Things are not always as they appear in the quaint world of the TND. There's room for innovation as the precious makes way for the modern. By Carolyn Weber
At first glance, the crisp, white 3,040-square-foot farmhouse looks right at home in Harbor Town, Memphis, Tenn.'s well-known TND. But look a little closer, take a peek inside or around back, as most neighbors do, and another facet of its personality emerges.
Architect Todd Walker designed the custom home, dubbed Hannah's House after his young daughter, to meet the needs of his small family. He could have chosen any number of locations, but he specifically sought out the new urbanist lifestyle. "I grew up in a small town, and this is the closest thing we have here," he says. The slower pace provides a safe environment for small children, and because it's over a decade old, Harbor Town's commercial amenities are already in place. "But more than anything, it was the social aspect and urban-ness of it that attracted us," Walker notes.
Like most architects, Walker prefers pared-down modern design. He knew that he wanted this house--the first he has designed for himself--to have a decidedly contemporary feel. So how could he reconcile his personal tastes with the old-fashioned façades so often dictated by new urbanist guidelines and pattern books?
Walker submitted his plans for the review just as he would for any client, but in case his progressive vision didn't jive with that of the town architect, he waited for the approval before he closed on the lot. Fortunately, there were no problems and no compromises necessary. "In fact, the town architect liked it quite a bit and even said that he wished there were more houses like it here," Walker says.
The house sits on a 55-by-100-foot lot that drops dramatically in the rear and backs up to the Wolf River. The steep slope was a challenge, but the site had its advantages. "Just across the river is an industrial warehouse area," Walker says, "So relating to that allowed us to do something really modern in the back." Walker aimed to keep the front of the home in a style and scale that would complement neighboring tall, narrow cottages.
The architect describes the style as a "modern vernacular that is very contextual to Memphis." Clad in 10-inch shiplap redwood on the bottom for depth and topped by narrow 6-inch strips of Hardiplank, the faccedil;ade has a playful, asymmetrical slant. Walker is not afraid to refer to his design as whimsical, but makes it clear that there are practical purposes for all of the irregular angles. For instance, the wall on the front south side of the elevation is angled inward to prevent the sun from coming in. The standing seam metal roof has deep overhangs that range from 24 inches up to 6 feet on the south side for sun protection. The detached, single-car garage frames a side patio that provides a shady retreat on bright Tennessee afternoons.
A stroll around the back of the home reveals its two-faced nature. Walker blew out the family room and lookout tower with an industrial-style, split-face concrete block on the exterior and smooth block on the interior. "We wanted something that appeared solid and would hold this house on a slope," he remarks. "And it refers to the old stone sea walls of the river."
Yet another change in the house's attitude is apparent when the cottage-style front door swings open. "The house really speaks to our personalities," Walker notes. "We're simple people on the outside and a little more complicated on the inside." The plan is wide open, and views from the front door extend all the way to the river. The core is the kitchen and dining/family room where the Walkers spend most of their time. Walker turned the family room on an angle to emphasize the transparency of the house when viewed from the porch and patio, and it also allows adults to watch children playing outside.
The 9-by-9, first-floor study for Patricia Walker serves as a cozy getaway and work space. A ship's ladder leads to Walker's drawing room/office in the tower above, which cantilevers over the rear of the house. "It has a great view and is reminiscent of the old lookouts that they used to have on the Mississippi River," he notes.
The cheerful interiors are young and fresh. "Our goal was to do a modern house that wasn't cold and sterile," Walker explains. "And I think the warm woods and bright colors help accomplish that." Raw materials like concrete masonry units, rusted steel beams, pipe columns, and birch veneer plywood create an industrial-inspired environment. The floors are all maple--a mix of No. 1 and No. 2 grades. Although the look is less consistent, it offers a richer look and is less expensive. The solid core birch interior doors are mounted on standard inexpensive tracks and provide a sleek sliding barn door effect.
A lover of modern artwork, Walker envisioned each wall as a canvas, positioning windows for specific views, privacy, or maximum natural light. Perhaps the most whimsical is the red window wall. A montage of asymmetrical shapes, the one-of-a-kind window was created from an aluminum storefront system. It's on the side of the house that abuts a neighborhood walking path, so Walker carefully calculated a plan to maintain privacy. "The window goes black at night; a storage unit covers the lower half, and the steep grade of the lot keeps it private," he says.
Although the house is thoroughly modern, it's still a family home, and families have lots of clutter. "We didn't try to organize in any stark way," says Walker, who designed a big storage unit in the family room with drawers for blankets, toys, and games. All of the kitchen cabinets and bedroom closets have a system of 12-by-12 cubbyholes. It works out well because they can just toss in shoes, clothes, and even dishes for quick clean up. The master bedroom features built-in alcoves on each side of the bed for books, alarm clocks, and anything else they want to stash out of sight.
Hannah's House has been a welcome addition to Harbor Town, and even an inspiration to some. Walker is in the process of designing a "sister house" for a client who saw his and fell in love with it. He predicts that in time, more TNDs will ease up on design restrictions and allow for eclectic architecture. "Change and diversity are good," Walker says, "Especially in an arena like this."
Project: Hannah's House, Memphis, Tenn.; Unit size: 3,040 square feet; Project cost (excluding land): $270,000; Builder: L L and B Construction, Memphis; Architect: Todd Walker, Archimania Architects, Memphis