A few years ago, James Lowell Strickland co-authored a book on the Southern vernacular house. With rich text and handsome photography, the edition celebrates the traditional materials, artisanal craftsmanship, and an atmosphere of comfort and hospitality that are emblematic of residential living in the South. It is simply titled Coming Home.
Home today for Strickland, founder and senior principal of Historical Concepts, an architecture and planning firm, is a three-story town home in North Cove, a unique residential enclave that he personally developed, located on the shores of Lake Kedron in Peachtree City, Georgia. Like other new communities and private homes Historical Concepts has designed over the last three decades, North Cove is rooted in cultural heritage and local geography. “Place-making” is what Strickland calls his philosophical approach to neighbor-hood planning, which, he says, “embraces classical scale and proportion, vernacular ideology, and historical precedent.”
The past is indeed prologue for Strickland, whose reverence for “what came before” is at the heart of the timeless quality that imbues all of his work. He is driven, he says, to “bring the past into the day, enabling the younger generation to understand it and visualize how it was done.” Achieving this, he says, is “a gift” to them that will facilitate their making thoughtful material choices and selecting decorative details that give an all-important sense of history to a contemporary building.
When it came to selecting his current dwelling 16 years ago, Strickland’s sights were set originally on a grander home on a lakeside lot in the 26-acre neighborhood, but his wife, Linda, persuaded him to move into this more modest structure. The rusticated stucco Greek Revival is 2,600 square feet, not including a breezeway, porches, and guest accommodations above the garage.
“My home is comfortable, tasteful. I like the size of it today for my wife and me,” says Strickland, who has lived in at least 17 houses himself, starting with his childhood home in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. Reminiscing, he describes it as not a big house but one with a rich fabric. “Small houses are some of the best and also some of the most challenging [to design and build] in terms of the quality of scale and execution,” says Strickland. “Great fabric houses don’t say ‘look at me.’”
The Stricklands’ home started out as a spec house, one of 13 Village Town Homes that frame the community’s central square, a peaceful spot that evokes town greens of yore, with a flowing water fountain and benches shaded by oak trees. To personalize his home, Strickland added custom finishes and other bespoke touches like antique fluted pilasters he restored himself and a mirrored wall in the living room that reflects sunlight coming in from the back windows. One of many examples of expert craftsmanship in the house, the large mirror is framed with finely wrought millwork and trim.
In the living room, which Strickland also refers to as the library, treasured books and family photos comprise most of the decoration, if you don’t count a pampered dog or two. According to Strickland, no Southern home should be without a porch or a dog. He is also very fond of climbing vines like the profuse New Dawn roses that curl around the pediment of his neoclassical front door.
The spec house’s standard oak floors were stripped and restained a glossy black. Throughout, one-of-a-kind antique lighting fixtures repurposed by Georgia artisan Eloise Pickard give the house a feeling of age and authenticity, as do an inherited harp in the dining room and a cherished collection of more than 100 antique spoons from around the world that has been in Linda’s family since the early 1900s.
Other heirloom pieces enhance the timeless charm of guest quarters, where framed Audubon prints hung on the simple board-and-batten interior walls reflect the importance of game birds in Southern heritage. Connecting the main house to the garage and guesthouse is a long, shuttered breezeway.
Along with vernacular traditions, architectural classicism, especially that of Charleston and Savannah, inform North Cove in general and Strickland’s home in particular. In addition to the front door’s cornice, there is a pediment door surround, and in classic Southern style, sidelights and a transom. Triple-hung, six-over-six windows and decorative ironwork complete the Greek Revival façade.
New Orleans, too, has inspired Strickland. In the Big Easy, town houses typically have a gated area leading to a garden. When designing the houses in North Cove, he asked himself, “How does one get from the front back to the garden?” and found a solution by using gated walls that lead to courtyard gardens, while alleys behind structures make discrete access to garages.
Beyond being a place of “shelter, safety, a place where you feel comfortable,” the essence of one’s home, says Strickland, has a lot to do with being part of a community. In North Cove, much of the neighborhood’s social life takes place in the square just outside Strickland’s front door. Gas lanterns and narrow, pedestrian-friendly streets imbue a sense of nostalgia to the community.
“There is a reason everyone admires places like Annapolis, Savannah, Charleston, and New Orleans,” says Strickland. “These places are compelling because the architecture is human scale and feel-good.” Just like the house that Jim and Linda Strickland—and their dogs—are pleased to call “home.”