Part of a Whole
photo by Rimas Zailskas
There are certain “understandings” that you enter into when you acquire a historic home. Among them is the implicit agreement that you will honor the integrity of the place, even as you make it your own. That sometimes proves to be a very subtle dance.
Fortunately for the 1890s home in Flat Rock that Carlton and Blair Jenkins purchased a decade ago, the current residents are both practical and reverent. Working with Doug and Ellen Harris of Harris Architects in Brevard, they created a master plan for a renovation that would accommodate the lifestyle of a vibrant, active family while remaining sympathetic with the period of the structure.
Harris was a natural choice: the firm’s approach to historic properties has earned them broad acclaim from the preservation-minded community. “We enter into any renovation with the idea of being respectful to what’s here and enhancing it…making it what it should have been, or could have been,” Doug explains. “When we’re done, we want it to be seen as part of a whole, rather than an afterthought.”
A shining example of this principle is the three story addition that Harris designed to expand the Jenkins’ second floor master bedroom suite, create a downstairs playroom and — in keeping with the great Southern tradition — provide the family with a roomy, 410-square-foot, covered porch.
The addition replaced an open deck area that had been installed by the prior owners. Although covered by an arbor, it was exposed to the elements and over time the floorboards had become unstable. “It looked very pretty and it certainly attracted us,” says Blair, “but after living with it for a summer we realized that it didn’t suit our needs.”
“They needed a different kind of space — an extension of the kitchen and family rooms during the warmer months. A place where they could relax, they could dine and their daughter could do her homework,” notes Doug. “With the rain that we get here, a covered porch made more sense.”
“We tried to think of space for our daughter, who was nine years old at the time, and space for ourselves: how we wanted the upstairs bathrooms to be configured,” Blair recalls. The new footprint required the removal of several trees, as well as an existing swimming pool. “We then added porches that wrapped around the side of the house, with French doors opening from the family room. The spaces became more generous, more unified.”
Although the façade had previously been decorated with gingerbread, it was not original to the house. Doug and Ellen researched through their extensive library to see what was characteristic of the period and decided on a more subdued approach, with clean-line columns augmented by woodwork that created visual, but not structural arches. “All the detailing was re-imagined,” says Doug. “We tried to transport ourselves back to the 1890s to do what architects at that time would have done.”
Indeed, the new deck is seamlessly integrated into the style of the home. “I believe that most people wouldn’t pick up on the fact that it’s an addition to an 1890s building,” says Doug, “although from a functional standpoint — the openness, for example — it’s a more modern concept. But it’s wrapped in something that is consistent with the character of the original house.”
Staci Blatt of Designworks in Hendersonville helped to create the palette that pulled the project together. “Staci and Doug held our hands throughout the process,” says Blair with a smile. In contrast with the home’s deep grey-green slat siding and crisp white trim, the bead-board ceiling of the porch glows with a soft, celestial blue — a customary Dixieland hue.
“The lyrical rationale is that it creates a sense of having the sky overhead,” Doug recalls. “The more practical story is that bugs don’t like the blue, so it keeps them from hanging around.” It seems to work. “Despite the fact that there are no screens, we don’t really have an issue with mosquitoes,” notes Blair.
The ambiance may not be inviting to insects, but it certainly creates a comfortable environment for the Jenkins and their guests. The furnishings draw the surrounding garden onto the porch with bright white wicker dressed in leaf-print cushions. With hanging baskets and rustic floral arrangements by Raymond’s Garden Center of Hendersonville adding a counterpoint, the effect is one of relaxed elegance.
“There’s a sense of wanting to linger in the space,” says Blair. And lingering is exactly what one is supposed to do on the porches of great old houses. It’s part of the agreement.