A family home on Fort Loudoun Lake provides functional beauty and exceptional hosting potential
When Mark Pancratz reflects on building a home with his wife Brooke during a global pandemic, he talks about the feeling of coming home. Now he walks through their main living space to that big view of their backyard, where their three daughters and some cousins splash around in their waterfall pool and shoot hoops on their basketball court. Happy sounds of family and friends gathering fill the air.
“That moment hasn’t worn off,” says Mark. “It’s all been worthwhile, and the pandemic reminded us of why relationships matter and of building a home that endures and is made for getting together with people you love.”
Brooke agrees. “It was the best building experience ever.” The only hindrance? COVID.
Making it Happen
Many construction projects were slowed under the weight of the same challenges: slow supply chains, limited local vendors, and the unknowns of COVID.
“Everyone warned us against building a home during the pandemic. They said it would be trying, and that we would never want to repeat the process,” Brooke says.
By the time they moved into their 4,600-square-foot house in 2021, their expansive “breath of fresh air” home was better than the couple imagined. “Our builder Bill Biles made that happen,” says Brooke.
A former University of Tennessee basketball coach now working in the financial sector, Mark met Brooke at basketball camp. He played basketball at University of Wisconsin; Brooke played basketball at Tusculum University. Today, this love of the game continues with their three daughters playing basketball, too.
“I think back on 2016 when we had our third child,” says Brooke. “We hit the wall with enough room for us and for family and friends. We were already living in Knoxville, so we began looking at land and found it in 2019 in South Knoxville in a new small subdivision near Tipton Station Road.”
Matching Their Lives and Home Style
What would their new home feel like? Mark and Brooke began merging their childhood experiences. Mark grew up in Chicago, Brooke in Greeneville. Brooke owns her own personal fitness business that would help inform design, and Mark was seeing a comfortable office as part of the plan. They wanted a simple style and a beautiful space that functions, says Brooke. “No formal anything. We are not ornate. We love simple styles and lots of light. And if it’s in our home, we’re using it,” she says. “Every square foot.”
They are also on the go—whether with their girls, friends from church, or their work. Their busy lifestyles would have to fit nicely into the new home, yet it would still need to feel tranquil.
“I grew up in a neighborhood, so I valued neighbors. Mark wished for outside space for the girls, their friends and family.”
The idea of home was starting to emerge. “I looked every day for two years at house plans,” says Brooke, who even stored lists and information on her phone. “We wanted to take all the little things we liked and pull them together into one design.”
But then the couple abandoned that idea when they got some different advice: look at one plan and customize it. “We ended up tweaking it very little,” she says.
No Architect. No Designer.
Early in the build, Brooke and Mark decided to skip hiring both a designer and an architect—an unusual decision for the size of the house. The right builder would be even more important. After interviewing several candidates, they met him, and it was a perfect fit. “Like Cinderella and the glass slipper,” says Brooke.
Bill Biles, who owns Biles Construction Company in Knoxville, agrees. “For me, the Pancratz family was a pleasure to work with. We did not just build a home. We laughed a lot and we told a lot of stories,” Bill says. “My dad told me the currency of the wealthy is relationships, and it is so true. In this business and in life you cannot please everyone, but you always want to try your best and form the best relationships along the way.”
Bill stresses that the Pancratz couple knew what they wanted and the plan they brought him included only minor changes. Brooke and Mark brought in Architectural Designs to revise their online stock plans—sidestepping a process standard for many homeowners.
“We built the home the couple designed and brought it to life with minor adjustments in the field. So yes, we did get input on this design with them, which we love to do. We listened to each other,” Bill says. There are always gray areas, and Biles Construction is good at taking a plan and helping homeowners define those gray areas.
Not only did the couple educate themselves, they had great vision, says Bill. While many people focus on square footage and aesthetics only, he believes how you live and how your space needs to function is critical. “We always want to keep the future in mind when designing and building a home. Their vision made our job pretty dang easy.”
These were the very conversations Brooke and Mark were having. “We talked a lot about the way we live, entertain, and how we wanted to feel in the house,” says Mark. “This is worth investing in, and we worked hard to get to this.” That investment meant finding a durable, practical, beautiful and well-put-together design “because we’re going to live in and enjoy our home.”
“We host everyone.”
