Monday, September 20, 2010

Bobby McAlpine: A Sense of Place

"The house and the household, with all that these words involve, were, to Morris, the symbol and the embodiment of civilized life"
J.W. Mackail, The Life of William Morris

My friend, Mrs. D., had a home within her. She studied books and magazines, traveled to absorb regional architecture, parsed the continuum of styles, defining and discussing her vision with Mr. D., until they could identify the home they wanted to wrap around their large family. After years of reverie and culling, they telephoned Bobby McAlpine to see if he would translate their imaginings. For those of you who have not yet become enchanted by his idyllic country houses, Bobby McAlpine is legendary for his ability to choreograph space. There is a rhythm, refrain and melody to his connection of living areas, coming from the emotional and spiritual place in our hearts and souls that responds to beauty in the world around us, that seeks refuge from the mundane.  Glenn Lavinder, a virtuoso interior designer, of The Pink Door in Greensboro, added his eclectic gifts, complementing their vision.

Mr. and Mrs. D. loved the stone and shingle farms of the Philadelphia countryside. On the morning of their first meeting with McAlpine, Mrs. D. drew a hasty plan of her imaginary, light filled house, which Bobby quickly started sketching on the back of napkins, commenting: "The sun rises here... sets there...," capturing their shared aesthetic. In a House Beautiful interview, Mr. McAlpine describes his selected elements that had attracted Mr. and Mrs. D.

"They let me go about creating a house that is my favorite type--a series of buildings and outbuildings, one room deep, so that the outdoors is ever available."

Lingering within the entry court, stone walls and gamboled references to Pennsylvania Dutch Barns speak the language of continuity, and articulate an era when agrarian generations crafted the fruits of their land and labors, on the place. It wafts with memories and scents of home-made bread and jams. It is the eloquent expression of McAlpine's harmony of opposites, combining ephemeral florals with muscular stone. This entry courtyard is an exterior vestibule. It is a sweet inhalation that punctuates the natural respiration of his progressions. That moment is followed by the tension of having to search for the front door--he always hides it. McAlpine is not a proponent of the grand entrance. 

We are swept-- In medias res (into the middle of affairs), instantly joining the family's communal narrative (exhale).  McAlpine attributes the inspiration for his own house to Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, in his new book THE HOUSE WITHIN US.  He shares his collective, architectural DNA with clients, in their resonant homes. Lutyens thrived during the great country house boom at the turn of the 20th century. His educators and peers were members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, valuing the art of living, the use of authentic materials crafted traditionally, in a furious reaction to the industrial revolution's mass production.  At the opposite end of the century, in a mirrored boom technology economy, Bobby McAlpine adds a fresh layer to the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, drawing from their neo-Georgian, Gothic, Classical and myriad permutations, devising an amazing New-Neo aesthetic. If I was Queen, I would knight him! He is not a furious reaction to the mcmansions of our era. He gently shows the path.   

It is a clever McAlpine signature to elevate the dining room within the living room. It is tucked into a cozy nook, but raising it, sets it theatrically apart (see McAlpine alum, Ruard Veltman's, similar treatment in our post of Mrs. G.'s house). 
In his revelatory book displaying the wide range of his oeuvre, McAlpine explains: 

"You can put the dining area in a more vulnerable setting than any other room, because when people gather around a table their circle creates its own enclosure." 

Why is simplicity so complicated? Bobby McAlpine reduces extraneous space, by merging the active voices of dining and visiting. By flanking parallel, invisible passages as perimeters, rooms and house unfold, communicating and dividing seamlessly. 

On the opposite wall, the hearth is set within an alcove. It is the way McAlpine punctuates the emotional areas of a space. He balances open, sunny areas with intimate escapes.

Glenn Lavinder of Greensboro, N.C. is the master of nonchalant mixtures, styles, and colors that are entirely timeless. Italians, Brits and the French, children, teenagers and the ancient, mingle amicably with each other. In the second image, the vistas and axes that McAlpine is so fond of, provide a passage of the soul as a metaphor within the house. 

"The Process is meditative and serene. You are pulled toward something inevitable, which seems to move away from you even as you come toward it, but at a slower rate. This gradual unfolding makes way for your metamorphosis. By the time you arrive, you have lost one context and gained a new one--one where you can live most creatively."

Within this concept, Mrs. D. shared that Bobby told her that a hall needs to be long enough to finish a thought. Did you ever think halls could be brilliant? We know what they normally look and feel like--nothing! 
From the central rectangle of the house, wings extend to simultaneously unite and enclose the outdoor spaces with rustic dependencies and walls, creating a geometry of dynamic tension between flow and limitation. We feel secure and free, in a balance shared by both good architects, and good parents.

Look carefully, a mantle is suggested above the stove, functional as the fan, yet it is also a reference to the bygone days of cooking within the hearth. But wait, there's more... What we are beginning to call the sneaky kitchen, is behind the stove-wall "curtain." Mrs. D. has added a humble, textural element to the sleek, modern stainless refrigerators, with a pair of rustic antique baskets. The yin-yang, dynamic interaction of opposites is an attractive force on many levels. 

