• Facing the street is the tall, two-story volume containing the bedrooms and a second, more horizontal garage volume. - photo by Dror Baldinger, FAIA

The Sumner Bohannon House responds to the specifics of its wooded Dallas site while revealing the influences of its architect’s extensive travels.

Client Jane Sumner and Andrea Bohannon
Architect Malone Maxwell Dennehy Architects
Contractor William P. Manning
Structural Engineer Stenstrom Schneider

In northwest Dallas, beside a quiet creek shaded by oak and cypress tree canopies, sits a residence built upon strata of both rock and recollection. Simultaneously modest where it could have been grandiose and ambitious where it might have been mundane, the home speaks to what is possible when open-minded clients collaborate with a well-travelled architect.

The Sumner Bohannon House is situated upon a wedge-shaped lot with a narrow street frontage, with a three-car garage protecting the main part of the house from the street. Its prominence on the site makes it clear that the garage was designed to house more than just cars — indeed, on any given weekend, the owners open the custom wood garage doors and welcome passing neighbors into a pleasant outdoor room framed by wood beams and amply lit by clerestories for a drink or to watch whatever game might be playing. The garage’s aesthetics establish the project’s design language, which involves an idiosyncratic rhythm of vertical elements in both wood and metal. At first glance, all seems familiar: A regularly spaced series of slats, spokes, and stanchions wrap the home, leading visitors to the front door. On closer inspection, however, one finds that cedar fin elements are calibrated to different angles within a playful, almost musical rhythm, and that the railing supports, pickets, and even columns are organically spaced rather than following a more traditional regular grid.

Beyond the garage, the residence itself comprises two primary elements: a tall two-story volume that encloses the more private bedroom spaces and a low, single-story volume containing the more public living spaces. A glazed stair volume serves as a hinge between these two wings of the house and incorporates a pleasant seating area with views to the creek. The simplicity of the massing is complemented by a simplicity of materials: recycled brick covered in a lime wash, cedar scrims, painted structural steel, and paint-grip metal used for roofing, exterior cladding, and fascias. The strong vertical lines of the trees are echoed in the cedar cladding, which will weather over time, further reducing the color palette. When experienced in person, the house is largely subsumed by the trees, and one’s impression is that of passing through a wooded glen to get to the home’s interior. That, according to architect Michael Malone, FAIA, is exactly as it was meant to be. The majority of the home was built over the foundation of the previous 1949 residence. Effort was taken not to disturb the site — only three trees were removed in the course of construction — and the limestone cladding of the former home was salvaged and incorporated into new retaining walls alongside the creek. Holes within the eaves of the roof and the floor of the decks accommodate the trees. As a result, the view from within the home is predominantly that of tree canopies.

One of the more notable things about the home’s interior is the way it accommodates the sloping site by means of a series of interior terraces. Individual spaces for living, dining, and entertaining are further defined by custom cabinetry that incorporates mechanical and audiovisual components. Although the spaces are divided at the ground, a continuous undulating wood ceiling floats above them all. These areas culminate in a living room featuring a large sliding window wall that opens out onto an elevated wood deck with a trellis and swimming pool. From there, a wraparound porch leads to a sun deck, a series of stepped retaining walls, and a pathway down to the babbling creek.

Malone is quick to cite the references that he drew upon in designing the home: Alvar Aalto’s use of whitewashed brick and wood scrims; Sverre Fehn’s detailing of projecting window frames and his incorporation of tree trunks within the deck and canopy; and American sculptor Louise Nevelson’s monochromatic boxes. As a consummate architectural tourist, Malone has filled numerous sketchbooks with detailed sketches of projects by these and other influences. The attention paid to these Modernist masters drove Malone to a “compulsive level of detailing” he says is best observed in the steel-to-wood connections in the central staircase.

In a world changed by COVID, a home is no longer just a home. This is certainly true of the Sumner Bohannon House, which has become the center of its owners’ work and social lives: As mentioned earlier, the garage in front of the house can be used to engage with neighbors while maintaining a safe social distance; the terrace behind the house similarly provides an opportunity for outdoor gatherings; and due to the generous living spaces, the owners have even been able to host in-person brainstorming sessions inside the home to promote creativity amongst their work colleagues. The house may not have been designed with the pandemic in mind, but its owners have found it well suited to the realities that now define our world.  

Talmadge Smith, AIA, is a principal at Page in Austin.

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