An exclusive look into two stops on the eight-home tour
By Matthew Lardie | Photography by John Michael Simpson
The Bull City has long been home to modernist gems, and this spring’s North Carolina modernist home tour, aka Modapalooza, showcases two impressive Durham examples of the cutting-edge modern architecture, design and construction that the Triangle has been known for since the 1940s.
“The Triangle is particularly important to modern design because of NC State,” explains George Smart, founder and CEO of USModernist and NCModernist, which hosts the home tour. In 1948, the university’s School of Architecture got new leadership in the form of Dean Henry Kamphoefner, who subsequently helped train a new generation of modernist architects. “We have hundreds, if not thousands, of modernist homes [in the Triangle] designed by their faculty and students,” George says.
Today, USModernist and NCModernist celebrate modern homes across the state and further afield– George estimates they’ve hosted more than 150 tours all over the world – in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, Amsterdam, Palm Springs, Zurich and Dubai – since 2008.
While the Triangle’s April 15 tour is sold out (there is a waitlist as well as another chance to see other modern designs later in the year – more on that in a bit), we wanted to share a peek inside the two Durham homes on the tour that were labors of love for all involved.
‘The Forever Home’
The homeowners of this Hope Valley abode, a retired couple from Michigan who are relocating to be closer to family, sat down with architect Bill Waddell of Distinctive Architecture to explain their vision for a house that would serve a multigenerational purpose.
“I have a very specific method I use to make sure that I am designing for the client,” Bill explains. A big part of the footprint of The Forever Home came from a request to have a space to potentially house an older adult family member down the road. “They desired to have something akin to two primary bedroom suites in case a parent came to live with them,” Bill says. He designed a floor plan that put each suite on opposite sides of the house, with a living-dining-kitchen space in the center, all wrapped around a pool and patio. Large windows in all the rooms gaze out onto the open space, providing a great view.
Bill couldn’t be happier with how the house turned out. “I particularly enjoyed the introduction of warm wood choices into the spare spaces that are often the hallmark of modernist design,” he says. The house is designed almost as a series of pavilions, with the center living space soaring to a ceiling lined with strips of oak beams that draw your eyes up to the south-facing windows and the sky beyond. In a play on the Southern tradition of front porches that provide living spaces to connect residents to their neighbors, large windows in the kitchen open the house to passersby.
“Even on kind of gray, hazy days, it’s still quite bright,” Bill says.
Builder Robert Hallyburton of Hallyburton Builders was tasked with bringing that vision to life. “It’s been very exciting to be involved in a modern house build,” Robert says. “Especially the way the pool interfaces into the foundation and really becomes part of the house.”
Robert notes that the framing of the house required a fairly large quantity of engineered wood products, which at the time of initial construction were severely rationed and set back the timeline a bit. Despite facing these pandemic-related supply chain issues, as of press time the house is only awaiting a final certificate of occupancy and its new owners.
Ward Street connects the neighborhoods of Tuscaloosa-Lakewood and Forest Hills, and it’s here that property owners Ann Skye and Jami Norris built their dream home with the help of architect Ellen Cassilly and BuildSense’s Randall Lanou.
“We searched for an existing house for a few years before we bought our lot and narrowed in on the set of features we liked,” Ann recalls. “Jami loved planning and architecture earlier on in life, and this was the natural culmination of that interest.”
The pair worked with Ellen to design a simple, modern space that coupled their family life and love of gardening with some basic realities, like Jami’s work-from-home needs for her job at an international company.
“Jami ends up having lots of Zoom calls to China,” Ellen says. “It was very important to have her office at the far end of the house.”
That was far from the only thoughtful and practical design choice the three made. Simple, sloping shed roofs led to a structurally less-complicated roof build. A tiered front porch helped bypass handrail requirements that would have broken up the view of the front gardens while also remaining safe for daily use. And, perhaps most innovative of all (and one of Ellen’s favorite features in the home), a pass-through window from the kitchen to the screened-in porch allows for ease of entertaining.
Designing modernist homes like the Ward House offers opportunities not available with traditional home design, Ellen says. “Having wonderful diagonal views so that you really see a layer of spaces from one room to the next makes the space seem larger,” she explains. “So you can get away with designing a house that might technically be smaller but gives the impression of being a larger space.”
For Ann and Jami, that detail, coupled with the views from the windows, helps to bring the outside in.“Even when all doors and windows are closed, no matter where you are in the house, you can see the outdoors,” Ann says.
“At one point, it looked like the window could not be flush due to regulations, but BuildSense found a way to make it happen,” Ann says.
Randall was equally enthused with the design and the opportunity to build the family’s home. He and his team tackled some of the trickier aspects of the build with ease, like when the extra-large kitchen window that Ann and Jami had their hearts set on was in danger of falling afoul of regulations.
“The bones of a modern home are required to be executed to a higher standard to assure the finished product shines,” Randall says. “In essence, ‘simple and clean’ is generally more difficult and costly to execute.
“The highs are always the joy of seeing the home come together,” he adds.
Falling for Modernism
Although this spring’s Modapalooza is sold out, there is a September tour in the works. The lineup isn’t yet finalized, but George says that the homes on each tour “are all usually brand-new builds by some of the Triangle’s most notable architects and designers.”
It’s an incredible opportunity to see some of the Triangle’s visionary modernist home designs up close, perfect for both fans of the architectural style and those looking to gather ideas for their own home builds.