"To create spaces with a broad emotional spectrum, there has to be a pendulum that strikes far to the left and far to the right. A rhythm of the grand and the humble, the exhilarating and the calm, the bold and the tender must be struck at a regular rate. "
Bobby McAlpine

The McAlpine, sneaky, kitchen/pantry is the ultimate way to rectify and compress our communal food spaces, with light-handed division. The plus-sized kitchens of the millennium have gone on a welcome diet.  You can have a Fred Astaire kitchen dance, with friends and family, and you can hide the mess, drawing us closer to the intimate moment of feeding and eating. The solid "curtain" serves to both conceal and reveal. Thank you Sir Bobby for this brilliant innovation. He must actually cook. 

This elegant pair of 18th century cabinets, are a gothic arched counterpoint to the Lutyens neo-Georgian paneling and limestone hearths. They were found after this element was cheekily drawn into the plans. Run up the stairs, and see the surprise. 

"Through Gorgeous math good architecture creates a benevolent presence that pets and comforts you, or energizes and exhilarates. "
Bobby McAlpine
Sometimes these people just makes me smile! It is simple and pretty, waiting for you at the top of the back stairs, like a pair of raised eyebrows reminding: "Pay attention, even the humblest space can feel like a cathedral." It is two little triangles, cut over a door for heaven's sake, but from ingress to egress, it is architectural poetry, devised among kindred souls, versus a committee. 

Sorry for the digression, sometimes when you see a fork in the road, you have to take it. The kitchen den is a cool sip of wine, after a busy day, or a thoughtful place to read the paper and savor your coffee in the morning. Bobby McAlpine, takes a page from Frank Lloyd Wright--luminary of the American Arts and Crafts movement--by lowering the ceiling from the adjacent space. While open to the kitchen passage, the lowered, beamed ceiling is grounding, quieting and embracing. Neutrals are balanced by a gorgeous, colorful Page Laughlin interior oil painting, over the mantle. 

Off of the kitchen axes, on the East side of the house, the breakfast room, in this breathing, resting, shag dance, reel and waltz of a house, twirls me away from the warm embrace of the masculine kitchen den. This lovely, feminine, classic Georgian niche, in soft pastel green shades, changes colors during the day, as the house takes on different perspectives with time and season. I am an incandescent, Pride and Prejudice Lizzie here, merging with my throughly modern Lizzie. This house is so... beautiful: 

"It could make a blind man see, it could make a crippled man walk, it could make the quietest man in the world talk."
The Showmen

Electricity and stillness--all our complexity, transitions, and growth, are simultaneously reflected and resolved by the truth of stone, plank, and mortar, in this grassy and flowered place.

I've gone all Stendal Syndrome on you, and Thank God!!  I thought it would never happen. I thought I'd been desensitized by modern life.  I admire this gestational moment, formed over a humble field, created among kindred souls, materializing mutual ideas, fusing time, space, light and shadow, nudging and chiding us towards illusive love, and the eternal reconciliation that is pure grace.  My post is my curtsey! Time to stop, but we'll continue with a Part II. Please take a moment to thank Mr. and Mrs. D. They are far and beyond more lovely than their home. Their home is a transcendent and collaborative expression.

If you want to continue down this rabbit hole, tumble down these links:


  1. I love to watch the way light moves through a space - seems it would be beautiful in this house. I also appreciate "hiding" the kitchen mess!

  2. Thank you so much for your loving address of this home and for including our work in your journal. Any charm and delight this home exudes is simply a built manifestation of its owner.

  3. I learned so much from reading this post. Your commentary is clear, informative and easy to understand. Terrific post!

  4. What a gorgeous, gorgeous home! That kitchen and the outdoor the chandeliers, too!

  5. What a fabulously instructive post - so much more than what HB could have done with the story. The elevated dining room is genius, as are all of the elegant touches in this home. Bravo!

  6. I agree...I learned so much from this post! I picked up some great tips that I would love to incorporate in my home, and the photos are gorgeous. Thank you for the wonderful inspiration!

  7. your writing is wonderful. if you're not writing for shelter magazines, you should be. thanks for peek into a McAlpine house i've not seen.


  8. what a grand post, enjoyed every word, and the images are divine. Thank you for posting this -- I agree with Philip, you should be freelancing for sure!

  9. Outstanding! One of my favorite architects was a guy from Louisiana, A. Hays Town.

  10. Such a great post and fantastic images! I wish there were homes that spacious in Athens!
    So divine!

  11. We've been waiting and what a delivery - a lovely home indeed. I just love how the gothic arches upstairs echo the cabinets below - these little touches are wonderful intellectual surprises. Looking forward to Park II

  12. Wow, WOW, and WOW!!!! just gorgeous in EVERY way. Every detail is so thought out...I love a MCalpine home. Wow again! Gretchen O.

