Modern History

For a new residence in Decatur, architect William Carpenter and his firm Lightroom infuse contemporary style into a traditional neighborhood. Hidden in plain sight, the home seamlessly blends the best of old and new.

William Carpenter may have numerous accomplishments to his name, but it’s the Decatur architect’s 4,000-square-foot “Leila House”—an affectionate nod to Georgia’s first major female architect, Leila Ross Wilburn—that he considers his firm’s most pivotal project to date. Built for young couple Ben Park and Allison Loudermilk at a modest $120 per square foot, Leila House boasts high-efficiency geothermal heating, numerous custom furnishings and modern-classic accents ranging from George Nelson light fixtures to Eames Eiffel chairs.

The forward-thinking Loudermilk is an Atlanta native and graduate of Barnard College who works as an editor for How Stuff Works; Park is a scientist with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention whose work takes him around the globe. Both wanted Carpenter to push the envelope with their abode.

“Ben was more interested in the modern part of the house, while Allie was more interested in a modern view of history,” Carpenter explains. “What you see here is a marriage between their two views.” Leila House, which appeared on the Modern Atlanta (MA) home tour in 2012, is the first modern residence in Decatur’s historic MAK district, but you wouldn’t know it from the street.

Its charming facade recalls a Wilburn house that resided on this site decades ago. Carpenter maintained the rhythm of traditional homes in the neighborhood by combining the classical, Ecole des Beaux-Arts spirit of Philip Shutze in the front with high-concept Bauhaus ideals in the back. Wilburn, Carpenter explains, was notable for straddling these two disciplines. “But as with any precedent, you have to transform it,” he adds. Clapboards are set back at the corners by steel angles, and rafter tails are capped with sleek metal casings.

Evoking a classic Southern dogtrot, the floor plan touts a strong central shotgun axis that flows from the front to the back. Hardwood planks run this same linear path, with bedrooms situated just off the main corridor. An open-format kitchen spills into the living room and courtyard on one end, while the front section of the home often serves as guest quarters—easily closed off in the event of company with a sliding wood door—while also housing Park’s home office and a family room for watching TV.

Embracing minimalism at every turn, Lightroom delivered exactly what the homeowners desired—complete with clean lines, white walls and lots of built-in storage—all while keeping the project right at their desired budget. “The clients really trusted me with their house,” Carpenter notes. “They let me handle everything.” Perhaps the greatest mark of that trust has been their continued familiarity after Leila House’s completion. They still call on him to house sit when they’re out of town. In fact, he’s become just as good friends with the family dog, Lucy.

Architect William Carpenter is highly influenced by the historic vernacular of the American South. The award-winning Decatur architect, who trained under such greats as Norman Jaffe and Samuel Mockbee, is a 20-year professor at Southern Polytechnic University, author of Dwell magazine’s Modern Sustainable Residential Design and the lead architect of projects ranging from the acclaimed Dominey Pavilion to a modern restaurant in Sao Luis, Brazil. But it’s the historically rooted “Leila House” in Decatur’s MAK district of which he’s most proud.

ARCHITECTURE William Carpenter, Lightroom, 115-A N. McDonough St., Decatur 30030. (404) 377-6889;