A construction management grade uses skills for personal project


She built her share of treehouses as a youngster, surveying the wooded mountainside where she grew up just outside Weaverville. And as it happened, McKenzie Dillingham ’09 found herself building in the same woods several years later, this time on a much larger scale, assembling a real house for herself.

“It feels like home,” Dillingham said. An easygoing 27-year-old with dreadlocks, she has already established herself as a homebuilder, having worked as a general contractor for a few years. And a homeowner, too.


Homebuilder McKenzie Dillingham ’09 relaxes in the living room of the house she built for a special customer – herself.

Less than one-tenth of a mile from where she grew up, in a similar house where her mother and father still live, her home has a rustic appeal, its dark pine exterior and gabled roof fashioned from locust trees and rhododendron. Wrapping around part of it is a wooden porch featuring reclaimed posts and a tin roof that came from an old barn in East Tennessee, along with a couple of rocking chairs. Facing east, it looks out over a serene valley. Throughout the inside are earth tones and hardwood floors, antique furniture and down-home accents such as bees and birds nests and pine cones. The single-story ranch-style house is relatively small, about 1,500 square feet, with two bedrooms and two baths. But it feels spacious, featuring an open layout with light-filled rooms. Among them is the living room, where a wood-burning fireplace with a stone mantel is the centerpiece.With an eye for design, Dillingham did not see herself building houses for a living until she went to WCU, where she decided to major in construction management. One of only a few women in the program, she managed to land a job with a high-end homebuilder after graduating in the late 2000s. While at WCU, she served as president of the Eco CATS and drafted the proposal for the Sustainability Energy Initiative, which led to development of the newly opened Electron Garden on the Green, believed to be the first combination solar power generating facility and hammock “hanging lounge” on any college campus in the nation.

The house took a little less than a year to build, its design taking an additional couple of months. The most complicated aspects, she noted, were taking out loans and finding a way to build on steep terrain.

Deeply rooted in her new dwelling, Dillingham sees herself living there for a long time. In addition to her mother and father, her uncle lives nearby. “This is a house I’ll grow into,” said Dillingham, a member of the project management team with Morgan-Keefe Builders, a top luxury custom home builder in Western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. The east side is cantilevered, leaving room for growth. “Here, it’ll always be a project.”

Photo by Angeli Wright/Asheville Citizen-Times

Reprinted in edited format with permission of the Asheville Citizen-Times.