KNOCK KNOCK:THE TRIANGLE’S MOST UNUSUAL HOUSES

Home a masterpiece of mid-century design
Jan. 31, 2013 @ 09:55 AM

The N.C. Farm Bureau Building on Raleigh’s Glenwood Avenue above Crabtree Valley is one of architect Owen Smith’s best-known commercial works. But the Modernist house he designed in the late 1940s at 122 Perquimans Drive is a true masterpiece of mid-century design. 

The paved driveway winds through a stand of tall pines to reveal a long, low-slung house composed of native stone, wood wall cladding, a slate-floored front porch and a rhythmic march of porch posts. Facing the house, a large carport in located to the left. The extended front porch to the carport also leads down stairs to where Smith put a full basement large enough to accommodate a six-person architectural office with natural lighting from the side yard.

The home’s roof is simple and ever so slightly pitched. Ahead of its time in terms of passive sustainable design, the deep roof eaves shade the windows from the high summer sun yet allow direct sunlight to warm the interior in the winter.

Like other classic mid-century houses, the Smith house features an open floor plan with living and dining rooms occupying separate areas of one central volume. Open floor plans, combined with modest bedrooms meant solely for sleeping, were intended to inspired mid-century families to spend more time together in the central living space.  At the time, it was one of the largest houses in Raleigh at 5,000 square feet.

Mid-century moderns also brought exterior materials into the interior. In this case, the slate outside reappears in the wide foyer. The same stone outside forms a dramatic wall that encases the living room’s fireplace. Stone also appears in the bedrooms. 

In the 1950s, the idea of indoor-outdoor living was revolutionary and modern design took advantage of this new passion. To this end, the Smith house features floor-to-ceiling glass at the main entrance, a steady row of windows that surround the kitchen and an entire glass wall in the living room that opens onto an equally large screened-in back porch. A courtyard paved in river rock and walled-in stone is in constant view from the living space’s lofty windows. The interior Smith chose, still in pristine condition, is naturally finished wood paneling, slate floors, stone walls and stained plywood kitchen cabinets. The materials speak for themselves and limit unnecessary flourishes that serve no purpose.

Smith died in 2012, the oldest practicing architect ever in North Carolina.  His enduring Modernist house will be for sale this spring.

Knock Knock visits some of the Triangle’s most unique residential architecture, powered by the archives of historic preservation nonprofit Triangle Modernist Houses.  Owen Smith’s houses are featured at  www.trianglemodernisthouses.com/owensmith.htm.