Tennessee Modernism: Knoph House by Felder Weeks

Structure: Nic Knoph House
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Felder Weeks
Date: 1967
Tidbit: Nic Knoph was ready to build his dream home and he wanted it to have a stunning view (as dream homes are wont to do). So he selected a site on a sheer cliff overlooking Fort Loudon Lake. He enlisted local architect Felder Weeks, of the firm Painter & Weeks, to design the magnificent structure. Once it was finished, the house featured a funicular that took you from the dock to the house. But the true highlight of the house was the “River Room” (photo at top), a room which cantilevered 14 feet over the lake, giving the inhabitants the “feeling of being on a ship’s prow.” The house still stands and looks to be in great shape.

Layout of the Knoph House
Historical aerial photo from 1969
Historical aerial photo from 2020

Tennessee Modernism: Shaw House by George Fred Keck

Architects (and brothers) William & George Fred Keck were thrilled. They had been asked to design a “House of Tomorrow” for the 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago. During construction of the house, however, a funny thing happened. As the workers built the house, the greenhouse effect from the glass facade being installed trapped so much heat in the house that the workers were able to work in short-sleeved shirts despite it being freezing outside.

William Keck & George Fred Keck’s House of Tomorrow (1933)

William & George Fred noticed this phenomenon, and began incorporating it into their designs. They found that this type of passive heating was not only good for the environment, it could often save the homeowner 15-20% on their energy bill.

Fast forward to 1951. Down in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Dr. Clarence Shaw was attempting to have a world-renowned architect design a house for him, and it wasn’t going well. You see, Dr. Shaw had been corresponding with Frank Lloyd Wright. The problem, though, was that Wright didn’t really care about the housing needs Dr. Shaw was expressing. Shaw described his back-and-forth with FLLW as “considerabl[y] one-sided.”

Dr. Shaw decided it was time for a change. He began corresponding with Chicago architect George Fred Keck. The result of their collaboration became one of the only passive-solar houses in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The house, sited on a wooded lot that (somehow) also looks out over the river, features soaring 19’ ceilings and a concrete + Douglas fir walls.

Mrs. Shaw on the terrace of her house

Structure: Dr. Clarence Shaw House
Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
Architect: George Fred Keck
Date: 1952

Tennessee Modernism: Still House by Hayes Fleming

Structure: Stanley Still House
Location: Kingsport, Tennessee
Architect: Hayes B. Fleming
Date: 1973
Tidbit: In Kingsport, Tennessee, there lived a man who loved the water. His name was Stanley W. Still. Now Still loved the water so much, he opened a bait & tackle shop, so he could sell the tools of the sea. But alas, that proved not enough…Still wanted to get closer to the water! So, he hired a local architect to design him a house perched high on a cliff, overlooking the water.

That architect was Hayes B. Fleming. Fleming was born in Belzoni, MS (in 1924), and studied architecture first at the Institute of Design at IIT and then at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. From 1960-1964, Fleming was a principal along with Hubert Bebb in the Gatlinburg firm Bebb & Fleming. After a few years at the firm, Fleming left and moved out to Johnson City, Tennessee where he would have a solid career designing late modern residences, including Stanley Still’s house.

Tennessee Modernism: The Horizon Homes of Tennessee

Enough of this ephemeral stuff, let’s be concrete! In the 1960s, house construction was booming. New housebuilding materials, many created for WWII, were making their way into the hands of house builders.

The Portland Cement Association (PCA) saw this as an opportunity to bolster their trade. They created the Horizon Home program, a program designed to “give support and greater effectiveness to better home design” while also encouraging “broader interest in the many new uses of concrete.” The program functioned like this: Each year, the PCA would give awards (prize money) to houses that were designed by architects and built out of concrete. Then, they’d showcase these Horizon Homes in their brochures. All over the country, hundreds of these houses were designed, built, and showcased.

Much like the ALCOA Care-Free home program, the Horizon Home program eventually shut down because, as it turns out, 1960s concrete was not a cost-efficient material with which to build houses.

Tennessee had at least three Horizon Homes built (that we know of), one in each section of the state (east, middle, west). Only two of them have been discovered, so let’s have a look at those those.

Structure: Tennessee Horizon Home (East)
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Painter, Weeks & McCarty
Date: 1961
Tidbit: East Tennessee representin’! Now although the firm Painter, Weeks & McCarty is credited with this design, it’s highly likely that architect Bruce McCarty was the designer as this house shares some concrete features with another concrete house he designed in Knoxville (the Concrete Bent House).

Howard Cockrum was the house’s builder
Google Street View of the house (flipped to match the perspective of the ad)
Knoxville Horizon Home floor plan

Structure: Tennessee Horizon Home (Middle)
Location: Hendersonville, Tennessee
Architect: Hardie C. Bass
Date: 1962
Tidbit: This Middle Tennessee house was built by notable Nashville-area home builder Braxton Dixon.

