This house brings together a variety of influences: Classical, continental European, and Creole. How do you place it within the context of Southern architecture?
This house is a hybrid of many influences present in the colonial South, including the English, the Palladian, the French, and the West Indian. There is a Southern prototype for this house in Florida called Kingsley Plantation built by an English planter named John McQueen, who must have been familiar with designs of Palladio and his sixteenth-century contemporary Serlio. The floor plan is almost identical to one in Serlio’s The Five Books of Architecture. I wasn’t thinking of Serlio or Kingsley Plantation when I designed this house, although I was familiar with both. I had actually forgotten ever seeing Kingsley Plantation until I recently came across it again in a book. I was conscious, instead, of tapping into the French colonial architecture of Louisiana and the West Indies, borrowing elements from the somewhat primitive architecture of Martinique or Saint Barts. The porches, the pale stucco, and the openness of the design lend the house a Caribbean appearance. But I wanted the house to be more refined, so I borrowed the elegant symmetry, paired columns, and entablature associated with Palladio’s villas. The segmental arches used throughout are continental French in style. This house is not historically correct to any single place it’s not purely West Indian, nor Southern, nor Northern Italian. You canâ€™t quite put your finger on where this house should be. For me it’s where it needs to be.
Vernacular architecture reflects both the cultural influences of the people who build it and the specific natural setting and climate of a place. How does this house incorporate these elements?
Many of the choices shaping the facade were directly inspired by the landscape. The strong horizontal entablature reflects the flat quality of the Gulf Coast landscape. The house is covered with lime-tinted stucco and decorated with Indiana limestone, which are both the color of sand. If you look at the house from the beach, it seems to rise up out of the sand. The natural slate roof has shades of blue, lavender, and gray that are also found in the water and the clouds. I chose the slate for this reason, but also because it was a traditional Creole roofing material that came in as ballast on the slave ships. In traditional Creole architecture, tall, hipped roofs like this were used to help draw hot air up and out of the lower floors. Creole houses also featured porches to deflect light from the interior and provide covered walkways, as well as louvered shutters and blinds to control light and air. These elements were practical necessities in colonial times. Today, they are still practical, but they also evoke certain memories. They are functional and romantic at the same time.
This house has a very fluid plan of enclosed, semi-enclosed, and open spaces. What is the purpose of this?
The plan of the house reflects a variety of antique sources, including certain villas of Palladio and Serlio, French West Indies plantations, and Kingsley Plantation, all of which were designed to function comfortably in the days before modern climate control. As in these prototypes, the front porch serves as a passageway linking two front pavilions. Guests can travel from the garage, past the dining pavilion, to the guest pavilion without ever entering the house. In the rear of the house, residents can cross from the master bedroom to the breakfast room pavilion by passing through a true loggia and a loggia-like sitting room. Even though this modern-day Mississippi house was designed with air-conditioning in mind, I created openings and enfilades that would take advantage of cross-ventilation, should the house be opened up. While air-conditioning makes it less desirable to dine outdoors, there is still a romantic association with this, which is why I created an open-air pavilion closest to the dining room for al fresco dining. In the guest bedroom and master bedroom, tall windows covered with louvered blinds create the illusion that the pavilions are open to the air, lending a visually cooling effect. This combination of enclosed, semi-enclosed, and open spaces functions on a practical level, but also on an aesthetic one, to create a sense of beauty and romance.
Despite the many traditional influences at play, this house also has a modern air. What makes this house contemporary?
This house is sleeker, cleaner, and more polished than its Creole and colonial South precedents. It is designed more for modern sensibilities than Old World ones. The porch of this house is simplified in detail there are columns, but no moldings or beams. While it is traditional in form, the porch is stripped down in expression, which creates a modern impression. The decoration in the interior is equally simplified. When I used ceiling moldings, I chose cove moldings, which are reduced in terms of complexity. More complicated moldings feel hotter, heavier, and more historical in style. While many of the interior details are traditional European, the carved limestone mantels, painted wood paneling, the unimpeded flow of space among the entertaining rooms is modern. Instead of doors, shifts in pattern in the limestone parquet mark transitions from room to room. In many ways, this is a clean, contemporary house with Classical roots. If it were a true French Caribbean house, it would have mahogany shutters, floors, and furniture. Originally, the palette was going to be more traditional, but the interior designers, Tully & Brown, envisioned a white house. The use of pale tones became an important design element. Because nothing is articulated by color, the forms of the house appear sculptural. Everything is articulated by shade and shadow. This gives the house a modern aspect, even though its shape is several centuries old.
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