Home Sweet — Midcentury Modern — Home

By Gretchen Eichenberg

A conversation with architect Stan Love

It’s a tale of two architects and two homeowners, working and living half a century apart, but just one home. Both owners wanted a house in a desirable location, one suitable for young children. Both architects had an appreciation for strong geometry of design and an organic approach to architecture. One of them started the house in 1960 as a 2,500-square-foot modern home. The other, Stan Love, designed a renovation that doubled the size of the space and made it the perfect place for Austin and Amy McCourt to call home. The project took creativity, flexibility and a genuine respect for the original structure.

Love was a university architect for Baylor University for 12 years, beginning in 2001. He lectured in the university’s interior design program and taught residential design for six years. He now works for a private firm in Dallas but was happy to get back to Waco to oversee a project he says is now a significant example of midcentury modern architecture.

WACOAN: Give me a little history of the home and the person who designed it.

Love: The home was designed by architect Robert S. Bennett and built in 1960 for Dr. and Mrs. Gilbert Anderson. It was probably one of the first homes on that corner and was definitely a corner piece for the neighborhood.

WACOAN: Tell me about the original structure.

Love: Architecturally speaking, the home had a very linear design. It is designed along a sort of spine of masonry columns that run end to end. At one end you had a large living area with a family room, dining room and galley kitchen. And at the opposite end you had four bedrooms — small bedrooms, all about the same size — and two bathrooms.

WACOAN: So, the home was likely built for a family with children?

Love: It was. The bedrooms were actually called out in the original plans as two boy bedrooms, one girl and a master. What was going on was that the two boys were sharing a bath, and the master and girl’s room shared a bath in a sort of Jack-and-Jill style.

WACOAN: At this time it was built, what style would this home have been considered?

Love: Definitely a modern home as opposed to the very traditional home. In speaking with one of the architects’ sons, it was heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, who was the master of the 20th century movement in terms of a more modern slant.

WACOAN: What features would have made this house a modern home?

Love: Very large corner glass in the family area and the amount of glass in the home. The very low profile, deep overhangs of the roof. The use of masonry concrete block, which is usually considered more of a commercial product in today’s market. Roofs were ceilings, so attics were virtually nonexistent.

WACOAN: Did the architect build other modern homes in Waco?

Love: From what I understand from his son, he did. His son also confirmed that his father had a very organic approach to architecture, which is something about which I am very supportive.

WACOAN: What does it mean to have an organic approach to architecture?

Love: I mean the transition or transparency of the exterior walls, allowing the outdoors to become part of the indoors. In this home that is very evident in the amount of glass that is used, particularly in the living areas. So, it’s that relationship from inside to outside space. Also with the deep overhangs, you are able to control the shade on that glass. That speaks to the whole idea of being organic.

WACOAN: And this approach is characteristic of the modern home?

Love: Frank Lloyd Wright was very into nature and the natural. His designs oftentimes worked well and fit into the site. So, the site is very important.

WACOAN: Is Frank Lloyd Wright an architect you admire or have been inspired by in your work?

Love: He is. In architecture school at Texas Tech [University] in the mid ‘70s, we studied Frank Lloyd Wright, and he certainly did really seem to have a command of space. One of the things that is very obvious about his work is the strength of the geometry of the plan. And when you look at [this house], you see lots of angles.

WACOAN: Explain what you mean by ‘the strength of the geometry.’

Love: Instead of thinking in terms of straight lines and forming more rectilinear or square spaces, the geometry, in this case, has to do with angles. Everything in this home seems to be turned on angle. The corners are turned on angle. The columns are turned on angles, which you might find a little odd. But we’re talking about art and architecture. So, it adds interest to the design to break a straight line and turn an angle or turn a curve or create a curve. When you look at this floor plan, it’s pretty obvious that someone was working with a 45-degree angle triangle when they were drafting. Everything is skewed on the corner.

WACOAN: How does the strength of the geometry correlate to the organic nature of the home? To me, those seem to be opposing forces, in a way.

Love: With geometry, there is strength along an axis. And while you may think you want to see more symmetry in a design, there’s something that holds them together. And in this particular case, it is the spine, the arrangement of those columns and how that seems to centralize the space.

WACOAN: Is it often that you get to design or work with a home that is Frank Lloyd Wright-esque?

Love: I have toured a number of his homes both on the West Coast and up north. They are very hard to repeat, for one. But actually, I have not designed or renovated many midcentury modern homes.

WACOAN: So, is it a special treat that this project came your way?

Love: Yes, it was a challenge and a great opportunity. The thing that makes Frank Lloyd Wright’s work great is the strength of the geometry of the plan.

WACOAN: It sounds like you really respect the original design and, therefore, the architect.

Love: When I first toured the home after I was commissioned, there was an emotional response. That is what any trained architect is trying to accomplish — to get an emotional response. I sensed that right away, walking in and seeing the space.

At the time, the house was in need of renovation and repair. But to me, it was masterfully done. Part of my original task was to determine what could be done. Or would we take it down and start over? My immediate response was that I could sense the art, architecture and classic design. I was honored to have such a nice piece, and I never wavered from the idea that I would preserve what [the architect] had done for his clients.

WACOAN: Were there any major renovations to the home before you touched the project?