Hardie C. Bass’s rendering of the house
You can see some of the concrete flourishes on the second story wall

Now, according to the literature, the West Tennessee Horizon Home was built in Germantown, Tennessee and designed by a Memphis-area architectural firm called Ost, Folis & Wagner. At the time of writing, however, I haven’t been able to discover the house. If I find it, don’t worry, I’ll update the blog.

Tennessee Modernism: The Hunter House by E. Fay Jones

Structure: Dr. Sam Hunter House
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Architect: E. Fay Jones
Date: 1964
Story: In Memphis, Tennessee there lived a couple, Dr. Sam Hunter and his wife Jody. “Hunter” seems an ironic name for a doctor, one would think he’d be a park ranger or something, but I digress. In the late 1950’s, Jody was flipping through an architectural magazine when she spotted a black-and-white photo of a house architect E. Fay Jones had designed.

E. Fay Jones in front of his architectural drawing

Now, let’s talk about architect E. Fay Jones for a minute. Jones was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He got an architecture degree at the University of Arkansas, obtained a master’s degree in architecture from Rice University, and then took a job teaching at the University of Oklahoma. He returned to Arkansas a few years later and ran his own architectural practice while also teaching at his alma mater (UofA). Jones was a close friend and protege of Frank Lloyd Wright, and their relationship would prove fertile ground for Jones, it would propel him towards a strong organic modernist streak, which would eventually cement his place as one of the most prolific modernist architects in Arkansas. But all of that fame n’ fortune hadn’t happened yet. So let’s get back to the Hunters.

In the early 1960s, the Hunters went to Fayetteville, Arkansas to meet with Jones and ask him to design them a house. Jones was reticent. He preferred to supervise his builds, but given that Memphis was roughly ~320 miles away, that would be impossible. After some discussion, the Hunters convinced Jones to design them a house in Memphis by promising him they’d “get a fine, conscientious builder so [Jones] could show [the builder] how he drew on a grid system.” Jones recalled, “It gave me a little confidence to do work farther from home.”

But before he would draw any plans, Jones asked the Hunters to keep journals about how they lived and what they did every day, so he could discover what was important to them. Dr. Hunter put it this way, “[Jones] said ‘I don’t want to know how many bathrooms you want.’ He wanted a philosophy of [our] life.” Chief among the Hunter’s desire were unrestricted vision to the outdoors, the ability to watch the weather change, and a house that brought the outside inside.

The house itself was constructed of heartwood tidewater cypress (a favorite of Frank Lloyd Wright’s due to its warm red tone and natural resistance to water). The woodwork (including 300 cabinets, lighting, seating, and tables) were built on site. The floor was made of flagstones, and Jones had a designated “stone hunter” whose job it was to artfully find-and-place the stones in such a way that they (1) looked aesthetically good and (2) used as little mortar as possible.

And thus it was that E. Fay Jones, notable Arkansas architect, designed a house in Memphis.

Tennessee Modernism: Fiser House by Hubert Bebb

Structure: Fiser House
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Hubert Bebb
Date: 1961
Tidbit: In the early 1960s, Knoxville, Tennessee had a prominent home builder named John Fiser. Joe had always wanted a lake house, so when the time came, he turned to notable Gatlinburg architect Hubert Bebb and had him design a gargantuan 4,600, tri-level, hexagonal-shaped house overlooking Fort Loudon Lake (later additions would bring the house’s square footage up to around 10,000 sq ft). Sparing no expense, John hired Jim Cleveland (an architect-designer) to design + decorate the interior with imported fixtures from Spain, wool carpets, and a Robert R. Bushong screenprint (for the focal point of the main room). The ink wasn’t even dry on Bebb + Cleveland’s plans before John began building the house (he was a builder, after all). The stonework alone took 6 months! Unfortunately, the house didn’t transition well into the modern era. The house itself was neat but, according to the Fisers, didn’t have all of the amenities one would want from a modern house. Although they put time and energy into seeing whether a rehab was feasible, they decided that it would have been too costly, and the house was demolished in 2012. The good news, though, is that much of the original house’s materials were used in a new build on the site. That said, we bid you RIP, hexagonal house.

Google Satellite view 2010
Google Satellite view 2013

Tennessee Modernism: the ALCOA Care-Free Home by Charles M. Goodman

Structure: ALCOA Care-Free Home
Location: Maryville, Tennessee
Architect: Charles M. Goodman
Date: 1957
Story: The year is 1957, and ALCOA (the Aluminum Company of America, now called Arconic) decided that more people should live in homes made out of aluminum. It was as much of a sales pitch as anything else…but it be quite the experiment.

ALCOA hired architect Charles M. Goodman to design what they called the “Care-Free” home. The houses were 3 bed, 3 bath, 1,900 sq. ft. and were filled with colorful aluminum (used both as the structure of the house and as decoration). These pictures from the brochure show just how ALCOA was planning to market the houses.

This Care-Free house (in Portland, Oregon) gives you a look at the house in real life, and showcases the prominent use of aluminum throughout.

