He opened his eponymous practice in Atlanta 25 years ago, but in that short period of time, noted architect Keith Summerour has forever altered the residential landscape of Atlanta, as he both redefined the idea of “home” and responded to the power of the land. Here, we chat with the architect about his second book, Creating Home: Design for Living, which makes its debut this month.
Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles: You’re known for your ability to draw, which is somewhat of a lost art in today’s design world. How does drawing allow you to be more spontaneous or innovative?
KS: The biggest advantage of drawing is when you sit in front of your client, and they say they want a certain idea, I can draw it in front of them. And that is different than taking notes, going back to the office, working on the design on a computer, and e-mailing a couple days or weeks later. When you draw, there’s an instant communication and camaraderie between client and architect, a bond that means you’re on the same page with or in sync with the client for the rest of the project. That commitment—both creatively and financially—is paramount to the project.
Let’s talk about the Roman arch, an architectural element, which figures heavily in your designs.
KS: When I was studying abroad with the Auburn architecture department, I remember very clearly going to the Forum in Rome. Having grown up in Alabama, you become used to vernacular classicism—but it’s out of wood, and the thin materials of America. As you walk through this mass of terra cotta, I was overwhelmed by the size, and also by what these arches were able to do; the honesty of it. It was not held together by nails, bolts, steel, wood. It was as if they had sculpted the earth in that way, and the natural laws of physics were holding it up.
The inherent, ethereal aspect of that arch has always stuck with me. I think being inside an arch, and having that sense of security is not unlike early man looking out from his cave at the outside terrain, with a framed view of the landscape. There’s something indescribable about that. It touches the human soul in some way that makes the arch more than just a physical thing—more of a frame for how we live and where we live.
What’s next on your horizon?
KS: My focus and interest in the last couple years, and particularly in the future, will be more on public spaces; buildings that engage the public. Remote getaways, destinations, resorts—these represent a very good coming together of my interests as they relate back to the landscape and to nature, while also introducing people to our style of architecture in a way that affects more than a just few people each year. Right now, we’re working on a restaurant at the top of a mountain at Blackberry Farm, and we’re using an old fire tower for the central core of the building. The idea that hundreds, if not thousands, will come dine and experience this type of architecture, both rustic and refined, interests me greatly. I’m not giving up on home, but am taking my residential sensibilities—of quality, of space, of personal choice—and rolling that into a more public view.
Acclaimed Atlanta-based architect Keith Summerour, known for his ability to effortlessly blend style and function, highlights his mindful reinterpretation of classical style in his second book Creating Home: Design for Living (Rizzoli, $50), which hits shelves this month. The 240-page tome features 150 photographs by Andrew and Gemma Ingalls, which depict an inside look at Summerour’s diverse range of projects—and the thoughtful approach that inspired them. From a historic 1920s Atlanta residence to a rustic retreat at Blackberry Farm, each featured residence is a study in gracious style and the classically inspired architecture Summeour has fine-tuned through the years.