Follow the brick-paved walkway past the columns of Tennessee fieldstone, the wrought-iron fence wrapped in climbing jasmine, and the blooming crape myrtles. You'd almost swear the Craftsman-style door you're about to knock on is the entrance to a refurbished house in a historic part of town. And Ed Hatcher is okay with that assumption.
“When we first started building in this vernacular, the chief inspector for the city informed me that people had been calling and asking for the name of the builder who was remodeling these old homes,” says Hatcher, whose eponymous firm has carved a niche doing small infill projects in Smyrna, Ga., a once sleepy suburb just 15 miles from downtown Atlanta. “They could not have paid me a higher compliment. Our goal all along has been to create something that looks like it's always been here,” he says.
Hatcher Homes' newest enclave of 11 dwellings on 3.6 acres doesn't disappoint. Situated on a parcel formerly occupied by two dilapidated farmhouses and a vacant brick ranch home, the Cottages at King Springs have a nostalgic charm that even the most devout modernist would find hard to resist. Exposed rafter tails, painted window grids, and natural stonework count among the homespun details Hatcher's faithful followers have come to love. (Would-be buyers often stalk the builder's Web site and pounce the moment a new neighborhood opens.)
But step inside, and any pretense that these are creaky relics made “quaint” by ancient radiators and chipped plaster disappears. Open floor plans, recessed lighting, and energy-efficient materials (all homes are certified as EarthCraft homes, meeting a green building standard similar to the Energy Star rating) reveal the truth: As old fashioned as they may appear on the outside, these 21st-century dwellings are cutting edge to the core.
REVISIONIST HISTORY With a staff of eight, Hatcher produces about 20 houses per year in his hometown and refers to himself as a “boutique semi-custom builder.” He developed his first neotraditional residential project about six years ago and was hooked. Soon after, he began partnering with Dale Peek, an architecture school classmate whose six-person firm, Peek Design Group, is located the next town over, in Acworth. The pair surmised that the Arts and Crafts aesthetic was making a comeback, but that there were limits to the degree of authenticity buyers really wanted.
“We learned that people absolutely loved the feeling they got driving through the neighborhood and seeing architectural styles that reminded them of their grandparents' house or of the little town where they grew up,” says Peek. “But once they got inside the house, most buyers didn't want to follow through with the Stickley furniture and the 1920s trim.” Rather, they wanted their comfy, overstuffed couches to fit in the space. And they especially didn't want dark, claustrophobic interiors sectioned off with superfluous walls.
So the duo took a detour from tradition, recasting the 15 floor plans in the Hatcher Homes portfolio to match the contemporary lifestyles of today's buyers.
In the Morningside plan (the model home for King Springs, which was snapped up within a month of its opening), that meant ditching a formal living room in favor of a casual great room that spills into a sociable kitchen. Hidden behind paneled wainscoting and a site-finished, engineered floor of red oak is pre-wiring for an eight-zone sound system, plus security cameras wired to cable TV.
Figuring out how to engineer wide open spaces inside a traditional skin required some creativity, Hatcher says, particularly in a house with a footprint measuring 32 feet wide by 70 feet deep. Because the house was built on a raised slab, HVAC mechanicals couldn't go underground. Instead, they had to be incorporated into the framing between floors. A key challenge was devising a structural system that would support the open floor plans without compromising air distribution.
“We didn't want any columns in the middle of the room, so we used open web floor systems with glu-laminated beams,” Hatcher explains. “A typical engineered floor system can be cut out for duct penetration, but it doesn't give you the same flexibility as an open web truss system. A web truss isn't solid, which makes it easier to weave mechanicals through it.”