Crunching through what everyone hopes is the last snow of spring I stroll up the path to Elizabeth’s little, white rental house. With a creak of the back porch screen door two things quickly reveal this is not your typical home in West Virginia. The first, a geometric abstract painting that hangs on the wall of the enclosed porch (signed E.M.)  The second, the pleasantly blending smell of herbs, food, and other smells I’m unfamiliar with. (My house tends to smell like Hoppe’s Famous No. 9 and black Sumatra coffee so I enjoy the change).

While I tried to untangle from my Sorrel’s and brush the snow off my frayed jean cuffs the back door opens to a greeting from Elizabeth and her shetland pony. It rushes up to bathe my face with well intended licks. Bent over, half booted I am no match for the shower of affection.

Ok, not so much a pony… but… pretty much a pony.  It’s Jackson, a 150lb golden lab/horse mix who’s quiet as a lamb and carries the demeanor of a lap dog in his massive frame. I looked forward to this visit because Elizabeth and I are both designers of our own sort. Given that connection, among others, our conversations tend to be motivating and engaging. She’s an interior designer turned self taught graphic designer and web developer. I’m a former marketing agency creative director turned freelance digital marketer. Basically, we both build websites, sell things, and make things look pretty.


Also, there’s  bacon. I was looking forward to bacon. I shouldn’t leave that out.

Elizabeth is an avid blogger who just launched a new website focusing on healthy, holistic living. It’s called Fresh Living and she often posts healthy recipes among other good smelling life tips. These recipes must be tested.  It’s a grueling and laborious process that I volunteer for at a moments notice. Yep, nothing worse than being the guinea pig for tasty, healthy, homemade goodness.

I mentioned this wasn’t your typically West Virginia rental house, or any house for that matter. I emphasize rental because it illustrates a defining trait that Elizabeth embodies – a strong value in sense of place. Her exceptional knack for interior design has turned this small early 1900’s bungalow into a canvas that reveals her inner self. Natural textures and elements meld throughout her home coupled with a calming palette that mirrors her demeanor. Warm greys and off whites are punctuated with contemporary bursts of color in a modern tradition while the occasional antique alludes to her appreciation for craftsmanship and her roots.

Natural textures and elements meld throughout her home coupled with a calming palette that mirrors her demeanor.


Nestling into the dining room we sip on coffee while horses, er, dogs, slumber on the floor with sprawling outstretched limbs. We anxiously await her experimental breakfast dish of bacon, eggs, cheese, bacon, hashbrowns, bacon and… did I mention bacon? They, the pups, anxiously await sitting beneath us at the table should any morsel hit the floor. Or, in Jackson’s unusually tall case, should any morsel hit the table.

It’s the perfect moment for the question that never leads to a boring answer here in the New River Gorge Region.

“So…. what brought you back here?”

Elizabeth’s family has a history in Fayetteville, WV. Her parents met here when they were 13 and have been together ever since. They moved back after decades in other areas of the country. Serendipitously into the very house that her father was raised in. Elizabeth started college at Virginia Tech then realized her passion for interior design and transferred to the University of Charleston to major in the field.

It was a dream job, I mean full on. Clients would fly us to New York to go to showrooms…. treat us to expensive dinners… we’d sleep in top hotels…and yeah… I gave it all up (laughing) to serve tables in a restaurant and ski and hike all day.

After school she took a promising position with a global interior design firm based out of Denver, CO.

“It was a dream job, I mean full on. Clients would fly us to New York to go to showrooms…. treat us to expensive dinners… we’d sleep in top hotels…

…and yeah…

I gave it all up (laughing) to serve tables in a restaurant and ski and hike all day.”

“Ummm. Yeah…” she trailed off with a grin.

But despite these adventures Elizabeth always missed West Virginia. About that time she spent two summers as a raft guide here on the nearby New River Gorge and it reminded her how much she always missed home. It seemed like a move back to WV was in order.

Life had other plans, however and she was diverted through Charleston, SC and on to Arizona through various experiences like a career in real estate, a new career as an interior design blogger or a marriage that wasn’t quite meant to be. It’s been my personal experience, particularly as of late, that the journeys we take, especially the ones that seem like missteps or dead ends often lead us directly to where we need to be. In Elizabeth’s case she was lead back home to the New River Gorge.

“I’ve always had this strong tie to West Virginia. I always loved it here. I believe you have to leave a place to come back and appreciate it…. I moved to Charleston, South Carolina, Virginia, Myrtle Beach and Arizona but West Virginia has always been home. No matter where I was (in life at the time) I would always cry when I hit the border of our state. I was just so happy to be back home. And, it’s always been that way.”…

I’d always had dreams of, starting something HERE. I’ve always wanted to start something here. So you know, when we got divorced there was a brief moment when I thought…

So am I going back to Denver, or am I coming to  back to West Virginia?

And it came down to coming back to West Virginia.

And I can’t imagine being anywhere else now.

Elizabeth is certainly starting something here. As a graphic designer she’s taking advantage of a unique opportunity the creative class has in Southern West Virginia. Our cost of living in very low in comparison to the rest of the country. However, via broadband internet we have access to the same global market as anybody else in our field. The bulk of her web clients are out of state, and secured exclusively via her blogs and website.

That’s the magic of the New River Gorge for folks like her. If you value trees, rivers and views over Starbucks, mixologists and shopping you should come for a visit.

Just don’t tell anybody else…