In a second-floor bedroom of Pendleton Farm hangs a solitary painting. It depicts a bucolic scene: a meandering road, crops in season, livestock, a pond, and a white clapboard farmhouse. That landscape painting, commissioned by Pendleton Farm owners in the early 1980s, is unchanged today save for the presence of the new farmhouse designed by Tim Cuppett, AIA. So unaltered is the scene that one subcontractor had difficulty finding the job site though he was only yards from the new structure. From where he stood, all he could see was “some old farmhouse.”
While many architects would hesitate to repeat such an anecdote, Cuppett, together with the owners, shares it with great relish and the sense of a job well done. After all, the clients’ brief was to replace an existing, failing 1930s farmhouse on the property with a new, larger home, capable of accommodating space for the owners’ growing family and entertainment needs. Ideally, the new house would also include as many recycled and repurposed materials as possible from the old farmhouse. Working in such a context, says Cuppett, demanded that he come to grips with “what it means to design a modern-day dwelling within a very particular traditional vernacular.” Such unabashed regionalism is a thorny issue for the architect, who works in a variety of styles and yet was uniquely suited to the job, since he himself lives in an 1800s home and has a keen understanding of how to adapt modernity to antiquity and vice versa. The key, says Cuppett, is to pay attention to scale.
From a distance, the house’s silhouette is deceptive; it appears to be a traditional abode on the hill. However, upon arrival, the grand scale of the glazing and the crisp, minimal detailing of the dormers evoke a very modern, very bespoke farmhouse. The siting of the new farmhouse roughly replicates that of the 1930s version: Trees hem the building footprint to the north and south, while a barn (hand-built by the owner) to the west and a stock pond to the east become additional boundaries. The architect faced other constraints as well: Prevailing winds determined that the screened porch was best situated to the north; owner requirements stipulated the re-creation of a deep,
covered porch to welcome visitors from the south.
Cuppett noted that these constraints did not hamper the layout; instead, they lent a clarity of purpose. Creating a spare yet gracious entry hall was key to capturing and enriching the essence of the original home. The hallway is over-scaled in all dimensions, yet furnished by only a simple wooden bench. The humble grandeur of this entryway effectively creates not only a terrific place to remove one’s muddy boots, but also a space in which to slow down and acclimate to the cool of the interior, a stark contrast to the hot Texas sun. A compact and efficient floor plan called for a single corridor upstairs and downstairs. The two are joined by a largely enclosed stairway that lends an undiminished power to the circulation. Rather than dividing the house into two halves (which it appears to do in the plan), the corridor elegantly collects and unites all occupants. In an unusual twist, the master bedroom opens just off the main entry, welcoming sunrises as well as views of the roads and fields that lead to the house. Formal entertaining spaces at the front of the home give way to increasingly informal spaces toward the rear, culminating in the screened porch where the owners spend a significant amount of their time, year round.
A resolute devotion to alignment and careful attention to accommodating daily use with a minimum of visual clutter are hallmarks of the project’s spaces. Such determination prompted Texas Society of Architects 2015 Design Awards juror Bruce Lindsey, AIA, to note, “At its best, [the house] has a shaker-like abstraction.” As mentioned, the home has an almost shape-shifting quality: It is both orthodox and unconventional. As juror Alex Krieger, FAIA, put it, “every time you try to typecast it in a particular genre of rural architecture, it stops you in your tracks … (it) clearly evokes ‘farmhouse,’ while resisting reduction to any simple-minded tradition.”
Talmadge Smith, AIA, is a design principal at Page.
Originally published in the September/October 2015 issue of Texas Architect.