In the late 1960’s, Greenville, South Carolina architect Jim Neal set out to realize a dream common to many young mid-century modernist American architects. Jim was ready to transform his own organic design ideals into a home to share with family. Jim laid out his palate in the well-established tradition of Wright’s Usonian ideals. Beginning with a wonderful one-acre suburban lot, dense with vegetation and bisected by a small babbling brook, the long, low, cedar sided house was a perfect fit and served the family well for over four decades – providing an idyllic setting for raising their daughter.
When their daughter completed college the couple realized a growing interest in establishing a new setting to usher in their empty-nest lifestyle. Architectural tastes had changed significantly over the years and the couple began to explore ideas for a different style of house. Other priorities had emerged as well.
Accommodating the reality of aging and accessibility would have to be addressed in a new home. A movement toward “green building” was starting to sweep the nation. Jim want- ed to take advantage of new technologies that had grown from this movement and take an energy conscious approach to the design of their new home. This involved not only the design phase, but the careful selection of materials as well.
To facilitate accessibility, a floor plan that provided ground level access to living, kitchen, and master bedroom functions would be essential. They also desired a second floor area large enough for comfortable guest bedrooms. It would need to be accessible not only by stairs, but by elevator as well. The couple selected a site within the heart of Greenville’s oldest downtown neighborhoods and began to implement their vision.
The project slowly evolved into a 3,800 square foot brick masonry home with a stone chimney on one end and a semi-detached garage on the other. The house is simultaneously contemporary and yet distinctively old-world influenced. The enclosed courtyard evokes a European char- acter, while unique features like the over-scaled eyebrow win- dow and a curved ceiling beneath it evoke the influence of both Sir Edwin Lutyens and Robert Venturi. These seemingly divergent elements come together to create a harmonious whole – tranquil, and quintessentially livable. The home offers modern convenience and technology, yet co-exists seamless- ly within the context of the 1920‘s, Craftsman and English Cottage homes of the community.
A licensed architect since 1965, Jim founded Neal Prince Architects in 1969. Today the firm employs a staff of thirty-five. When asked about the formulation of his ideas, Jim cheerfully acknowledges borrowing from many different styles. “I’ve been able to experiment with other people’s homes for such a long time, that I couldn’t resist doing the same for myself,” he said with a warmhearted laugh.
The new home, built for what Jim
refers to as, “semi-retirement,” reflects
the couple’s anticipation of living and entertaining on the first level augmented by a second floor to quarter overnight guests. The home exhibits a very open uncluttered design with very few hallways, wide accessible doorways and other barrier free elements that will allow them enjoyment of the home well into the golden years. Always being energy con- scious, Jim notes that the second floor has, “separately zoned climate control to reduce the potential for wasted energy.”
The main living space follows the English tradition of the great hall, where several functions are combined in a sin- gle large space. Here the space is crowned with a thoughtfully articulated coffered ceiling. To one end of this great hall, a family sitting area is anchored by a
large Tennessee fieldstone fireplace.
The far end of the room is a casually arranged dining area, beyond which a kitchen is partially hidden behind an open counter. “We’ve noticed that when people entertain, everyone tends to
socialize in the kitchen,” Jim commented, “but here the open spatial movement between the kitchen and dining areas extends this social hub into the greater portion of the house.”
The great-hall portion of the house is connected to a field- stone terrace on the view side This terrace is partially covered, to provide relief from the midsummer heat, skylights and French doors daily flood the great hall with natural light. The ter- race looks over an extensive lawn dotted with old growth, high canopy trees which provide a picturesque distant view of the down- town Greenville skyline during winter months. Nearby an intimately scaled courtyard connects with the garage, which by virtue of its pass- through design, offers a pleasant outdoor entertainment space.
Jim’s perimeter detailing for the main living and dining areas is lined, floor-to-ceiling, built-in book shelves. The master bedroom features matching baths and wardrobes – his with a shower,
and hers with a tub. Their separate personalized wardrobe closets feature custom drawers and storage tailored specially for each of them. The deliberate consideration of natural light is also displayed here by a horizontal “light shelf” allowing light to transcend into the bedroom from the large eyebrow dormer common to the stairs.
This kind of thoughtful personalization extends to the pair of (home office chambers) as well, where Jim and Leonette have symmetrically placed matching studies located off the great hall. That offers a view toward the terrace and features a secondary view toward each other.
The home’s warm and welcoming character masks a wealth of environmentally responsive and energy-effi- cient features which collectively contributed to the home receiving an Energy Star Qualified Home Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This prestigious award is given in recognition of exemplary energy effi- ciency and use of green building materials in construction.
While the house benefits from many green building and environmentally savvy features, it is perhaps most usefully appointed with a feature that is not visible in the finished construction. The structure particularly benefits from the extensive incorporation of Icynene insulation used in the exterior walls, floors, and roof systems. This unique foam insulation alone provided the majority of the points necessary to qualify for an Energy Star Home designation. In its installation, water is the only trans- mitting agent for Icynene. It contains no CFC, HCF, HFA, HFC, Capital Formaldehyde or other volatile organ- ic compounds. Icynene seals out dust, pollen and other allergens from the structure; and as an air barrier, Icynene minimizes the potential for condensation and the threat of mold associated with excessive moisture.
Other energy efficient features that Jim selected included Pella windows and doors with low-E type insu- lated glass (which generated an additional significant energy savings). Jim also utilized high efficiency heat pumps to help reduce his dependency of fossil fuel based systems.
In the end, Jim Neal crafted a home that serves as a very personal statement about his convictions on design, lifestyle, aging and the role of responsible build- ing in an age of environmental awakening.