When Calvin and I design for ourselves, we try to treat the process like a client project - even taking the time to sit down and complete our client questionnaire. It's a lot of opinions at one table and fortunately our actual client meetings never get that contentious. Some couples fight about money. Some couples fight about the kids. We fight about design. If I envision a house as a minimalist, zero overhang, gable form, he slaps a flat roof with a six foot cantilever on the project grumbling something about the weather and insisting that - "A giant overhang hides a multitude of sins." He loves to ask me if I feel like my idea is "Big A Architecture." These are direct quotes. This is what I'm dealing with.
It was during one of these heated debates that we uncovered my obsession with entry sequence. In our small house renovation in downtown Greenville, he kept revisiting ideas that eliminated a wall and utilized the entry zone as an extension of the living room. Was it efficient? Yes. Was it a better use of space? Probably. Would I entertain the notion? Never. With impressive patience, Calvin tried to unpack the reasons behind my willingness to die on the hill of the foyer. I don’t mean to imply that Calvin doesn’t appreciate the importance of a great entry. In our client work, he is obsessive about “approach” and “entry axis” but he is also pragmatic, realizing that dedicating 200 of your 1200 square feet to entry may not be the right move. I would have doubled the size of that foyer - gladly.
Image Above: Calvin, at the construction site of our Cedar Mountain project, where the homeowner and guest approach consists of this eighty foot entry walkway and bridge, leading to a front door that enters a polished masonry foyer.
For me, entry is everything. It provides me with a place to transition from public life to private life, from the chaos of work to the sanctuary of home. It sets the tone for dinner and party guests. Heck, it sets the tone for the UPS guy. There is a precedent for my madness. A Pattern Language is a widely known and deeply loved architecture and planning book first published in 1977. It outlines an extensive formula for designing successful living spaces, from city planning to seating arrangements. The book occasionally borders on absurd, making statements like, “Bedrooms make no sense.” These moments are the exception. We use the book daily in our firm design process and I especially love the thoughts on entry sequence. The authors tout the tranquility of houses with graceful transition between the street and the inside. They stress the importance of an “intimacy gradient” in which the spaces of a house are arranged in a sequence from the most public areas to the most private areas. They assert, in no uncertain terms, the necessity of an entrance room.
Image Above: A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein
Our current home was designed in 1952 by Greenville architect W.E. Freeman. He must have been the go-to-guy if you wanted a residential architect in our small Southern town because we are surrounded by examples of his work in our neighborhood. Living here reinforces my confidence in the importance and timelessness of thoughtful architectural design. We spent year one in the house attempting to wrangle the garden and addressing boring, pressing matters like the roof leak and the mysterious valve in the basement that turns on a running water source we can hear but not locate. This year I am finally getting to the fun stuff, putting my own design stamp on the interior. You can guess where I started.
The house is a traditionally formal layout, with living and dining flanking a perfectly square entrance room. As you enter, you are faced with a central deep opening that leads to the less formal spaces - den, breakfast nook, and kitchen. Those spaces can be closed off from the remainder of the house with a set of louvered doors - thus reinforcing the "intimacy gradient".
When making selections for the entry space, I thought carefully about the tone I wanted to set and the importance of graceful, gradual transition from the street to the interior. I wanted wall coverings and paint colors to pay homage to the spectacular garden cultivated by the previous owners. The ceiling is Farrow & Ball's Lulworth Blue No 89, evoking a sense of space and sky overhead. If you ever find yourself overwhelmed by the task of color selection, the world of Farrow & Ball is your safe space. They produce a limited selection of immaculately curated paint colors, simplifying choice and ensuring a gorgeous result. Plus, their sample cans are adorable.
On the walls we installed Hygge & West's Petal Pusher in Gold, which strikes a stunning balance between geometric and floral. We decided to make this a DIY project, utilizing Hygge & West's online resources for direction. If you know us, you will be surprised to learn we have never installed our own wallpaper. We've done DIY demolition, electrical, plumbing, framing, masonry, tile, counters, painting, and designer chicken coop construction but never wallpaper installation. Their online guide made it extremely easy!
Image Above: Calvin installing the new wallpaper.
The mini wingbacks, sourced from 4Rooms of Greenville, are my signal to visitors to, "Come on in and sit a spell!" And, you know my Southern soul wasn't going to toss a pillow on those chairs without embroidering the heck out of it.
Image Above: Throw pillows made in-house with ticking fabric sourced from Mansure & Co of Greenville, SC.
The owl paintings are original works by a favorite Greenville artist, Joseph Bradley. I think they represent us perfectly - I'm a little bit goofy, Calvin's a little bit rock n' roll. They also serve as a warning to unwitting guests that a couple of bird nerds live here and that social conversations might devolve into hawk facts. "Were you aware that red shouldered hawks are extremely vocal? Often you hear them coming before you see them." You know - cool stuff like that.
The floral paintings are originals from Charleston, South Carolina artist, Rebecca Hoyle, and ensure that I have hydrangea blooms in at least one room all year long.
I should take this opportunity to sing the praises of picture rail moulding. I don't know when the home builders of America collectively decided to stop using it but we install this stuff enthusiastically and often. For a relatively low cost and minimal installation effort, you save your walls and wall coverings. If you have plaster or wallpapered walls, it's a must. It also allows you to rearrange your art on a whim and provides you with an excuse to buy jewelry for your house - like these brass bird hooks from House of Antique Hardware. With a multitude of traditional and modern options available, there is a version of picture rail moulding that's suitable to any household style.
In our entry, architecture, paint, wall coverings, lighting, furnishings, art, and even the little brass birds were collected and curated to inspire a feeling - the feeling I want to experience as I cross the threshold, the feeling I want to convey to guests in my home. While it's easy to focus our attention on kitchens and master suites, I think it's important to take a long thoughtful pause when considering your entry and its undeniable impact on your sense of home.