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The View from Here

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It’s perhaps fitting that one of Atlanta’s top architects built himself a retreat with a view, well, from the top. Like he does with many a project, Keith Summerour took an intuitive approach to the design of Towerhouse Farm. Located in rural Meriwether County, the soaring five-story residence (accompanied by guest quarters and a barn) is made of native stone and reclaimed timbers. Part personal retreat and part hunting lodge, the main structure has a footprint that’s just 24 feet square. Still, the 70-foot height makes it look—and live—much bigger.

“The stone that we used was found just 30 feet from where the main house was built,” Summerour says, noting that the pile he found was created by farmers who pulled the rocks out of their fields. “This particular [quartz] isn’t a type of stone one would necessarily think of using to build with. But it had an orange hue from being in the red Georgia clay and, once you put it up, it gathers light during the day. It’s like this mirror reflection of the land around it. The stone has taken on a life of its own that I can’t claim any credit for. I may have roped it, but we were simply in the right place at the right time.”

Summerour also points out that his decision to use the stone moved other ideas in a certain direction. “Once you make that first good decision, you can sprinkle in other things,” he says. For example, the architect opted to use oversize metal doors—a choice that serves to bring the outside in. But, he adds, the doors also bring contemporary industrial flair to what’s basically an old way of building. (Inspiration for the residence came, in part, from the pre-Civil War shot tower, where bullets were made from molten lead.)

The arched shape of those metal doors, in fact, is first hinted at upon your arrival at this home’s front entrance—which isn’t at the “front” at all but, rather, on one side of the house. The double doors, echoing the Roman arch so prevalent throughout the residence, leads inside to a landing where you’re met by the same stone walls that you just left on the other side of the threshold. “You’re basically walking into a mid-level landing of exterior stairs,” the architect/owner explains, “and the feeling you get is, ‘Am I in yet?’ It’s a very tactile space.”

A left at this juncture takes you down to the fully furnished basement—complete with a “cleaning room,” a must in any hunting retreat—while a right takes you up to the main living space, comprising the lodge room, the kitchen/dining area and a wraparound porch. One can’t help but be struck by the river-recovered cypress wall paneling and rustic heart pine floors. But the real showstopper is the coffered ceiling in the lodge room. “The ceiling is a complicated pattern,” Summerour says, “and a very different way to use cypress.”

A left at this juncture takes you down to the fully furnished basement—complete with a “cleaning room,” a must in any hunting retreat—while a right takes you up to the main living space, comprising the lodge room, the kitchen/dining area and a wraparound porch. One can’t help but be struck by the river-recovered cypress wall paneling and rustic heart pine floors. But the real showstopper is the coffered ceiling in the lodge room. “The ceiling is a complicated pattern,” Summerour says, “and a very different way to use cypress.”

The kitchen, on the other hand, is the complete antithesis of anything complicated. “I always call it the non-kitchen kitchen,” the architect says. “I didn’t want any kind of conventional cabinets, so we purchased antique heart pine cabinetry and added bookshelves. And the refrigerator is in a pantry; I didn’t want to see any large appliances, either. The [layout] isn’t efficient, but when you’re there you have plenty of time; you don’t worry about walking 10 steps to get a spoon.”

Although there are several ways to access the Southern-style wraparound porch, Summerour admits that it’s the door from the kitchen that gets used the most. “Of course it is,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a wonderful old door that’s three inches thick—and less than two feet wide. But you get used to how you live in a house. There’s a certain warm comfort in things like knowing how to hold your tongue just right to open a door.”

Back up the exterior stairway is the master bath, along with two bedrooms and a bunk area. Up another level still is an airy, two-level space with a generous cut-out between the lower and upper floors. Summerour refers to the lower level as “manland” because this is where his boys like to hang out. Meanwhile, the upper level—with a magnificent groin-vaulted ceiling and the tower’s signature arched windows on all four sides—serves as the architect’s own studio. “I love to work there in the morning,” he says. “The light quality is so good.”

The crowning touch, of course, is the observation level at the top of the tower. “The views from there really give you an ‘oh, wow!’ moment,” Summerour says. But the breathtaking vistas aren’t the only attraction, he adds. “We have hammocks up there; it’s a great place for naps!”

Reflecting back on the design process, Summerour says this project stands apart from his typical work because he had the freedom to design without the pressure of performing for a client—and the expectations that go along with that. “I didn’t overthink it,” he says. “I had a very basic set of drawings and allowed the craftsmen to do their work. With that comes a certain energy and spontaneity. In fact, the one thing I like best about the tower is its height. I added three or four feet in the process and, as a result, it proportionally looks right, it captures the right view. Being willing and able to change things along the way makes all the difference.”

DESIGN DETAILS
ARCHITECTURE
Summerour & Associates Architects
(404) 603-8585
summerour.net

INTERIOR DESIGN
Summerour Interiors
(404) 603-8585
summerour.net

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Designer's Own HomeKeith Summerour

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