To get folks interested in these unique houses, ALCOA decided to pay for + build the first batch. They planned to build 50, but only 24 were ever built. As it turns out, building a house out of aluminum is quite expensive. The houses were intended to cost around $25,000 ($230k today), but they ended up costing double that price — and thus weren’t affordable for the middle class market ALCOA was aiming for.

Luckily for us here in the Volunteer State, one of the the 24 constructed houses was built in Maryville, Tennessee. It’s been unsympathetically remodeled however the bones still look to be in pretty good shape (probably due to the sturdiness of all that aluminum).

Tennessee Modernism: Cabin by (and for) Gerhardt Nimmer

Structure: Gerhardt Nimmer Cabin
Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Architect: Gerhardt Nimmer
Date: 1960
Story: Are you ready for a story of travel, love, and architecture? In 1908, Gerhardt Nimmer was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin to August and Ida Nimmer. August, Gerhardt’s father, was a carpenter and a house builder.

In 1934, Gerhardt fell in love and married a woman named Hazel. Gerhardt became a CPA, and the couple spent their lives working + building a family in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In order to get away from the hustle n’ bustle, they began taking vacations to Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the 50s.

Now, although Gerhardt was a CPA by trade, he had acquired a love of woodworking and carpentry from his father. Thus it should come as little surprise that, in the late 1950s, he picked out an 8-acre plot of land on a high bluff overlooking the Great Smokey Mountains and determined to build him and his family a cabin.

Recruiting some skilled laborer friends from back home in Minneapolis, Gerhardt designed + built a glass-filled mountaintop cabin for him and Hazel. The simple, Miesian-style house still sits atop that hill: a simple 1,120 sq. ft. monument to what hard work, love, and resilience can achieve.

Tennessee Modernism: Residence by (and for) Joseph Goodstein

Structure: Joseph Goodstein Residence
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Joseph S. Goodstein
Date: 1964
Tidbit: The Sequoyah Hills neighborhood of Knoxville, Tennessee is known for large traditional style houses. But peppered in among them are a handful of interesting mid-century modern style residences. This, is one of those houses. The strikingly modern home was designed by architect Joseph S. Goodstein as his personal residence. Joseph’s father (Ben) was a local kosher grocer (say that five times fast) in Knoxville, so after Joseph finished his architectural studies at the University of Cincinnati he came back to town, got married, and started his own architectural firm with Sam Good. The firm was called Good & Goodstein, although if you ask me, they could have called it Good+Stein.

In any event, Joseph lived in this house for 42 years until the current owners purchased it. The exterior (which is in excellent shape) features a slight butterfly roof reminiscent of Mario Bianculli’s modernist home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s wonderful to see this house still proudly sitting in stark contrast to the more traditional style homes surrounding it.

Tennessee Modernism: Fairhill by Cliff May

Structure: Stewart Henslee House (called “Fairhill”)
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Cliff May
Date: 1949
Story: In the early 1940s, a Knoxville, Tennessee furniture salesman (Stewart Henslee) joined up with the Navy. He was stationed at Naval Base Coronado (NBC), a base that sits on the island of Coronado, California (an island just off the coast of San Diego, California). While stationed there, he met + fell in love with one of the Coronado residents, Miss Marjorie Walbridge. In 1942, the two of them were married on the West Coast.

Two years later (1944), Stewart and Marjorie purchased 384 acres of property that formerly belonged to R.L. Sterchi. The land, out in West Knoxville, was extremely rural and came with a 40-acre lake.

Stewart Henslee (left) holds young Marjorie, Marjorie Henslee (right) holds Stewart Jr

Now, since Marjorie was from Southern California, she was quite taken with the styles of architecture that were native to her home state. Styles that evoked the old ranches that used to dot the arid California land. Stewart was amenable towards the style as well, having been stationed in California for some time. So the couple commissioned up-and-coming California architect Cliff May to customize one of his designs for them. If you’re not familiar with Cliff May, here’s a great primer on him. Cliff May was known for designing California ranch-style houses, so it only seemed right that the Henslee’s had him alter one of his California ranch-style plans for their new Knoxville residence.

The photo below is a plan Cliff May called the “Postwar Demonstration House,” and it bears a striking resemblance to the house May ended up customizing for the Henslee Family. It’s quite possible they visited this house (or a house much like it) in San Diego as Cliff May was heavily promoting his houses in the Southern California area.

© University of California, Santa Barbara
These are the actual blueprints of the Henslee’s house

The Henslee’s called their new home “Fairhill.”

Marjorie Henslee photographed from the porch of her Cliff May-designed home, “Fairhill”

Unfortunately, things did not stay fair on that hill for very long. Given both of their wealth and status (Stewart was the head of the Fowler Brothers Furniture Co, Marjorie came from a wealthy family due to her great uncle helping create the Libby-Owens-Ford glass company) the couple went through a very public divorce in early 1963. Later that year, Stewart died of a heart attack. The house itself stood up on it’s hill as the land around it slowly got carved up and sold. The house was eventually demolished around 2012, and to this day the house’s former site is just an empty dirt lot.

Another one bites the dust