Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's Auldbrass

I was invited by Nelson Brackin (President of the Friend's of Kebyar: to attend the Biannual public tour of Auldbrass in Yemassee, South Carolina. Auldbrass is the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed southern plantation nestled on property along the River. From the Beaufort Open Land Trust site (

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1939, the Auldbrass Plantation buildings, consisting of the main house, kennels, stables, barn and various outbuildings, were constructed during the forties by the late C. Leigh Stevens who called on Wright to design a self-sufficient modern plantation for farming, hunting, and entertaining.

In keeping with his theories of organic architecture, Wright designed Auldbrass to be in harmony with the landscape of which it is a part. Constructed of native cypress boards laid diagonally at 80 degree angles and held by brass screws, the exterior is intended to conform to the lean of indigenous live oak trees, while the abstract forms of ornamental rainspouts suggest hanging clumps of Spanish moss.

In 1987, the plantation was purchased by Joel Silver, a successful film producer and ardent admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Silver has meticulously completed the majority of Wright’s original plan, thus fulfilling Wright’s and Stevens’ dream of making Auldbrass a great 20th century architectural treasure. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

We drove down Friday so we could get an early start for the tour - actually arriving about 30 minutes before the tour started at 10:00 AM - which was beneficial as they allowed those already there to enter early - the initial group was about 25 people (there were 2000 tickets sold for the 2 day tour). The docents for the tour were standing at the gate for the estate, which is surrounded by a wooden fence (angled at 80 degrees to emulate the other use of 80 degrees in the wall angles - this is repeated continuously in Wright style). The walk to the main buildings allowed for little preview of the actual structures, until almost upon them so the "reveal" was heightened. It was a beautiful day, slightly chilly but warming up nicely as the day progressed. The place is truly spectacular.

Rather than talk about the obvious, here's an album of images I took:

Lunch was held at the Old Sheldon Church right around the corner. Seems the ruins were from the first attempt at a Greek style temple in the Americas. Images and info here:

In all it was an exciting and delightful trip, which I hope to do again. It's also exciting to see such a well done restoration (kudos Joel Silver!). From the book (which I purchased on Amazon) it appears Mr Silver plans to build the additional structures planned but not completed (with the help of Eric Lloyd Wright).

-- John

Sunday, October 28, 2007

DOCOMOMO Home Tour Reception at context

I found a few shots that I took at the DOCOMOMO Home Tour reception (this was the night prior to the actual tour on Saturday) at * context * gallery. Images are of the volunteers, guest speakers and some very interesting furniture on display (all for sale - see for more details).

-- John

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

2007 DOCOMOMO Home Tour - Part 3

The final house on the tour will be of most interest to this group. This house is owned by Jeff Dowd and his wife and is also in the Amberwood sub-division. It's located on the crest of a ridge so the yard slopes both to the front and back, as well as to one side.

The owner knows very little about the original designer of the house and has spent the last few years since his purchase in doing remodels, adding an addition behind the left side (one bedroom was made into an office, the garage on that side closed off for storage, parking moved to the rear part of the addition and additional family room space added to that side). The house has a full basement that is used as an apartment by Jeff's mother (it has a private entrance and driveway on the right side of the yard, below the decking). The master bedroom and master bath have both been reworked by Dowd as well as the rather involved landscaping.

When purchased, the rear wall had been pushed out to incorporate the patio (original fire-pit style grill is still attached and uses the existing chimney for ventilation, though it's unused). An arbor-style extension (extending the existing beams past the rear wall glass-wall) was added to the back to provide some much needed shade to the rear of the house. The front door has been replaced by a really beautiful, hand-carved mahogany double door from Brazil. The over-all effect is a large living expanse open to both front and back with some amazing birch trees obscuring the street from the living room.

Jeff decided to keep and have restored the original wall-mounted oven with slide-out stove. To the right of the sink is an original counter-top Nutone blender unit. The bathroom remodel is stunning, with a large tiled tub and exterior sliding glass to the exterior and over-head skylight. The real beauty of the house is in it's modernistic, very Asian design elements - the owner had viewed the botanical gardens in Portland used these as influences in the deck railing design (top rail is roof-beveled to shed water).

