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From the pages of
Traditional Home® magazine

Reinventing the Style

Back when Karen and Steve Shackelford decided they wanted a place in the country for much-needed weekend escapes (she's finishing her residency as an emergency room doctor; he's a lawyer), they stuck close to home in a number of ways. They chose a rolling rural site overlooking a pond less than an hour away from their house in Jackson, Mississippi. They decided to go with an updated French country style, which is a logical fit with the French urban style of their house in town. And they chose local architect Ken Tate to design the house.

"We had gone to Seaside in Florida and liked it and thought about building there, but we decided building here in Mississippi was a lot more practical," says Karen. 'We knew we would get a lot more use out of a place here than one in Florida."

"The Shackelfords had owned the land for about four years before they decided to build. During that time they developed a plan for their vacation house, and had a pretty good idea of what they wanted when they contacted an architect.

"We wanted a very simple, clutter-free retreat, something that looked like a summer camp with a Southern vernacular design, like something you might see along a Mississippi highway," says Karen. "We wanted a house that wouldn't look out of place on the land."

The philosophy behind the design is based on the places Karen experienced as she was growing up in France, places in the French countryside that are very casual and look as though they have always been there.

Armed with lots of clipped pictures, the Shackelfords went to Tate. "We felt that using an architect would enable us to get a great design at a reasonable cost, that an architect could advise us on how to best utilize our funds," says Karen. "We knew Ken's work in Jackson and liked it, and figured that what we wanted to build was different enough that we needed him to pull it off."

"The pictures they brought in were a really broad range of styles," recalls Tate, "everything from country to deconstructivist. So we began by trying to find something that would click."

Working closely with the Shackelfords, Tate found the right combination. The house he designed for them is a refreshingly simple three-bedroom, French West Indies/French colonial house. Its 2,500 square feet have been pared down to the very essence of the style, making a deceptively spare-looking structure of elegant proportions. There is a metal hipped roof and French doors with full-length shutters opening to a protected porch that offers refuge from the rain. The one-room-deep, L-shaped floor plan allows for cross drafts that promise relief during the long, hot Mississippi summers. Rather than add a kitchen to one end of the house and disrupt the exterior flow of the structure, Tate decided to borrow space from the living room in order to create a small but functional kitchen.

With its visually cooling pale colors, exposed wood-frame structure (which actually hides a layer of insulation), and weather-resistant, low-maintenance materials, the Shackelfords' house has the feel of a beach house you might very well find in the islands. And while there is a pond, the preferred place for swimming is the pool, located in its own pavilion off the rear courtyard deck. The pavilion is the first of several outbuildings planned for the site — a gazebo is next — though the house itself is designed to look as if it has been added onto over the years. Tate credits architect A. Hays Town for what he calls the "additive" style of the Shackelfords' house. In fact, Tate credits Town for paving the way for Southern architects of Tate's generation. "During a time when everyone was interested in Modernism, Hays Town was designing traditional houses, but in a creative way. He was like a hero to us, showing us what we could do," says Tate.

However, Tate has taken Town's ideas to the other end of the traditional design spectrum, stripping away the rich patina of Town's style to reveal a clean, modern spareness.

"The design of the Shackelfords' house is traditional but not nostalgic," says Tate. "It's based on practicality and function, It was designed to be interesting-looking without a lot of stuff in it — you'll notice there aren't even any pictures on the walls." To create that interest inside, the Shackelford residence, like Town's own house, offers views in all directions, a deliberate attempt on the part of the architect to make a strong inside-outside connection between the house and the subtly landscaped rolling acreage. He kept ornamentation to a minimum, allowing the architecture and the view beyond to set the tone.

Not only is the house restful for Karen and Steve, it also gives the whole family a place to gather for some quality family time. "We have two children still in high school and two in college, so it's hard to get everyone together," Karen says. "But when the kids are home, we get a chance to go out with them and enjoy ourselves."


Eliot Nusbaum

Gordon Beall

Ken Tate Architect, PA
P.O. Box 550
Madisonville, LA 70447
Tel: (985) 845-8181

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