Love: There were a few minor things that were not in the original plans, like a powder room, which was added near the front of the home. Also at some point, the master and the girl’s bedroom were joined to make one larger master suite.

WACOAN: Let’s fast-forward to 2012. Tell me about the McCourts and what drew them to this home and what they needed you to do to make it work.

Love: I met the clients several years ago. They were living in a beautiful traditional home in Hidden Valley. They also owned a piece of property with beautiful views that overlooked Lake Whitney. We designed to build a new lake house using some fairly traditional materials but with a very sleek design. The result was quite stunning, and they fell in love with it. The design was truly a product of the owners and the architect together. And they fell in love with the whole idea of preserving a midcentury modern home. This seems to be a trend, especially with younger couples.

WACOAN: Thanks to the TV series ‘Mad Men,’ I believe.

Love: I can say this, to have a successful story like this requires great owners that are willing to trust and work with a designer and respect what we are trying to accomplish with the space.

WACOAN: Did they go in search of a midcentury modern home? How did they come upon this home?

Love: Location, I think. My understanding is that this house was on the market one day. But I think location was the primary draw. They both work in town, the kids go to school in town, and I think they would like to use the country club more.

WACOAN: What were the risks of a project like this?

Love: There was a lot of skepticism about whether or not we could even do this. It’s such a gray area. You can either make or break the total investment. If you’re not successful in the way you approach adding on to a home like this, it can be very risky. It’s important that it be handled with care and by someone with enough experience to be able to do that.

WACOAN: What were the McCourts’ goals for their new home?

Love: They have two young children, so I think the first thing was to make the family fit into the space. As it was, there would literally be no privacy. That was probably the single largest concern. There needed to be some separation between the parents and children. What was being described to me had to be a children’s wing because there were two bedrooms involved.

WACOAN: What about the master bedroom?

Love: The master was not considered what would be desired in a new custom home, so there was a lot of work that had to be done to transform that. They also wanted a guest room and a study. And they wanted the kids to have some entertainment space in their wing.

WACOAN: That’s a lot to add.

Love: That’s what brought on the idea that we would attempt a two-story addition. This was a real challenge because you’ve got a low-profile single story, and we didn’t want to mess that up. But we needed to create enough space in that wing to include all that, plus we needed a new master bedroom suite.

WACOAN: New as in a new space altogether?

Love: Part of the concept was to find the point in the design where it seemed to fall off, and I don’t mean in a bad way but rather where to take the current design and enhance it. So, I looked at the portion of the house off Fish Pond [Road]. There was a spot out on the very end of a glass gallery that looked off toward Fish Pond. It had to become a significant place, in my opinion. I designed the master suite by demolishing the two adjoining old boys’ bedrooms and bath and adding a piece of foundation to reconfigure that area into a bedroom, his/her closets and a super-modern bath.

WACOAN: What was your approach?

Love: I looked at geometry and took some existing shapes and transposed them, mirrored them, to get the same angles and make the roofs work. I had to remove the existing carport and rebuild it 90 degrees perpendicular to where it was. And that became the location for the two-story addition. I basically took the original footprint and planted the two-story addition on top of what was the original carport. I carefully orchestrated the geometry to find locations for these pieces that were added in.

WACOAN: Where did you fit in the guest room?

Love: The original master became the guest bedroom, and then opposite that is the study.

WACOAN: So, it is still a four-bedroom home?

Love: Yes. That didn’t change, but the bedrooms are a lot larger and different now. Also, each bedroom has its own bath. And we gained the study.

WACOAN: Were there other considerations, like major system overhauls?

Love: We stripped everything out of the original interior. We took all the finishes down. We replaced all the plumbing, electrical and mechanical, which was a major expense. The electrical wasn’t up to code, but that wasn’t a surprise. Mechanically, we wanted a more smart heating and cooling system. The home also needed all new insulation. We made everything as energy efficient as possible. We replaced old single-pane windows with high-performance glass.

WACOAN: What other goals, besides increased interior space, did the McCourts have for their home?

Love: They love the outdoors. We addressed the exterior site with beautiful landscaping, and we kept the existing pool structure but changed the finish. They wanted to create an environment outdoors that was equally as fun as indoors. We also added an outdoor pavilion with a fireplace, outdoor kitchen and bar and seating that comes right up to the pool, and this creates the shade you need to be able to enjoy the outdoors in the Texas heat.

WACOAN: How long did the project take?

Love: Everyone had in their mind and was hopeful that this would be an eight- to nine-month project. It took a couple more than that, maybe 11 months. A lot of that was due to, for instance, finding out that the plumbing needed to be replaced. Those things take more time.

WACOAN: If you were to walk into the home today, not having been the architect for the renovation, what would you say are its best qualities now?

Love: I’d say they are some of the same things that you would say of the original design. When you walk in the home, you see things like the block columns, and you know that some of that original character and charm are still there. I feel success in that I’ve been able to preserve this wonderful piece of architecture from the midcentury and to take it and further it and adapt it to the 21st century and the modern family.

WACOAN: How significant an example of midcentury modern architecture is this home for Waco?

Love: For Waco, Texas, it is very significant.

WACOAN: What would you hope an architect 50 to 60 years in the future might come in and appreciate about the home and your designs?

Love: I would hope that they wouldn’t know where the old ended and where the new began. I hope they wouldn’t be able to differentiate between the two and that there would be seamlessness to the design.