By Diane Ballard
Operating Butterfly Gap Retreat is a lot of work, a lot of joy, and a lot of togetherness.
Laura and Ryan Lockwood live and work together at the Blount County, Tennessee, hideaway, just 25 miles from Knoxville. “Some couples might not be able to handle all the togetherness, but we love it,” Laura says.
The Lockwoods are two of five people who built and now run the business, which comprises six freestanding guesthouses with morning breakfast delivery and event spaces. Situated in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and featuring lake and mountain views, Butterfly Gap is a popular spot for weddings and corporate retreats.
The resort’s modern architectural style is distinctive, and for good reason. Architect Gary Best (Knoxville ’86), Laura’s uncle, designed all the structures. Her stepfather, Mike Johnson, a former Vol football player from 1969 to 1973, owns the 900-acre property. Laura’s sister, Mandy Sitzlar, and mother, Becky Johnson, work with Laura and Ryan.
“None of us had any experience in the hospitality industry, so we just designed this place based on what we wanted in a B & B and hoped others would like it too,” Laura says. “We dove right in and started building without looking back.
“We’ve been fortunate to become successful and grow,” she continues. “We’ve just completed construction on our sixth guesthouse.”
Laura and Ryan have discovered new talents as a result of their work. Ryan cooks and has a knack for construction. Laura enjoys interior design and event planning. But neither planned it that way: Ryan was a history major at UT Knoxville, and Laura earned her degree in exercise science. Both graduated in 2004.
In June 2009, Southern Living magazine featured Butterfly Gap, and business has boomed ever since, Laura says. “We were worried about how the economy would affect our business, but we’ve actually been busier than ever.”
Laura says working long hours and always being on call are trying at times, but the rewards of the job outweigh any disadvantages.
“We’re involved with the construction and design of each of our guesthouses and can be proud of what we have created. When you can offer couples a chance to reconnect and relax, as well as inspire them to rethink the design of their own homes, it makes all the hard work worth it. It’s very rewarding to know this place has such a positive effect on others.”