An open floor plan home in Grande Vista Bay makes every day a vacation for its homeowners
Looking out over the clear blue waters of Watts Bar from Grande Vista Bay, you could be forgiven for losing yourself in the tranquility for a minute. Far from the rest of civilization, this elegant development is a sanctuary, inviting you to sit back, relax, and explore East Tennessee’s natural beauty.
Dr. Ray James, a semi-retired gastroenterologist, and his wife Amy, a nurse-practitioner, had always had a love for this area of East Tennessee. For years, the couple made frequent trips to visit Amy’s cousin Debbie, who lived on Watts Bar Lake. As they spent time in the area and saw the houses built on the shoreline looking out over the water, beautiful lots without any trees to obscure the view of the river, a plan began to form in their minds. They could see themselves here.
“I was retiring from full-time practice,” says Ray, and with his retirement on the horizon, the time seemed right to start the moving process and discover something new. It was just a question of deciding where. They knew it had to be on Watts Bar—and it had to be one of those treeless lots, with nothing to potentially topple over onto their new dream home—but that still left a lot of shoreline to explore. One particular requirement stuck out to Amy: “I wanted to be near Debbie. I was an only child and she was always like my sister.”
Finding a pre-built home that met all their needs proved a more difficult task than expected.
“We looked for a house for two years,” Ray says, “and made three or four trips here. We did not want to build because of the distance and our inexperience with the whole building process, but we couldn’t find what we wanted.”
Grande Vista Bay was not a place they originally looked at property, but while perusing Zillow one day, Ray spotted a west-facing lot for sale on Watts Bar. Sparks flew. He showed it to Amy, and they both knew then that this was the place. The idea of having to build their own home was still a troubling one for them, but it also presented opportunities to make something that was truly theirs.
“We had a realtor we’d been working with,” says Ray, “and I said, ‘What do you think about this lot?’ A couple of days later she called and said, ‘I’m out on your neighbors’ boat looking at your lot.’” The realtor was optimistic, and despite their worry about the idea of building, Amy and Ray took the plunge.
“We were afraid it would lead to divorce,” Amy laughs, “but we sent my cousin to scope it out from the water and she said it looked great.”
The next step was to find a builder who lived up to their dream for the lot. Ray reached out to several candidates, but Providence Builders of Tennessee quickly came to the forefront. With more than 20 years of experience and a vast collection of completed projects under their belt, there was little doubt they could make a home worthy of that perfect spot on the shoreline.
Providence responded quickly to Ray’s call, drilled some test holes, and gave the job the thumbs up. Despite never having actually seen the lot in person, Ray and Amy purchased, knowing it met their criteria: no trees and on the water.
Crafting a Dream
Though their dream home was destined to be here in East Tennessee, Ray and Amy’s story began elsewhere. Amy is native to Newport News in Virginia, where she and Ray both lived prior to their move. Ray’s original home is even farther away in New Jersey, where his father flew a Lockheed Constellation for the Navy. So when Ray and Amy drove up New Hope Road towards their new lot, they were seeing Grande Vista Bay for the first time with their own eyes.
With a turn onto Grande Vista Drive, the road opened up like a movie scene and soon the lake was everywhere they looked. With some plans Ray had gotten online and with a concept in mind, they scheduled a meeting with Shawn Jones, vice president and manager at Providence Builders, and met him at the company’s offices in Lenoir City.
“There was a floor plan of a 14,000 square foot home on the easel,” Ray remembers of that first meeting. “We didn’t want to build something that big, but we knew we were in good hands from the minute we walked in the door.” Ray says he and Amy just had a feeling they would be taken care of.
“We didn’t really have a lot of specifics,” Amy says. “We didn’t know enough to know what we wanted, but we knew we were fairly contemporary because we like color.”
Fortunately, Providence is anything but new to this needed level of detail. Their portfolio includes everything from elegant mountain retreats and celebrity estates to retirement dream homes, found everywhere from Grande Vista all the way out to Colorado. At the helm is Ron Bills, a seasoned design-build professional whose background in aerospace engineering drives his passion for performance excellence.
“We believe in treating every client the way we would want to be treated,” he says. “We believe in open, honest, and transparent communication. It does not matter if we are designing and building a 2,000 square foot home or a 20,000 square foot home. You get the same care and attention to detail.”
And for Ron, it’s all about giving clients an experience of a lifetime as they build. “We strive for our clients to have fun with the process and to really enjoy designing and building their home,” he says. “It should be fun and exciting, not stressful.”
