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Ad Hoc Georgian Revival

A new residence in North Carolina recalls the Golden Age of the 1920s.

Project: Residence, Charlotte NC

Architects: Grenfell Architecture, PLLC, Washington, DC; Milton Grenfell, principal in charge

General Contractor: Dorsett Builders, LLC, Charlotte, NC

Interior Decorator: Marcia Gottlieb Interiors, Winston-Salem, NC; Marcia Gottlieb, ASID

By Martha McDonald

The challenge of East meeting West has often been discussed, but the challenge of mixing the French Norman style with Georgian Revival would be a stumbling block for many architects. Grenfell Architecture, PLLC, of Washington, DC, recently faced this situation when the firm was asked to design a home for a suburban lot in Charlotte, NC. "The wife favored Georgian Revival and the husband favored French Norman," says Milton Grenfell, principal in charge. "The solution was a very relaxed, asymmetrical, rather ad hoc Georgian Revival, fitted into the parti of the original esquisse in the French Norman style."

The owners also had other requirements. They were adamant about having a home that looked and felt as if it was built in the 1920s – the "Golden Age" of the American house – and they also needed a home large enough for a family with four children. Another issue was crafting the house to the site, as the family needed a fairly large house situated on a suburban lot.

Grenfell designed a 9,000-sq.ft. residence for the clients that meets all of these requirements and resolves the two styles. Rather than rely on a typically Georgian manor biaxial symmetry, Grenfell established localized symmetries about a series of minor axes. "For instance, in response to the wife's fond girlhood memories of cozy, paneled dens, we created just such a room in the rear of the house and positioned it in an axial enfilade with the front door," he says. With oiled heart-pine paneling, a fireplace and built-in bookcases and cabinets, the den serves as the warm heart of the house. The den's box bay window, adjacent to the kitchen, continues the front-door axis and frames a view of the rear garden. "This is a favorite spot for the younger children," says Grenfell.

The second central challenge from the owners is one Grenfell describes as common to all of his high-end work: to build a house that looks and feels as if it was built in the 1920s. His answer to that challenge began with the exterior envelope. The roof is multi-hued Vermont slate, graduated vertically in amount of shingle exposure and slate thickness. The Flemish-bond brickwork was laid with raked joints of high lime content and river-sand coarse aggregate, with judicious use of limestone accents (the keys, sills and chimney shoulders and caps, which are characteristic of 1920s Georgian Revivals). In addition, a randomly appearing sandblasted finish was used on some of the limestone chimney accents. "This creates a shimmering contract between the velvety sandblasted surface and the smoothly sawn surface when the light hits the chimney," says Grenfell.

At the front door, the leaded-glass transom features an electric light fixture, an uncommon and distinctive Georgian Revival device that Grenfell has long admired. The sidelites are also leaded glass.

Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co.,Inc., of Wausau, WI, supplied the weight-and-pulley windows for the house. "We didn't use double glazing," Grenfell points out. "It is all single glazed with restoration glass, with wavy lines and other imperfections typical of early-20th-century houses. Winters are relatively mild in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, but should the owners decide to add storm sashes, the frames are rabbeted to receive them."

For the interiors, the quest for authenticity led to wood floors, cabinets and paneling finished with polymerized tung oil and wax in lieu of polyurethane. "As we were designing a Classical house, the Classical principle of hierarchy was employed throughout, even in the flooring," says Grenfell. For example, the basement floor is paved with brick while the first floor is random-width quartersawn oak, except for the living room, which is quartersawn oak in a herringbone pattern. The second-level floors are plain-sawn 1½-in.-wide strip oak. Marble mosaic was used for the master bathroom.

"Adamesque composition ornament, common in the 1920s Georgian Revival style, was used in the more ceremonial spaces, such as the entry foyer and the living and dining rooms, to impart delight and meaning," says Grenfell. "For example, wheat sheaths adorn the living-room arch keys, while composition floral motifs bedeck various elements in the garden-facing living room."

Noise and activity were other considerations. "We put the kid's playroom over the garage and underneath one of the son's bedrooms," says Grenfell, "so it wouldn't affect the rest of the house. Along the same lines, the master-bedroom suite is over the living room and the children's rooms are over the ancillary spaces."

The third challenge was to carefully craft the house to the site. As this is a relatively large house on a modestly sized lot, Grenfell's design stacks the house into three-and-a-half stories, compacting the footprint by nesting the house into the natural slope and presenting it to the street as only two-and-a-half stories. The walk-out basement accommodates guest quarters, an exercise room, pool equipment, pool changing room, wine cellar and HVAC equipment and other spaces peripheral to everyday home life, and separates them from the main floors.

Sun and breeze orientation was an additional site concern. With the naturally shady north side of the living room further shaded by the garden loggia, Grenfell introduced a large bay window on the south side to capture southern light, thus brightening and warming the room's mood. Similarly, the breakfast-room window projects southeast to face the morning sun and draw light into the adjacent kitchen. The screened garden loggia is located on the west corner of the house to catch the prevailing westerly breezes.

The rear of the house, which gets a lot of sunlight, features a two-level terrace off the screen porch and the garden area. "There are various gardens, but they are not yet developed," says Grenfell. "The owners plan to plant a rose garden and a kitchen garden. There's also a swimming pool in the back." Grenfell added a small fountain that cascades from the upper terrace into a small pool in the lower terrace, providing both a quiet sound to mask the noise of any nearby traffic and an enclave in the yard.

The owners moved into their ad hoc Georgian Revival home in the fall of 2005, after approximately six months of planning and 18 months of construction. "The owners were interested in something with some real depth to it – not just another Georgian-esque house," says Grenfell. "By immersing ourselves in the rich and broad early-20th-century Georgian Revival language, rather than the comparatively narrow 18th-century Georgian, we endeavored to create a house that responds to contemporary programmatic demands without lapsing into cliché or solecism."  

 

 

 
 

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