Fox-designed modern home worth the challenges, couple maintains

Curtis Gunn's and Tana Kelch's James Fox-designed home in Highlands had a 35-year-old cedar shake roof that needed updating. The Fox home, due to its cliffside location and novel design, posed unique challenges - especially when it needed to be re-roofed. Photos by Eric Haggart 

Deena C. Bouknight, Contributing Writer 

Because of the extreme height of the cliffside home, a skilled roofing team had to use mostly ropes and harnesses to ensure safety on the roof in order to install standing seam metal roofing.

For a few years while visiting the area, Curtis Gunn and Tana Kelch walked by and admired the interesting, multi-angled, contemporary house overlooking Highlands many times before they finally purchased it in July 2015. They quickly learned that the home, built in 1985, was a James Fox design. Fox, who died in 2017, was a native of Indiana but designed and built creative, modernistic homes throughout the United States before starting his own firm in 1969 as the Highlands area’s first modernist design/build firm. Fox’s homes exist throughout Highlands and Cashiers, and each is dramatic and distinct. 

Gunn and Kelch’s Fox home, with its massive custom windows, various steep pitched roofs, and bridge-like foundation due to its cliffside location and novel design, poses unique challenges. They especially learned this fact recently when seeking a roofer to reroof the almost 35-year-old home.  Because the original cedar shake roof was difficult to maintain due to its height and the necessity of replacing shingles to prevent leakage, a Highlands roofing company suggested a heavy-duty standing seam metal roof. 

“The installation of standing seam metal roofing is challenging, but it’s the right long-term solution for high maintenance location like this Fox house,” said Luke Smith, owner of the roofing company. “The fasteners expand and contract to prevent leakage, and it won’t wear from direct sun and weather like the cedar shakes did.” 

Smith explained that because of the extreme height of the cliffside home, his skilled roofing team had to use mostly ropes and harnesses to ensure safety on the roof. Plus, the roof has three different steep pitches. “And the distance from the ground level to the top of roof is over 50 LF [linear foot],” added Smith. 

The three-story, 2,400-square-foot home with four bedrooms, four and a half baths, and four decks, is constructed essentially around a massive central cinderblock chimney, which is decorated with stone on the main floor. 

Gunn and Kelch said they appreciated the Highlands roofer’s willingness to take on the tough project. “Next will be figuring out updating windows, and other projects,” said Kelch. “But we have been so taken by the artistry of this home, and its proximity to town [in walking distance of downtown Highlands] that all the challenges of maintenance and renovations wouldn’t have changed our minds,” added Gunn. 

The couple said they were fortunate enough to meet Fox before he passed. “We asked him to come and take a look at the house and make sure it was structurally sound,” said Kelch. “He was so unassuming … wore a t-shirt and jeans.”

The couple was given a book of architecture in which their home appears: “New Old House” by Ed Knapp. And, since purchasing their home, they have learned more about the architect, noting that another Fox home, built in the 1970s, is situated farther up the road from where their home is located.