The Belle Meade area of Nashville, Tenn., may be best known among thoroughbred horseracing aficionados as the location of the breeding farms to which most Kentucky Derby winners can trace their lineage, but local residents are equally proud of the neighborhood’s oak-lined boulevards and historic mansions.
It may be surprising, then, that the winner of what could be considered a Triple Crown in Qualified Remodeler’s 2011 Master Design Awards program stood virtually unnoticed for decades on one of Belle Meade’s most prominent sites. Nashville-based Huseby Homes LLC’s faade renovation of a 1940s, 5,000-square-foot ranch home won Gold in the Exterior Facelift and Residential Specialty categories plus Best in Show in the Under $250,000 category.
According to Huseby Homes’ owner and co-founder, Craig Huseby, the lackluster appearance of the existing house, combined with its 3-acre front yard and a median price of $3 million for surrounding properties led most real-estate experts and home buyers to view it as a teardown. “Fortunately, the owners recognized the home was well built and simply needed some basic repairs and improvements,” Huseby says. “They chose to build on the home’s good bones rather than fight its original form.”
After watching Huseby Homes construct a conservatory (a Gold winner in the Conservatory/Sunroom category of Qualified Remodeler’s 2009 Master Design Awards, May 2010 issue, page 36) across the street, the owners of the ranch house liked what they saw and hired the conservatory project’s architect, Eric Stengel of Eric Stengel Architecture LLC, Nashville, to create a design that would better relate their home to its surroundings. Stengel referred them to Huseby Homes when the design was developed enough to obtain a construction proposal.
Nicer, Not Bigger
“The overarching objective was to give an architecturally modest home a more distinctive presence on its gateway site,” Stengel says. “The clients didn’t want to make it bigger; they wanted to make it nicer.”
Stengel started by identifying the major challenges the design needed to resolve. “The existing house was relentlessly horizontal,” he says. “There was no hierarchy. The wrought iron around the main entry wasn’t enough to create a clear focus. We also discovered the window to the left of the front door was several inches closer than the one to the right.”
The home’s basic forms, however, were a plus. “Each structure has a voice, and in this case that voice said: ‘I want clarity to survive.’ So I applied Frederick Law Olmstead’s philosophy, which is to ‘keep the best and throw out the rest.’”
Opportunity for Clarity
The shutters were one of the first details Stengel “edited.” The renovation design omits these for the windows in the middle section of the home because the existing shutters had called attention to the asymmetry of the fenestration. Stengel made this decision after the construction team considered, then ruled out moving one of the windows or the door because these options would have been too expensive. “Not using shutters also makes the main body of the house a bit more formal and distinctive,” Stengel says. “So the discovery of asymmetry became an opportunity for further clarity.”
The brick quoins closest to the entry were also problematic. Achieving a flush fit between the smooth wood of the new architectural details and the rough, rhythmically recessed surfaces created by the quoins typically would have required a carpenter to use a coping saw to make sure the old and new surfaces mirrored each other perfectly. This method would have been time-intensive and, thus, more costly than the solution Stengel devised, which was to insert wood into the recesses of the quoins so the pilasters and new exterior cladding could be easily and properly attached to this flat surface.