urban_renewal (2006-19)

Keeping the country feel alive in the city

1920 Duncan Road

Life in the Woods

by Matt Edens

“I came to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life...to see what it had to teach.”

From Henry David Thoreau to Huck Finn to your basic bubba with a half-acre out in Halls, the idea of setting up housekeeping somewhere on the far fringes of civilization has always appealed to Americans (“lighting out for the territory”, is how Huck put it). Of course, once you build a house out in the wilderness, is it still wilderness? Particularly if the frontier in question is a cul-de-sac in West Knoxville or some similar suburb where thousands of people have moved to escape the big city, only to discover they’ve more or less brought it with them: traffic tangles, crowded schools, zoning fights.

In some ways it’s the same archetypal American dilemma that has provided the theme for dozens, if not hundreds, of classic westerns: the tension between the frontier and civilization. Or in its more modern incarnation, between the last guy who built a house in the subdivision versus the next guy who wants to build one. Thoreau may have thought “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” but he’d never been to County Commission for a nasty NIMBY battle over the proposal to build a couple hundred apartments next door.

But while even Walden Pond, the patch of Massachusetts woods where Thoreau spent two years in 1845-46, has been threatened by encroaching development, it is still possible to preserve your own piece of Walden’s spirit, even in the middle of suburban West Knoxville. 

Consider this contemporary style house on a little over a wooded acre off Duncan Road. Adjoining a similar house with its own little patch of woods, together they are insulated and isolated from the surrounding suburbia, a quiet oasis amongst the McMansions. Sit outside on any of its numerous decks and balconies and you’d never know that Rocky Hill was just over the hill.

But even as the home’s secluded site keeps civilization at arm’s reach, its architecture invites the wilderness inside. Designed by local architect Frank Sparkman, the home’s extensive use of natural materials, natural light and abundant outdoor spaces means the indoors never seem truly indoors. This house offers “life in the woods,” mere minutes from West Town Mall.

1920 Duncan Road