The house that mom built

April 2002, By Diane Lea

Garner, Raleighs neighbor to the southeast, is a quietly independent community resolutely hanging on to its own identity. Its a place where old and new, rural and urban co-exist. A drive along Garners TenTen Road winds through long vistas of cultivated farmland, next-to-the-road new commercial construction and random clusters of fancy new transitional residences. Its no surprise to take a turn through a farm gate off of TenTen and wander down a pine-flanked country lane which opens up to a well-groomed meadow. But then comes the surprise. Situated on the crest of the gentle rise ahead is one of the regions most dramatic contemporary residences.

The house, a subtly curved ellipse, with separate chimney tower and a delightful symphonic arrangement of glass windows, is perfectly at ease in its rural setting. Announced by an allee of sculptural crepe myrtle and reflected in the dark waters of a free form farm pond, it captures the eye and epitomizes a sense of place. That’s what owner Bobby Thompson, a local grading contractor, and architect David Davenport had in mind almost three years ago when they began to design the house.

Bobby and I had worked together on five or six jobs when I was associated with a local real estate development company, says Davenport. We really enjoyed working together and I was afraid I’d lose touch with him when I left the company to start my own practice. But Thompson remembered Davenport when he began to look for an architect to design a home.

Thompson had two things in mind when he set out to build his house. I knew I wanted to dedicate the house to my mother, Lois T. Rowland, says Thompson. She loaned me the money to start my business and, though she died before the house was finished, its still a monument to her belief in me. I wanted some special things in the house that would always remind me of how I felt when I took that loan and bought my first piece of equipment. The second item in Thompsons mind was to work with Davenport. I liked David and I thought he was young enough so that he wouldn’t be stuck on any particular style.

When Davenport and Thompson began discussing the house, Davenport handed his new client some architecture books and asked that he mark the pages of houses that he liked. What came back were flagged pages showing the creations of architects Mies Van de Rohe and Le Corbusier. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, says 35-year-old Davenport, whose background includes a brief stint in mechanical engineering and a masters degree in architecture from North Carolina State Universitys College of Design. I saw this house as a chance to do something that would be a continuation of the modern architecture that my mentors had done, says Davenport. I was so impressed with the work of people like Frank Harmon and Ken Hobgood, who had taught me.

Thompsons insistence that the house shouldn’t look like anything else out there and that it should reflect how people really live gave birth to the delightful play of form and function in the 6000-square-foot, two-story home engineered of heavy steel and wood construction and sheathed in a flawless coat of real stucco. The house was designed to look as good from the rear elevation that overlooks the pond as from the front elevation where the porte cochere almost floats in front of the house, says Davenport.

Davenports comprehensive approach to design brought together several innovative consultants whose work is integral to the success of this stunning but comfortable family-centered home. We had this great shell of a house with a wall of windows, each acting as a frame for the surrounding landscape, says Davenport. And then we turned to Lynda Lankford of Room Service to help us fill in the interior spaces. Lankford too was excited by the prospect of working with a truly original home. In addition, she got along well with Thompsons wife, Diane. Diane and Lynda came along and infused the house with new energy, says Davenport.

When I saw the architectural model, I realized this was the chance of a lifetime, because they were doing something I’d never seen done in the Garner areaclassic contemporary design, says Lankford. What evolved was a successful relationship among the homes remarkable architecture, its distinctive color scheme and its carefully selected furnishings and art.

Lankford gives the Thompsons credit for the good results. The real key to my work is to find out what the clients want. It has to be a collaborative effort so it reflects the owners lifestyle. Diane and Bobby have an appreciation for clean, well-thought-out design and know immediately whether they like something or notwhich made all the difference.

Go with the flow

The Thompson House interior features a largely open floor plan that depends on furnishings and custom cabinetry to define many of the spaces. The homes entry foyer, situated beneath the aerodynamic porte cochere, introduces the finishes, colors and style of furniture found throughout the residence. Porcelain tile floors sweep through the space and into the first floors kitchen, dining room and family room. The foyer wall is furnished with a Bob Rankin painting, an abstract featuring the bright reds and yellows that the Thompsons love. Beneath the Rankin, there is a Ferrari-red leather chair from Raleigh furniture emporium Ambiente, formerly Danco/Italico, where most of the furnishings were purchased. The wide-seated chair faces the handcrafted open stringer stair finished in a soft purple-tinged taupe with a horizontal railing of strung stainless steel cable.