Photo Album here:

-- John

Monday, October 1, 2007

DOCOMOMO GA Home Tour 2007 Part 2

This is the second part of three describing the DOCOMOMO Home Tour held on 2007.09.29 in Atlanta, GA. The second house on the tour was also designed by Robert Green and construction was finished in 1964, I believe. The story is that RG had designed the home for a client who then decided not to build. Around the same time, RG was designing homes for the Amberwood development - this was a unique neighborhood with a business model of selling unbuilt lots - the buyer would then either purchase plans and construction from the developer or bring in his/her own architect and building crew. In this case, RG built one custom house (the Nicoll house - more here: and had been hired to build the entryway to the neighborhood - the developer saw the original plans Robert had created and hired him to adapt them to the lot it's currently on - the developer's name was Robert Witcher (more images and the plan here:

The Witchers lived in the home with their two small children for 7 years before selling to the current owners (actually the surviving second wife of the second owner). The House featured an 8x8 tiled bath that could be filled with water that the children referred to as their "kiddie pool." Unfortunately I didn't take any images of the room, as it's quite spectacular with a full skylight above the space and light green jade tile, commode and sinks. The house is quite unusual with a main structure making up the "point" of the arrow, a long hall with small alcoves opposing bedrooms, and a "tail" family room that was formerly a carport - RG was hired to transform the carport into the current family room and an external 2 car garage was added - at some point the garage was extended upward and a guest house was built, much to RG's dismay. Two additional structures were also added, a pool house and a workshop - neither of these three structures have more than a passing resemblence to the original structure (the garage has obvious lines in the bottom floor and some details were carried over, but the general lines were all abandoned).

The long hallway reveals many surprises, FLW style, with new rooms, alcoves, shelving and geometric shapes around every corner. The main living room comes to a slightly acute point, with a two sided fireplace in the opposite corner. The front eave of the house actually comes down to chest level making this a remarkable construction indeed.

Photo Album here:

Part 3, the Dowd residence, will go up shortly.

-- John

Sunday, September 30, 2007

DOCOMOMO GA Home Tour 2007 Part 1

I thought I would provide some running commentary plus some photos from the DOCOMOMO Home Tour yesterday (2007.09.29).

Cindi and I left the house at 9:00 AM but had to run some errands (placing directional signs and ballons around the Amberwood subdivision for the tour) before arriving at the first house. Because we shared responsibilities as docents at the Dowd House (in Amberwood) and were expected to arrive by 1:45 to relieve the first docents, we were limited in time and decided to only view the 3 houses on the tour, regrettably bypassing the condo at Plaza Towers. There were four homes in total on the tour and they were separated by some distance so one would need to factor in some travel time. This year two homes were designed by Wright Fellow Robert Green - the first is the Copeland house near buckhead off of Northside Drive. This first photoset features the images I took in the morning before heading back towards Amberwood (the two remaining homes were both in Amberwood).

As to the Copeland House, there's not much I can say that hasn't already been said. The current homeowners were present and had photos of the original construction and comparison shots of two historical remodels, passed to them from previous owners. The house is simply amazing. The level of detail and use of materials was quite stunning, even the furnishings (I wish I would have taken some images of the Nakashima table) had the effect of flooring me as I crossed rooms. I was running low on disk space so I spent most of my time taking shots of architectural details. I also tried to get shots that didn't contain people, so some of the details are sparce. I hope to aggregate photos taken from others to make a more complete journal of the visit - an hour went by very quickly.

I'll try to get photos of Arrow Head up later tonight or tomorrow.

-- John

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Review on "Consider the Ranch" Lecture

I wanted to report a bit on the DOCOMOMO "Consider the Ranch" lecture held on 8/21/07 at DWR in Buckhead. It was attended by 15-20 people (I didn't do a head-count) and was once again a very informative and enthralling presentation. Part 1 (which I missed on the 14th, however the speaker, Richard Cloues from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division, did a quick 15-20 minute review) featured the development of the ranch house in the united states - basically its influences and first appearance outside of a typical western farm or ranch setting (thus the name). He made mention of "Chicken House Gothic" which I found enlightening and humorous, and discussed Cliff May as well as Joseph Eichler's influence (the latter on the post and beam construction typical of Eichler's dwellings). There was also mention of Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie home and his influences on ranch design (in particular the prominent fireplace as a design element).

Part 2 focused on the appearance of the ranch house in Georgia. The ubiquitous "red brick ranch" so popular in Georgia, was highlighted several times, but the primary focus was on classifying the actual building of the Ranch into developments, sub-divisions, in-fill and stand-alone construction in context by year and region. Some significant information I'd like to bring attention to:
  1. The first Development (defined as a large land tract built from a multi-use, community perspective with schools, churches and some commercial properties within the plan) that contained ranches in Atlanta (and perhaps Georgia) was along Buford Highway in the North Woods area - this was the brain child of Walter Talley, funded by "bankers in Boston." The neighborhood features parks, divided roads, churches, schools and homes built with a similar look and feel (even though the home styles changed as the neighborhood was built-out - the earliest are simple boxy ranch houses - the later mid-century moderns and tri-levels).
  2. Walter Talley is significant to me as my own community of Northcrest also had Walter Talley as either a silent or early partner (The original builders appear to have been three gentlemen, Walter Talley, Howard Hardrath and Paul Edwards who laid-in the roads for Northcrest under the name "THE, Inc" (from their last names, get it?). At some point early on, Walter Talley either became a silent partner or bowed out completely - leaving Paul and Howard to continue under the P&H Realty Company name (from their first names - Paul and Howard). P&H Homes, Inc began building Northcrest in the mid to late 50's and Northcrest was probably one of their largest if not their only development.
  3. From part 1, it was noted that the split-level actually pre-dates the Ranch - it's commonly thought that it came after as a variation of the design, but Frank Lloyd Wright used the split-level concept going back to the 20's - the ranch wasn't really marketed until the 40's (whether by that name or any other). A ranch can have a basement or partial basement - what distinguishes the ranch style is a single floor of living space (open stairs to a finished basement would put the structure into a split level classification). It's my opinion that the Ranch attained popularity as builders across the US attempted to do a "cheap" version of the FLW prairie home.
  4. One very good example of ranch development is along Lenox Road - there are very-built ranches along the road and it can be used as a catalog of different styles.