Whether you are starting with one of their stock plans or designing a home from scratch, the team is committed to what they call, “turning dreams into reality.”
“We take our jobs seriously and understand the importance a home plays in your life,” says Diane Bills, who owns the company with her husband. “It’s a reflection of your personality, aspirations, your creativity and a haven for your personal life.”
As they began with Providence, it turned out Ray and Amy did have some specifics. “We wanted an open floor plan,” Amy says. “We wanted built-in shelves to display the art and sculpture we had collected. I wanted a more elegant upstairs and more fun downstairs.”
To add to those items, Ray says they didn’t want a stairway in the middle of the house or a range hood above the island blocking the view. And they didn’t want an office on the main floor. “Our office is always messy,” he comments.
Shawn pulled some files and found a previous Providence build that somewhat reminded him of what Ray and Amy were describing. It was similar to a house Ray and Amy had been attracted to in Spring City (except for a stairway through the center). The plan would have been near perfect—except the footprint wouldn’t fit on the lot. A redesign took place, fitting the depth of the lot perfectly and the personality of their client.
And while Covid caused its typical pauses in process—”There were weird things you couldn’t get like downspouts or fuse boxes, or we’d pick something and find out ‘Oh, they don’t make that anymore.’ We’d have to pick something else,” Ray says—the end result was worth it. The lake is in full view from the home’s massive windows. With the addition of a dock and boat, they can be at Debbie’s in minutes — or just meet in the middle of the lake for some relaxation.
Filling in the Details
Now instead of living in the woods, they’re living on the water in sunshine and color. They’re loving the nearly 5,000 square feet, the airiness of the 10-foot ceilings, the flood of light streaming in and the calming view of the lake from almost every window.
In addition to the great room and deck on the main floor are the sitting and dining rooms, sunroom, “the world’s biggest pantry,” a “bedroom area” with custom crate enclosures for their dogs, the master bedroom, laundry room and the kitchen finished in browns, blacks and cream. Working with Riana Mulder at Stone World, they chose “Magma” granite for the kitchen to coordinate with the truffle finish of the hickory cabinets.
“Ray Bell at Standard Kitchen and Bath really worked with us,” Ray says. “I think he was excited to be using some finishes that weren’t typical in a lot of Tennessee lake homes.”
Working with Ray Bell was a gamechanger for Amy, too. “I’m only 5 feet, 1 inch,” she says, “and being able to get close enough to the mirror in the bathroom to put my makeup on has been a challenge. Usually, I sit in the sink. Ray Bell was able to design a very shallow part of the vanity so I could get close. He told me, ‘You won’t be able to do that forever.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can.’ Then we put in sinks that wouldn’t let me sit in them.”
As for the rest of the bathroom, the gray granite tile from Cella Flooring complements the Wendwood cabinets and gray marble tiles in the master shower that they ended up downsizing. Off the bath is a huge walk-in closet for their everyday clothes. Amy has other closets downstairs for her dress-up clothes for Vegas.
On the lower level are a gym, the office, two guest bedrooms with baths, a large rec room with a pool table and bar, a large storage room, and a patio.
Judy Gooch brought her interior design skills to life by creating an accent wall in the rec room and various other details throughout the house.
“Since they were living in Virginia during construction, we met once a month on average to review space planning, create interesting wall designs and help with selection of colors and some finishes of their home,” Judy says. “It was a great collaboration.”
The rec room has a few nods to Ray’s pilot dad and flight attendant mom, as well as to his grandfather who would take him to see steam locomotives when he was a child. He can tell you about each of the planes on display around the pool table, from the more abstract red biplane on the wall to the scale models on the shelf over the TV. After all these years, their stories still resonate with him.
A Constant Vacation
Ray never did fully retire from his work. He still works as a gastroenterologist every other week in Murfreesboro. Amy is still practicing nursing, but like Ray, she has adjusted her schedule to have time off. The time their new schedules have bought them is now filled with all the new adventures their Grande Vista home has to offer, from their still-treeless yard to the dock reaching out into Watts Bar Lake.
They say their favorite hobby is having fun with their neighbors, in particular playing dominos and cards in their rec room’s custom bar area. But Ray also dabbles in cooking now, using recipes from The New York Times, and they both enjoy sitting on the deck watching for boats and birds.
“We have hummingbirds, a bunch of eagles, and pelicans in the winter,” Amy says. “We feel like we’re on vacation constantly.”
They’ve come a long way from their roots in Virginia, but now that they’re here, they know this was the place they were meant to be, and they’re excited to share their enthusiasm with their new community.