Charlotte Place May - October 2003
Wylie Waterfront “The Castle” is Couple’s Quiet Retreat
By Leigh Pressley
Most people move to lakefront homes for the peaceful atmosphere overlooking the water, for the brilliant sunsets sweeping across the trees, the majestic blue herons flying above, the mallard ducks scooting across the surface and the unspoiled beauty and quiet.
Unfortunately, the very things that attract lake dwellers risk disappearing when development goes too far. But, with new neighborhoods such as Woodland Bay, Misty Waters and Cloister Pointe, Lake Wylie could be the best-kept secret in the Charlotte area.
“If you look at all the factors involved in development - lower taxes, the future belt loop, roads to Charlotte being widened, and undeveloped, unspoiled waterfront – that’s why we’re seeing more luxurious, high-end homes,” says Doug McSpadden of McSpadden Custom Homes on Lake Wylie. “In the next decade, I think we’re going to see a huge surge of Charlotte people looking seriously at luxury homes on the lake.”
McSpadden, who typically builds homes from $500,000 to $1.5 million, recently completed a jaw-dropping 11,000-square-foot French country home in Woodland Bay that many locals call “the castle.”
Built of eight-inch rubble stone with hard coat stucco accents, the medieval-style house designed by Charlotte architect Chris Phelps features a turret, arched windows and doors, and a steeply pitched roof. “Old World European flavor was the objective,” says McSpadden.
Owners Richard and Dolores LaVecchia have lived in two other Lake Wylie neighborhoods, but say the solitude of Woodland Bay was what they were looking for all along.“Crescent Resources did such a great job with the Peninsula and The Pointe on Lake Norman, and we felt like this neighborhood would turn out great too,” says Richard. “We especially like that homes have to be 100 feet back from the water and you cannot cut down trees that are three inches in diameter or larger.”
New Jersey natives, the LaVecchias discovered the charm of the Carolinas when their daughter attended Elon College in Elon, North Carolina. “I had never been through the Carolinas, except driving through on Interstate 95,” says Richard. “When I got back from taking my daughter to Elon, I told my wife North Carolina was one of the nicest places I had ever seen.”
Two of the LaVecchias’ sons were also attending culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina and with their daughter in North Carolina and the two of them ready to make some life changes, moving to the South made sense. “For months, we traveled from one end of the Carolinas to the other with realtors,” recalls Richard. However, Charlotte had good job opportunities for Richard, who worked in the trucking industry with companies such as Kenworth and Peterbuilt. Finally, they settled on Lake Wylie. “Lake Wylie seemed more like New Jersey with all the hardwood oak trees and clapboard colonial style homes in the first neighborhood we chose,” says Richard. “I like looking at the water and being surrounded by all the trees. It’s relaxing.”
After moving to the Charlotte area, Richard switched professions and began a business with his eldest son, Richard III. Younger sons Nick and Michael met a friend at Johnson & Wales who started a successful seafood distribution company catering to supermarkets and restaurants in Charleston. Business was doing so well, the chains wanted the same live lobsters flown in from New England for their Charlotte locations and Poseidon Enterprises was born. “It was a very hard life for 10 years, getting up at 3 a.m. every day,” says Richard. “We would bring lobsters down from New England in tanks and deliver them to customers, and our warehouse had these gigantic fiberglass swimming pools to hold the lobsters. I never saw so many lobsters, and I had only had lobster once in my life when we started. But we rented the warehouse and bought the lobster tanks with no customers at all, and just started calling on grocery stores every day. It was crazy.”
The LaVecchias were the first to introduce live lobster tanks to area groceries and restaurants. “At that time, people down here didn’t know that much about lobsters,” he says. “Al Powell at the River Rat (also on Lake Wylie) was our first restaurant customer. Since then, we’ve expanded to 60 trucks from Virginia to Atlanta. We just fell into it and were in the right place at the right time.”
At one point in time, all five of the LaVecchias’ children worked in the business. Nick later left to open LaVecchia’s Seafood Grille, an upscale restaurant in Uptown Charlotte. Richard III still operates Poseidon Enterprises, and Michael owns a seafood company that sells online west of the Mississippi. Michelle, who ran the Atlanta operation, recently became a private investigator. Suzanne partnered with Dolores at the family antiques and accessories shop, Good Stuff at Metrolina Fairgrounds and Good Stuff II at Camden and West Boulevard in SouthEnd.
Finally, Richard and Dolores decided it was time to take a step back from business and build their dream home. “Originally we planned something 4,000 to 5,000 square feet, not too small and not too large, something we could eventually sell and get our money out of,” explains Richard. “It turned out twice as big as we thought we’d build, but we think it’s absolutely beautiful. We always wanted large closets and large rooms. It’s a lot of space for two people, especially our age, and there are a lot of rooms. But eventually I just threw up my hands and said let’s do it. We have five children and seven grandchildren,” says Richard. “We always wanted plenty of room for family.”
Construction on the three-level home with 11,000 square feet including a three-car garage and porches began in August 2001 and took about a year to complete.