The view from the entry into the living room is past a partial wall that supports an open walkway between the second-floor bedrooms and the exercise room. A handsome maple cabinet built into the wall is divided horizontally by an aquarium where creaturesthe colors of Rankins paintingfloat suspended. This water feature adds to the serenity of the living room, a space dominated by an angular beige sectional with charcoal, eggplant and white accent pillows, and featuring an asymmetrical coffee table whose circular glass surface appears balanced on a polished steel globe.

In this house, the living room is actually a place to live, says Lankford. Its a place to read, watch TV, listen to music, hang out or entertain. The ceiling rises a full two stories and is brought down to a more intimate scale by the use of a multi-leveled low-voltage lighting system. The full two-story stucco-sheathed fireplace wall adds more coziness to the room space and provides an ideal backdrop for artisan Heath Sadows handcrafted stainless steel firebox surround.

To the left of the foyer, the homes kitchen is situated against the homes front wall beneath a skylight with a deep purple accent wall. The kitchen is Lankfords design, and her choice of finishes include pale maple cabinetry (a match to the built-in entertainment wall in the living room) and counters of Dakota Mahogany granite. Touches of opalescent glass appear in the horizontal bands of the cabinet doors and in a cleverly angled glass-topped dining surface cantilevered off a maple bar cabinet. An oblong kitchen island separates the kitchen from the dining room. Rounded metallic-painted cabinet ends emphasize the islands length and furniture-quality appointments. It provides a perfect foil for the dining room where a mechanized rectangular table, another Ambiente find, sits surrounded by leather and metal chairs (see cover photo). Floating on a bordered area rug, the dining table is framed by the homes second stainless steel-cabled staircase and by the rear wall of the living room chimney stack.

Bobbys Room

It is the game room, often referred to as Bobbys Room, that reflects those special family touches that Thompson was determined to include in his home. Behind the curved glass-topped bar, a wall-length mural by Chapel Hill artist Michael Brown tells the story that Bobby Thompson wants his friends and family to remember. This was done for history, says Thompson as he looks fondly at the figures placed against a construction-site setting. The almost life-size figures include Thompson standing with his arm around his mother, Lois, while Diane looks on approvingly. Dianes sons and daughter and Bobbys father, who now works for him, complete the grouping. When asked about the murals upturned earthmover, Thompson laughs. On a construction site, something is always going wrong.

Private places

The private areas of the Thompson home continue the theme of practical comfort and clutter-free design. The tray-ceilinged master bedroom mirrors the beige tones used so successfully in the living room. The spare, but satisfying, furnishings include a maple and glass dresser and a cushioned sectional arranged in a windowed alcove. The master bath is set with beige-on-beige-toned high gloss ceramic walls and maple and glass cabinetry. Opalescent glass, provided by Carolina Glass and Mirror, appears in the raised-glass top of a free-standing island. A narrow band of glass tiles at the rooms cornice line adds a bit of glitter and nicely frames the double Robern vanity mirrors and matte stainless Halfele hardware. My favorite part of the bath is the curved shower wall into the wet area, says Davenport. Bobby and Diane chose a body jet shower system which I love.

Lankford and Davenport are especially proud of the interlocking component parts that Lankford devised for the spacious master bedroom dressing and closet area. What you see is glass and stainless steel and maple floors, says Lankford. You don’t even know you’re in a closet. Its like walking into another living area. The pale tones of the finishes blend beautifully with the rest of the interior woodwork and everything is behind closed doors.

Strolling around outside at the end of our visit, Thompson pointed out some of the architectural details nestled into the smooth basic elliptical curve of the house. There is the curved glass block wall that forms the master bath wet area and a greenhouse-like bay window where the sectional sits in the master bedroom. The rear entrance is sheltered by a slightly cutout overhang and then the two-story window wall leaps up to emphasize the central living area. An angled corner, a modern turret, delineates the second floor exercise area, and then the elliptical curve takes off again to end in the exterior chimney stack which serves as Thompsons outdoor grill room.

Davenport is pleased that his friend and client approached the design and construction of the house with clear ideas and practical knowledge. When we got started, Bobby told me he was going to build a pond on the property, says Davenport. When you look at the importance of the setting to this house and how meticulous he was in shaping and placing that pond, you realize that Bobbys a master designer in his own right. Bobby Thompsons mother would be proud.

(Used by permission of METRO Magazine)