the light coming in from the stretch of windows. Gotta love it,” Genie says with a laugh. 

Oldestone’s interior décor as a whole combines rustic designs with comfortable yet sophisticated furnishings. Genie says, “There is nothing ‘themey’ in the decorating — just livable and appropriate for the house and location.” 

Genie collaborated with Darby Schroder and Elizabeth Mann, both interior designers, to create Oldestone’s impeccable interior. Combining old furniture from the Mann’s Columbia home, refurbished furniture and new purchases, the trio crafted Genie and Bud’s ideal mountain cottage. “I like it to be comfortable … warm and comfortable. Not cliché, trying to make it like a typical lodge house,” says Genie. “Darby is my daughter, and Elizabeth is my daughter-in-law, so it was a wonderful collective labor of love putting it together. Everyone pitched in!”

During Genie and Bud’s redecoration of Oldestone, the couple transformed the back deck with an open pavilion into a dynamic screen porch. “Brian Owen constructed our ideal porch. We screened the pavilion and roofed the middle part to enclose all of it into one big screened porch that includes the entire original structure,” Genie says. The finished product rests among the treetops, allowing the couple to relax in luxury while feeling as if sitting outside in a tree house perched in a mountainous forest. “The screened porch is definitely my favorite place! We live out there with the wonderful weather,” exclaims Genie. “It is so comfortable and flexible for entertaining … not to mention the breathtaking view of just being outside!” 

Head of a bustling family with eight grandchildren, Genie and Bud strove to create an ideal retreat for the Mann family to congregate. “Oldestone has proven to be a wonderful haven for our family to gather,” says Genie. “Making memories for generations to come is our desire.”

Oldestone adapts readily for the Mann’s large family. “It fits a crowd but is inherently cozy when it is just the two of us,” Genie says. 

The lush gardens blanketing the mountainside create a charming playground for the grandkids, each garden bearing the name of one grandchild. “All eight of our grandchildren are named on the property for posterity,” shares Bud. 

Virginia’s Pond, Mary Margaret’s Meadow and Chapman’s Trail are a few examples of Bud’s hand-painted bucolic signs that label the gardens, giving each child his or her own special niche to play and let imagination wander. 

 “Virginia’s Pond is a personal favorite. It is so peaceful, and the spillway sounds mesmerize you. Our grandchildren love to fish as it is loaded with trout; however, they also enjoy kayaking and swimming,” says Genie. “One of our friends even had her Labrador retriever’s birthday there … it was hilarious!” 

Brian Owen tends to the Mann’s expansive grounds, cultivating the flourishing landscape. “He does everything!” exclaims Genie. “He made all of the picket décor located in the gardens, lining the drive, bordering the bridges and railing the porches and stairways. He is a great mountain man.” 

While Oldestone occupies an irreplaceable place in the Mann’s heart, the couple expresses strong thankfulness for the gift of the location in Cashiers, N.C. “We have just fallen in love with Cashiers. We have made the most wonderful friends, and our community of friends just keeps growing. Cashiers is so open, giving and welcoming to everyone,” shares Genie. “It offers such a nice change of pace, and the cool weather is glorious!”

From shooting skeet, to playing golf or croquet with their friends, Genie and Bud found the ideal respite from reality’s daily grind in the small town of Cashiers. The welcoming community of Cashiers combined with the rustic appeal of the Blue Ridge Mountains offered by Oldestone creates the ultimate tranquil refuge.

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