L.C. Lynch of Stone by Lynch in Lake Norman did the exterior stone work. “We had looked at Simonini’s French village, Courance, in Charlotte, and studied several different types of stonework,” says Richard. “We liked the ones made to look like masons had built them a number of years ago; we like the older look and older stone rather than the stone that’s more precise.”
The front door is inset in an arched covered area built of rubble stone and handmade brick, and a large black griffon greets guests on the front stoop.
From the foyer, a staircase with darkly stained treads, stair fronts and rails winds up to the second level. Unusual art objects, including a crucifix and African statues, decorate the staircase. A French country armoire with carved doves, and Italian-inspired bust and carved rams heads also add an eclectic feel to the foyer décor.
In most common areas, the walls are treated with a troweled-on mud to create a rippled, texture effect, then faux finished in a dramatic chartreuse green with yellow and brown undertones. Valerie Diaz of Walker Zanger and her husband, Juan, did the interior stone work, which is laid out in various patterns.
While many homebuilders use turrets to hold a staircase, the LaVecchias put their rounded, two story space to practical use with an oval dining room and the first floor and a guest room in the same shape above.
The dining room, which is divided from the foyer and gallery hallway by faux finished aged columns, includes a large oval table with 10 high-backed chairs covered in a black-and-taupe lion and palm tree design and lined with brass nail heads. Three arched windows on the front of the turret look out into the front yard and circular drive.
A built-in bar with a custom hammered copper sink, glass front shelves, braided-trim cabinetry and a tile backsplash is set into a niche in the gallery hallway. To the left, a curved wall leads to the kitchen, breakfast room and den, where the LaVecchias spend most of their time.
A mix of commercial grade appliances fills the kitchen – Sub Zero refrigerator, a Dacor gas range and ovens and Viking dishwasher. The cabinetry is finished in a natural medium brown shade, while the island has a black stain, with carved leg accents and dark granite counter tops. An arched niche for the range brings in a backsplash of highly glossed black tile. Twin Indonesian ceramic pieces, a French-style ceramic fruit basket, jade pieces from Bali and light fixtures made of tiny beaded shades continue the eclectic feel.
The adjoining den just off the kitchen includes a green velvet sofa, a black mantel fireplace, a stained-glass floor lamp, corner china cabinet and an ornately carved throne chair.
Off the den is a temperature-controlled greenhouse with skylights and windows for walls. Nearby, Dolores’ office and a hallway are highlighted by a wildly colorful Mark Durham painting of Mona Lisa with red lips, blue eyes and blond hair. An African statue at the office door wears a grass skirt for a fun, funky touch.
A back staircase leads to the second level with three bedrooms and a guest room. One, with twin beds covered in leopard, overlooks the water. A second, painted a darker taupe, features a scrolled headboard and crushed velvet bedding. In the turret room, the bed is made from an antique iron gate and covered in eggplant crushed velvet.
The second-story balcony between the rooms overlooks the grand salon, which is straight off the foyer in the center of the home.
Decorated in shades of taupe, olive and brown, the salon has a massive chandelier hanging above a tall-back brown velvet sofa, two heavily carved throne-like chairs with leather inserts and lion feet, a built-in widescreen television and a white stone fireplace crowned by a gilded gold mirror. Two ornate cabinets from Bali on one wall introduce an Indonesian feel, along with Buddha statues, candelabras and decorative urns.
To the right of the foyer are Richard’s office, a beautiful tangerine-colored powder room under the curved staircase, and the taupe master suite. In the master suite, the bed is mad of iron pieces imported from Indonesia and covered in a white down comforter with leopard pillow accents. At the back of the room and octagon-shaped sitting area with red and taupe draperies and white chairs and ottomans overlooks the water.
Glass French doors open from the master bedroom to the master bath, which includes a step-down shower divided from the garden tub and vanity area by a glass block wall.
On the basement level, the LaVecchias have a large sunken bar, fireplace, pool table and extra bedroom.
McSpadden, who has a bachelor’s degree in architecture, says the LaVecchias and their medieval French country style are ahead of the curve on upscale home trends. Instead of transitional designs that were popular in the 1990’s, expensive homes are moving toward more distinct architectural styles. “We’re seeing more educated consumers who demand more educated architecture, that’s just the fact,” he says. “They want a purist approach, whether it’s craftsman, Old World European, Mediterranean or Southern Lowcountry.”
Lifestyle changes also are altering house plans, as people like the LaVecchias spend more time in the kitchen and den than anywhere else. “Formal spaces are giving way to kitchens, breakfast rooms and den space,” notes McSpadden. “Lifestyles are much more casual. At the end of the day, do you want to sit down in an evening gown in the parlor or kick back in your jeans and have a cold beer or a nice glass of wine? By the time people finish their hectic busy days, they want to relax in peace.”
Which is just what Richard and Dolores LaVecchia are doing in their Woodland Bay Castle. “It was always a mystery to me why Lake Wylie stood stagnant all these years while Lake Norman grew so fast,” says Richard. “But I’m glad that it’s been slower to come to Lake Wylie. Most people don’t know our little secret yet.”