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Little Ranch That Could
In the Fall of 2005, I purchased my very own Mid-Century Modern, MCM, style home. It's modest in both size and design, but it's a perfect fit for me. Why I love it and how I came to find it, while at the same time becoming a bona fide MCM junky, is an interesting story.
I'd been casually looking for a house for...oh about....15 years. But it had become a bit more urgent over 2005, due to my pending marriage to a beautiful girl named Spring (we have since married, in the Fall of 2006). Over those 15 years, I'd filled my head with visions of homes so exotic as to be impossible to find in Nashville TN. My coffee table and shelves were covered in books on the works of Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW). I even received a FLW calendar one year as a gift...it was that bad. So, when it came time to look for a home to buy myself, I of course wanted a FLW'esk, Usonian looking something-or-other, that needed very little fixing-up, was in a good location, had a bit of land around it...and, oh yeah, was at price I could afford. Uh huh...sure...? I don't think so.
Eventually, reality set in. After a few months of hard-core house hunting with the help of a realtor...I realized I'd have to (begrudgingly) adjust my expectations as to what I could find and afford in Nashville. I also had to broaden my ridiculously narrow view of what I thought made a home "cool" to me. You see...I, like many others (I suppose...?), hadn't looked far beyond FLW for ideas about great modern architecture (stupid, I know). So I did a bit more research on what it was I liked about FLW, particularly the Usonian homes. That's when I stumbled upon other great architects like Pierre Koenig and Richard Neutra, and influential projects like the Case Study Homes. Then I learned about California developers like Joseph Eichler, who's goal (during the 50s and 60s) was to bring modernism to the masses. THAT WAS IT...I KNEW WHAT I WANTED! I wanted an authentic Eichler Home myself! But wait...Eichler homes go for $700,000, AND they simply don't exist in Nashville. I, on the other hand, was looking closer to $100k. Did I mention I am a full time working musician (learn more about me)? That means $700k is WAY too much.
I was just about to give up and face a sad future of buying some boring brick box when I stumbled upon a little 1961 modern ranch with lots of potential. I've grown to love this little house more and more over time, and have worked very hard to restore it to it's 1961 glory, and then some. It's come a long way since I purchased it, and I love to share photos & stories about it (and my enthusiasm for MCM architecture) with anyone who'll listen. Below are some images of how the home appears today, post renovation. At the bottom of the page are links to photos of how the place looked when I bought it, plus links to the original blue prints and a few vintage photos.
The garage you see was an open air carport when I bought the place. It's not that I disliked the carport so much, but simply needed the functionality of a garage. The house had also been altered over the years (via extra paving and roof alterations), making the front entrance a bit less appealing by the time I'd purchased it. So, since the original esthetic was already obscured, I decided to make it my own. But I worked very hard at maintining the 1961 "modern" spirit of the place.
I re-established the roof opening over the entrance, which had been closed up years prior. Also added the privacy wall. Did this for both esthetics and functionality. One, to formalize the look of the entrance a bit more....and two, to create a private space between the original front door (hidden here) and the garage side door (also hidden), which you must pass thru in order to reach the newly created utility room located inside the garage. The river stone and stepping squares you see functioning as the stoop continues on the other side of the wall, creating a small atrium like entry court within. The tiny black spec to left of the door is a doorbell, hands-free intercom. The entrance is also equipped with a remote "buzz-in" door lock release system, so visitors can be allowed into the atrium from inside the house.
At the top of this photo, you can just see the front edge of the 6'x10' roof opening above the entrance. Although it looks open to the elements, it's actually covered by a 1/2" thick sheet of True Cast acrylic. Nashville doesn't enjoy year round mild weather, so a covering was in order. Quite a bit or research went into finding a material that would resist cracking, warping or yellowing during Nashville's hot Summers and freezing Winters. True Cast acrylic is clearer than glass, but is much tougher, lighter and easier to work with. This is the same type of material often used to glaze sports facilities and malls.
That's the original front door in the center (partially hidden), which opens to the entry court outside. The living room ceiling angles upward toward large high windows, making the room feel open and spacious. The roof opening above the atrium entrance is visible from the living room, and allows in an abundence of natural light. The large sliding door you see was added for functionality. I needed to be able to close off the back hall (hidden from this angle). There's also a functional fireplace not visible in this shot. New doors were made for the living room built-in (seen to the right in this photo). Wooden valances were mounted over the windows (which run the length of the room on the opposite wall) to hide newly installed curtain hardware.
The hall leads down to 3 bedrooms and 1 & 1/2 baths. The track lighting above the hall was added so that space could be used as a gallery. From this angle, you can see how the new sliding door works. I call that my "kitty containment door". You see the small pet door to the left? Well, my fiancee has two kitty cats. The pet door will allow them access to the atrium area as well as the garage (via another pet door) & their litter box...while the sliding door will limit their access to the front living space. Besides simple functionality, I thought the sliding door head piece added an interesting esthetic to the room. This shot also shows off the natural wood floors, which I had refinished.
Both the full and half baths had new light boxes installed. The light box was actually part of the original BH&Gs plan (see Original Blue Prints below), but was left out by the builders. I also pulled the plate glass mirrors and mounted mirrored medicine cabinets to add much needed storage space. Birch panels were mounted behind them to fill in where the old mirrors were. As was done in the kitchen and living room built-in, the doors and drawer fronts were removed and new ones made. This had a great impact on the appearance of the cabinetry. I also added a new vent/light, shower light and glass shower door.
The 3 bedrooms are fairly spacious considering the age of the home. Closets feature beautifully low profile sliding doors. Little more than paint and floor refinishing was needed in these rooms.
The kitchen saw a great deal of changes. Not just paint, floors and counter tops. I also moved the washer and dryer out to a newly created utility room...then added a second sink/wet-bar, a built-in microwave, a dish washer, new sink w/ disposal, all new lighting, and a new sliding door that leads to the patio. Also removed all the old cabinet doors and drawer fronts and had new made. As in the living room, a wooden valance (visible at the upper left) was mounted to hide the newly installed curtain hardware.
After exterior structural changes were complete, work began on the patio and yard. There was an unattractive chain-link fence inclosing a small area (dog pin) beyond the patio, which I removed. The sliding glass door off the breakfast room was replaced, and a new full length glass door replaced the solid door off the living room. The light fixture was also replaced. Patio foot lights were installed, and ground lights now light the front and rear exterior walls of the home. Old shrubs and bushes were removed and a perimeter of river stone and pavers were put down to create clean lines around the house. Pavers were also used for a walk between the driveway and patio, as well as to extend usable patio space beyond the original slab. The lot is 1 acre, completely level, with about 1/2 dozen mature trees.
Before Images: front, entry-court, living-room, hall, bath, kitchen, patio
Blue Prints: When I purchased this home, the previous owners were nice enough to lone me the original blue prints in order to scan them. When I unrolled the bundle of aging paper, I discovered there were two sets of plans. It turns out the home was based on a Better Homes & Gardens design, the Five Star Plan No. 2809-A, Architects Omer L. Mithun & Harold J. Nesland.
BH&Gs Plans: floor plan, front rear & side elevations, interior & side elevations, fireplace detail
Reworked Plans: floor plan, front rear & side elevations, kitchen cabinets detail, fireplace detail
Contemporary Photo (as it appeared in Atomic Ranch Magazine): atomic_ranch_pic.jpg
Vintage Photo: 1961.jpg
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