In any case, for those who attended, the lecture was very informative. For those of you who couldn't attend, my hope is that a transcript will become available at some time, as well as some of the photographs used in the lecture.

-- John

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Greetings from the UK!

I received this email from Sharon in the UK

Hello , You may or may not find this interesting, but we have purchased a modernist bungalow in Horsham Sussex uk. 1968 that needs complete restoration. We are currently opening out all the rooms to give a light and open plan airy feel to the house and it's back garden. We love late 50's/ 60's furniture. Perhaps you know of some good web sites that might be able to help us?
Ignore the chesterfield in the pic, isn't so Victorian ha ha. !! Would you like to see a pic or two on our back garden. No grass to cut ! oh bliss.


This is the first Modusmodern "fan" email - thanks for the images Sharon - love the herringbone floor! Keep the images coming!

-- John

Saturday, August 18, 2007

DOCOMOMO Atlanta, GA: Consider the Ranch: August 14th and 21st

I missed this DOCOMOMO seminar on the 14th but plan to attend on the 21st. The host is the DWR store in Buckhead. These seminars are usually very good and informative, plus you get to meet other modernists from around the Atlanta area.

What: Consider the Ranch, a look at the development of the Ranch House
Who: Richard Cloues, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division
When: 6 PM, Tuesday August 14th (part 1); Tuesday August 21st (part 2)
Where: Design Within Reach, Atlanta Studio, 295 E Paces Ferry Rd, NE, Atlanta, Georgia (404-841-2471). For directions, click here.

-- John

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Thinking About a New Roof?

I put together the following and posted the information on the Lotta Living Forums - the thread was about the differences in roofing methods used both in the past and in the present, on Mid Century modern homes. I believe that readers on ModusModern could also benefit from my past roofing experiences, so with a small amount of editing, here you go...

A New Roof

After being sold on a membrane roof on my house in Atlanta (this is often referred to as a "torch-down modified" roof - it's applied in layers using a MAP gas torch), only to have it fail within 6 months, I can give you quite a bit of qualified advice.

First, if you have a flat roof, it was probably installed as a "built-up" roof, using an underlayment of felt, some type of insulative barrier (my roof had 1 inch styro board - these days they use perlite and possibly ISO board, which is actually for insulation with perlite). These boards were typically nailed - note that if your ceiling is also the roof (in my case the roof boards are the same as the 2x6 tongue-and-groove ceiling) and any wiring for lights is typically nailed to the roof under the boards (be careful and mark where the wires are) with special fasteners - then a layer of hot asphalt is applied with a mop (called hot-mopping). Over this is laid sheets of 15 or 30 pound fiberglass/asphalt felt. This is repeated, possibly twice (for 2 to 3 layers), before a cap of asphalt is hot-mopped. Onto this is spread pea gravel as ballast. The gravel also plays an important part in continuing the life of your roof - the rock reflects light away from any exposed fiberglass underneath - it's actually the UV rays of the sun that causes the most damage to this type of roof, and not the weather per se.

There are usually four avenues for a replacement/repair for this type of roof, depending on the condition (in order of cost - least to most):

1. Rolled touch up using some type of liquid barrier/sealer - the cheapest method, the gravel is brushed to the side and the sealant is applied with a roller - then the old gravel plus any extra for coverage is spread back over the roof. This is usually only good for very temporary repairs - say you need a year to get your money together for a real repair. I would actually not recommend this method but it could get you dry for a little while.

