Before meeting Elick, I attended the Log & Timber Show at the Sevierville Convention Center. There, I met Robert Perry whose father, Jon, founded the Better Than Logs™ siding company. The log siding samples intrigued me because they were beautiful, uniquely-different, and made of concrete! Why would anyone build a log home out of concrete siding? Where's the charm in that? Ha! The charm is that this non-combustible, maintenancefree, totally realistic-looking siding felt like the wave of the future! After speaking with Jon Perry by phone, he decided to promote their family of products to our mountain tough community here in Sevierville! Thanks, Jon!
Fast forward to my morning meeting with Elick Combs. We met at Skyview Mansion, a large, 4-story rental cabin built on the mountainside by Elick and his construction company, Big City Remodeling. After a short (but steep) drive up the mountain and into Sherwood Forest, I finally met Elick. As the morning progressed, however, a monstrous storm arrived, accompanying 60 mph winds, heavy fog, and sideways rain! I couldn't see the deck railing outside because it was so foggy! I also couldn't leave since there was no way to see or stay on the road! So, that's how we gathered our information for this story on Mr. Combs—he couldn't go anywhere either!
Elick (Jr.) and his lovely wife, Kelly, both born in 1968, live in Sevierville and work all over Sevier County and East Tennessee. They have two children—Elick the 3rd (26) and Hali (21). His son followed a gentler path and became an optometrist. Daughter Hali, still in college, has the knack for building and might one day takeover. Whatever she chooses, she will be exceptional.
Elick is a hands-on builder overseeing each and every building project while Kelly handles everyday office duties. Elick's father, Elick Sr., was raised in Tennessee, but at one point they lived in the Chicago/ Elmwood Park, Illinois area. This is where Elick Jr. learned remodeling and construction. Starting around 1986 while working as a bellboy at Holiday Inn, he discovered his talent to fix just about anything! In the following years, he learned the trades and worked as an apprentice. In 1999, he had an opportunity to move to Tennessee and took it. Today at Big City Remodeling, Elick is typically covered-up with at least a half-dozen simultaneous projects. Big City does ground-up construction, residential, and commercial projects—they remodeled Harpoon Harry's in Pigeon Forge for the owner, Ron Evans. They do cabins, remodeling, custom finish work (including the original Westgate Resort in Gatlinburg), and rusticartistic furniture fabrication. Things don't always go perfect—there are setbacks here and there—but all in all, they're very successful. Their word is their bond, and their work is their power. If something's wrong, they fix it.
Skyview Mansion is part of Skyview Rentals, an overnight cabin rental company owned by Earl and Sandra Martin. It's located at 4755 Nottingham Heights Way in the Sherwood Forest area of Pigeon Forge. Elick took us on the grand tour, us being Garrett Nunn of Don Fields Photography (there to photograph the tour), Matt Johnson of Ray of Light Media who provided the beautiful drone shots you see here in the magazine, and me. Then came the big storm, which we and this newlybuilt cabin weathered just fine.
This is where it gets interesting. This custom-built mansion boasts 12,000 square feet of luxurious living space and unlimited, unobstructed Smoky Mountain views with unmatched custom details. It features 12 bedrooms and 1 massive bunk-bedroom, 17 baths, and an enormous gourmet kitchen with a dining area for 70+ hungry folks. (I would hire a caterer—one of our many sponsors—for that many people!) There's an indoor pool on the lowest level, a 30-seat custom theater room, game room, and a bar with a fireplace opening to the outdoors via glass garage doors where a private deck and customary hot tub awaits. Skyview is 4 stories tall and built with concrete floors and steel beams for quality and longevity. There are long, outdoor decks on every floor, a commercial elevator, and much more. It's truly a Smoky Mountain castle of a cabin.
My favorite part? The exterior is finished with concrete log siding! When I heard that, I said, "What?! Where did you get this siding, Elick?" "Better Than Logs", he answered. Whoa! It looked and felt like real wood. When I told him I first learned about this product at the Log & Timber show, we couldn't believe the coincidence. When asked why they went with this product, he explained that it just makes sense given its fire resistance and no-to-low maintenance. Just hose it off and there are no bugs or bees—it oozes durability and longevity. It might cost more initially, but the owner’s savings over time make the initial investment totally worth it. Elick fully endorses this concrete log siding and plans to use it whenever that log look is desired. Installation is similar to that of any typical siding, and the installation team from Better Than Logs™ did a fantastic job with the Skyview installation. Real wood is used for the interior. There is nothing wrong with using real wood on the outside if that's one's preference, but some folks really appreciate a maintenance-free log look. It's nice to have the choice, isn't it?