  13. Greg Tankersley is Sir Bobby's business partner. You might have fun clicking through to his link for their in house magazine Communique. I learned a great deal reading that, as well. I appreciate your kind comments very much. Your encouragement only challenges me to strive harder.

  14. Well hello there! I noticed that you visited my husband's blog...thank you so much. His writing is vivid and clear and I am proud of how he is able to eloquently write about important things in a humorous way, and straight from the hip! AND...this gorgeous post of yours with these sumptuous rooms and You have a good eye and some wonderful resources!


  15. Such an interesting post.I absolutely love the work of Mc Alpine.
    I just flew into Charlotte for the day for a meeting near High Point but would love to get together my next trip to North Carolina. I will probably be back in November. francine
    do you com into new York?

  16. Amazing! I love this, I love the thought that goes into the decor (the raised dining room, etc.), there is so much more to it than people think! We were definitely on the same page today with our posts! XX!

  17. what a beautiful and thoughtful post-your prose is outstanding!

  18. This home looks so comfortable and livable. Perfect, thank you for sharing.

  19. As if the home, and thoughtfulness of the work accomplished weren't enough...then enters you with the most brilliant of posts highlighting the the wow factor and in a most entertaining and captivating way! I found the furniture placement and fabrics to be very 2nd glance worthy :) Love. XO, Kelly

  20. Liz, this is a gorgeous post! I learned to know the architecture of Bobby McAlpine through blogging and I love all of his work!I know you putted a lot of work in this post! Well-done!
    And Liz, thank you so much for your very nice comment on my blog! I feel so honoured! You are so sweet!
    Have a nice week Liz!

  21. This is a great post! I love the way it is written too. Love Bobby, he is my dream man... forget Brad, it's Bobby for me!

  22. Dear Liz,
    First of all, thank you for visiting my blog Rattus Scribus and your thoughtful comment. As I've told other visitors, my goal with Rattus is weekly to post an item thoughtful (and hopefully helpful) that is worthy of the reader's time, so I thank you for yours.

    Secondly, WOW! What a well thought out and informative post. There's so much to learn here that I only have time/space to point out two of the many elements that stood out to me personally. Anita and I love in particular the Pre-Raphaelite artistic and architectural style and the spirit behind it, and have tried to incorporate something of it in our humble cottage. I also like both the look and philosophy of the elevated dining room within the larger gathering space. We are building a "family" room off of our dining room (and an office/bedroom beyond that) and while the dining room won't be elevated, it will have an 8ft wide entry/exit (with magnificent library cases on either side) that will hopefully give it a similar feel.

    Happy to meet you.

  23. What a fabulous post! I love all of the photographs, he is so talented.

  24. McAlpine is a brilliant man. This is a fantastic post, thank you for all the wonderful words and lovely tour!!!

  25. Wonderful spaces, interesting the double barstools (if that's what they are called).

  26. I am officially in love with this architect, wow! Thanks so much for taking the time to describe all these special details, many of which may have been lost on me. Amazing!

  27. So many beautiful rooms, gorgeous in and out! Thanks for the great post.


  28. Bravo!!!!! I am giving you a standing ovation. Your post was brilliant. Thank you for such an insightful view of the process of creating this lovely home.

  29. Beautiful image gallery.

    In love with the red dragonfly fabric on the couch!

    Have a thing for red prints as seen here

  30. L, B & V,
    Fantastic post!!!
    I know that a lot
    of research and
    hard work went into
    this post, along with
    a lot of love for
    what you do. This
    is the home that dreams
    are made of. I want
    this book. It looks
    like there is something
    to be taken from each
    page....even if you aren't
    as fortunate to live in
    a house like The D's,
    who generously let it
    be photographed. Looking
    forward to Part II!!
    xx Suzanne

  31. Thank you so much for sharing this! The pictures are beautiful, and I love those 17th century cabinets. Perfect for the space! Hope all is well!

  32. Thanks so much for reading Hill Country House and leaving a comment. I have been on the run and have had this post of yours saved to read and really focus on when I slow down. I have followed Bobby McAlpine and his partners for years - love them and their work! Beautiful house and example of their wok.

  33. I am going to put the idea of the pantry behind the stove area in my smart is that?

    Great post!

  34. Thorough and well delivered post. Such a talented architect too and the home oozes southern charm.

  35. Wow, reading this post was like reading poetry! The house is truly gorgeous, I'd love to trade places with Mrs. D (as long as I could take my own Mr with me ;)

    xo Linda

  36. Houses should be just like this one: Dreams and hopes realized in stone and wood!
    I so enjoyed reading your amazingly detailed post on Mrs. & Mr. D's home.
    I am still in the final house gestation period and one day it will come to fruition!

    Came over via Brooke's blog, thank you for the guest post there as well!


  37. I love the inviting warmth this house exudes even on print and would love to have you visit our blog as well. Thanks for the inspiring posts and I have followed Brooke at Velvet and Linen for a while now and love her design aesthetic. Thanks for including her as a guest blogger.

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