Their plans flowed. Early in the build, a pool was not part of the design. “Seven months into the build, we realized that after that pandemic, home entertainment was really important,” says Brooke. That space for friends, family, and their church network became even more important, and today they couldn’t be happier about adding the 10-foot-wide, 4-and-a-half-foot-tall waterfall pool. “We host everyone,” says Brooke.
A second big idea right from the start never made it into final design. Wishing for a two-story stone gas fireplace ended up being a few feet high and made instead of welded sheets of metal and powder-coated black.
“We have built pools, docks, slate roofs, copper roofs, decks on top of roofs and elevators—but never a metal or iron fireplace cladding. It turned out so well and was fun to design with Mark and Brooke,” Bill says. Way better than what they originally wanted, Brooke says.
“Luckily, we found local materials in metal during COVID,” Brooke says. “And as it was being built, we began to notice it is a trend in fireplaces.”
This fireplace the couple loves is in full view when entering the front door into the main living area, which also includes the kitchen and dining table in the same open space. Hardwood floors throughout keep the home warm and inviting.
Midcentury Modern Industrial Mix
The home’s clean lines are never clinical, and their living area has a cozy feel—from the couple’s love of concrete, camel-colored leather and wood accented with bursts of color and velvet pillows. In the kitchen are dramatic soapstone matte black countertops from Rocky Tops Granite & Marble with stainless steel appliances from Friedman’s Appliances and ceiling-high cabinetry from Standard Kitchen & Bath. Average size cabinets were too small, so the couple took the cabinets all the way to the ceiling. David’s Abbey Carpet & Floors also contributed to the look and feel of the home.
“A fun part of this home is how the deck spaces are connected to our indoor space, making it feel like we’re all together all the time when people are visiting. It’s like communal living, and especially with really tall doors and really tall ceilings,” Brooke says.
True to their vision, the space is full of natural light from windows lining the walls, with a panoramic view of the backyard, decks, a second fireplace, Fort Loudoun Lake, and well-designed landscaping additions from Thress Nursery Gardens.
The pool, a Tennessee Pool & Spa creation, and a basketball court make this family’s backyard “kid heaven.” The girls shoot hoops, swim, and then do it all over again. “Everything still revolves around basketball, and our girls love it,” Brooke says. “There’s just so much going on, and we enjoy seeing everything that’s happening.”
Mark loves to go out in the back and feel like he’s on vacation, adding, “and actually I’m 10 minutes from work and downtown Knoxville.”
A Basement for the Girls
How about the girls’ space for bedrooms and bathrooms? The basement. A downstairs walkout from the main floor opens to a 1,940-square-foot industrial-style layout with concrete flooring, enhanced by a textured surface for safety. Here their bedrooms, laundry area, small kitchenette and baths leave a large playful area just right for roller blading and basketball dribbling. “One of the best ideas ever,” says Bill.
“We wanted the girls to love their space and help take care of it. We told them if we built it this way, they would be responsible for some upkeep,” says Brooke, smiling. And own the space they do. These daughters—12, 9 and 7 years old—even do their own laundry.
A Special Business Space that Fits
The dream home wasn’t quite complete until a new space for Brooke made it into the design in a designated spot in the couple’s four-car garage bay.
Before the pandemic, Brooke ran “FIT”—her 10-year-old exercise and training business. COVID meant no more in-person workouts in a gym, so in the couple’s previous home, entrepreneur Brooke began posting training videos shot in their garage. She began an online training group on Facebook, inviting people to watch and work out with her as their trainer.
It grew, and today her social media training boasts 200 to 2,000 viewers who participate in her 30-day fitness challenges. During COVID, people participated from all over the world. Now, Brooke’s gym in their new home hosts in-person training as well. The studio space is the perfect spot in part of the garage bay and can hold about 20 clients. “FIT is for everyone,” she says. “During the pandemic and now, being mentally and physically fit is so important to me.”
The Whole Package—Building for Life
For Bill, this nearly two-year-old home is full of beauty and function all around with well-sized spaces that let these homeowners age in place. “It’s the whole package,” he says.
As this builder looks back on the project, he says the pandemic “gave us the opportunity to turn something bad into something good,” as his team communicated more closely with vendors and even sought new suppliers to make it all happen. “We were able to build relationships we never knew could exist in that environment.”
Not all homebuilding projects are equal. For Brooke and Mark Pancratz, it’s been about joy and value—a loving investment in their daughters and family, and friends that mean so much.
It really is the whole package.