Elick said he thinks about those everlasting, mountaintop, German castles and tells himself that he wants to be known for quality and longevity like that. On the back of his truck it says “Doing the difficult today, and the impossible tomorrow”. He's not interested in building German castles; instead, he builds quality homes and structures befitting our glory-filled Smoky Mountain landscapes. What is truly striking is the custom detail throughout Skyview Mansion. Over the fireplace in the great room is a mantle made from a tree that fell on the property during the November 28, 2016 wildfires. His truck was parked there overnight, and this tree landed right on it. Sometimes when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. In this case, life gave Elick a big 'ol fallen tree to contend with, so he made a fireplace mantle. Another piece of the log hangs over the grand staircase. That's history there, and it's that kind of custom detail, creativity, and mindfulness Elick wants to be known for. All throughout this cabin and others of Elick’s, you recognize his touch and custom detail.
Elick has the goal of finding several other local builders who share his mission of building model homes in a cluster of sorts to show potential home and cabin buyers what quality could and should look like, using maintenance-free, non-combustible, modern-building products and materials. “It's 2017, not 1951,” he says. Visualize a Parade of Homes® of sorts featuring 5–10 craftsman style custom homes to choose from—all built by local, quality builders. Any builder and/or land owner intrigued by this idea is invited to contact Elick Combs at 865-216-0223 to discuss further.ELICK COMBS: One Mountain Tough Builder Doing the Difficult Today and the Impossible Tomorrow Then, Dream a Little with Us from top: Elick Combs. Photo by Don Fields Skyview Mansion 3rd floor deck and glass garage door to deck. Photos by JT Photography
Earl and Sandra Martin hired Elick to build Skyview Mansion. After spending almost five years designing this cabin, Elick made it come alive! The Martins own Skyview Rentals(.com) which includes six cabins total including the mansion. Like many of us, they dream of living in the Smoky Mountains. Originally from the Twin Cities of Minnesota, Earl and Sandra currently live and work in Odessa, Florida. They have two adopted children, Elyssa and Danielle, who bring them much joy, making their lives together complete. Earl owns TFC(.net), a managed service provider/outsource IT company in Odessa. Needless to say, Skyview Rentals can boast, and I attest—they have some of the best Wi-Fi service and technologically advanced communications and security you'll find in a mountain top cabin! Earl wanted this cabin built because he wanted a luxury retreat with a view of Mount LeConte, a perfect location in the mountains yet close to local activities. They're just a short, but steep, uphill drive from the Parkway. His view on quality and longevity drove him to use as many non-combustible options as possible—from the concrete log siding (with a payback period of seven years) to the standing seam metal roof, steel deck railings, commercial elevator, 3-phase power, increased water pressure, and many other details. These make Skyview Mansion the most solid structure he's ever seen! Of course, they're hoping to recoup their investment and enjoy a nice retirement someday here in the Smoky Mountains (which would make them "halfbacks"). As a veteran cabin owner, Earl states, “I am proud of the craftsmanship and hard work Elick and his crew have done on Skyview Mansion.” Perhaps Elick will build their forever home someday.
Enter in Big City Wood Shop at 2009 Waldens Creek Road near “The Summit,” an area where Elick has built many quality mansion-like homes and cabins. Here in this warehouse of a wood shop, Elick and his Big City crew custom-build trim packages for many of their building projects, fabricating unique pieces of furniture and cabinetry with logs, an eye for art, and skill. He hopes to open this shop to the public very soon. Big City crew member Billy Wickey, pictured with his Yorkshire Terrier, Kenya, invents both beautiful and custom projects as he goes along. Billy was raised in an Amish community, learning the fine craftsman trade growing up. Billy will sand and uniquely shape the edges of these stained pieces of wood, finishing it with a coat of varnish or thick, clear epoxy. He adds a few pieces at a time until it has the look he desires. Elick said they also experiment with creating bonsai tree-like images on wood by taking pieces of wood, watering them down, and injecting them with electrical currents which turns each piece into an artwork. There are over a hundred different projects happening in the shop at any given time. A picture speaks a thousand words, and we literally have a thousand pictures that would speak a million words. Unfortunately, we don't have the space for them here.
Elick says our region is truly the land of milk and honey right now. With so much building going on, we currently have a significant shortage of qualified tradespersons, architects, and design professionals. Some folks believe that only hospitality jobs exist around Sevier County—but stop to think what a huge infrastructure we must maintain to meet tourists’ and locals’ needs. We are so blessed!
Consider this: Building a home, a multimillion-dollar mansion, commercial structures, or fun attractions requires a multitude of qualified individuals to make it all happen. This includes construction workers of all kinds—builders, architects, designers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, heating & air installers, painters, everyday laborers, technology and security installers, landscapers, property managers, and more! We have hard working individuals in Sevier County, and we need more of them. Elick challenges the youth of Sevier County to learn the trades and dream big!