2. Torch-down Modified - with this method, a roll of thick roofing material is melted onto the existing roof using a MAP torch - can be risky as the whole roof can literally catch on fire (asphalt burns!). To meet manufacteror's specifications, the roofer should actually fasten a layer of perlite to the existing roof after brushing off the gravel (using approved fasteners), the roof edges should be built up with a nailer board, the material applied (hopefully melted onto the substrate) and new flashing installed. Typically the old flashing is left in place but cut-off where it extends to the eaves. This method works well if done correctly but understand what is really happening is that the roof will "float" on top of the existing roof. The roofer will tell you this is a 10 year roof or some such. I would consider this temporary at best - you might get 5 years without issues - but if the membrane is ever penetrated you will get wet. Also, because you are not removing the existing roof, any existing wet spots can stay saturated against the original asphalt (I added below what happened to me using this method so read on).

3. Asphalt Built-up - this is the original technique used by the builders of these homes - however it requires the removal of the original roof which can add quite a bit to the expense. Since you are pulling everything off, this is the time to replace any rotted or twisted boards. This is also a good time to locate any additional lighting and shore up any rotted beams, etc. The original flashing will be removed along with everything else. If you don't mind the look, raise the roof slightly by going to 1.5-2" of ISO board - it will add an R-value of 10-14 and improve your utility bills. You will also need to add a wood nailer around the perimeter to raise the flashing to the height of the ISO board. I've described the methods used above and this is still the most common method used on commercial buildings. This type of roof can last 20-25 years or more (manufacturer usually states 10-15, but the reality is that this last a long time).

4. Asphalt built-up with a Modified cap - this is the method that I actually chose (the most expensive method but worth it if you plan to living in your house forever). This method is similar to the Asphalt built-up above, only a hot mop-down modified membrane roof is attached to the top of the asphalt layers. This can be doubled up to extend the roof even longer.

The initial Torch-down modified roof I had put down was improperly installed. The roofer (who was supposed to be qualified with experience in this type of installation and was also highly recommended) gave me a very reasonable bid of $5k do do the roof (the roof is approximately 40 squares or 4000 square feet - I should have figured it was a scam and too good to be true) to place a membrane roof over the existing asphalt "built-up" roof. As the other bids I received were over $10k for the roof, we went for the cheap, thinking that we would get 5 or so years out of the roof - the plan was to eventually get a better roof through a complete tear-off and rebuild. We actually got about 6 months before things started to go wrong.

First, the roofer used a shovel to scrape off as much gravel as possible - this turned out to be stupid as everywhere a stone was pulled from the existing asphalt, a gap appeared in the existing roof as a potential leak. Second, the roofer did not cut off or replace the existing flashing. Third, because the substrate was not reinforced with some type of nailer, the new roof was not truly melted onto the old - the roof basically was sitting as a flat sheet on top of a sieve. Because the flashing was not replaced, the edges were not sealed - this made this worse as the roof "crawled" across its expanse, water crept under the edges and found the missing rock holes to penetrate - the result was massive leaks, with water coming down almost every wall. Every attempt to get the roofer back to fix the issue was ignored - ultimately we had to litigate (we won, but have as yet received no money on the judgement, nor do we anticipate we will).

When reality hit we knew we needed to do something quickly. Not wanting to get bitten twice, we heavily researched roofing methods and applications. That was when I discovered that 90% of the roofs for our type of house in the area are incorrectly installed - meaning that even if we had a claim against the manufacturer of the roof with a 10 warranty, etc., the claim would have been invalid as the guarantee is only good if the roof was properly applied. We ended up getting 12 estimates, ranging from $7500 to $40k (ouch!). We decided to go with a real commercial roofer who did a phenomenal job. The original estimate was for $14k, however we went with 1.5 inches of ISO board and replaced several hundred feet of rot, including the ends of two beams. This brought the price up to about $17K plus an extra thousand for additional wood materials.

I think the greatest lesson learned is to research the roof options, then really question the roofers to make sure they know what they are doing. Our final roofer actually had the GAF rep come out and do a core sample so that the warranty was registered with them. The cores they cut exceeded the manufacturer's specifications. I'm happy to report that three years have gone by on the new roof without any issues.

John Eaton

(Originally published 2005.01.10 in the thread: "Flat Roofs Don't Like Rain" on the Lotta Living forums)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Modern Landscape Design

I attended a really wonderful DOCOMOMO lecture last night in regards to Modern landscape design. James R. Cothran lectured and featured images from a recent tour of Thomas Church designed gardens in the San Francisco area and locally, plus a pretty much intact garden in Columbus Georgia designed by James Rose - the current owner's of the latter property were also in attendance, as well as some faculty that worked with both architects during installations at UGA. Although I had an above-normal awarness of modern landscape architecture, the lecture really brought things into focus for me and provided some great ideas - also the reference materials got me searching for some books (two that I bought online today were "Invisible Gardens" on Amazon and "Modern Garden Design" by Janet Waymark) - both featured works of Church and the former James Rose.

If you're into Modernism and live in Atlanta, I highly recommend the DOCOMOMO sponsered events and lectures. Blog is here:

-- John

Monday, May 14, 2007