The thesis for my architecture degree was the transformation of a city block in my hometown of Kingsport, TN. Kingsport was a planned city with Broad Street, the main retail street, spanning between the Train Station and “Church Circle”, a semi-circular street with the Protestant churches located around it. By the mid 1970’s, retail shops, cafes and the two movie theaters were trying to compete with the new mall and many of the second floors of the original buildings were underutilized or empty. I selected a two-story city block opposite the historic Train Station with a distant vista to the mountains and designed second-floor apartments with roof gardens. I actually heard from one developer but he was apprehensive about marketing downtown living at that time. Thankfully, the founding of the Congress of New Urbanism (CNU) in 1993 with its tenets including walkability, connectivity, mixed-use, mixed-housing and quality architecture/urban design began a movement for living downtown.
Easton Village was developed using the CNU principles and today individual developers are stepping up to transform downtown by bringing housing back. I watched with great interest as the team of Easton Equity LLC and Charles Goebel Architects transformed the lot between the Town Hall and Mason’s Restaurant. The original two-story building had suffered the grievous indignity of two additions, both of which were small single slope block buildings with no architectural character. The remainder of the lot was parking with minimal landscape at the rear.
The thoughtful site design began with adding a high white fence with a gate at the rear of the lot with a dual purpose not only to hide the parking lot behind it but also to access the parking. Another white fence at the front of the lot surrounds the two parking spaces added next to the Town Hall and the fence at the front of the lot has a gate leading to the stamped concrete sidewalk leading to the ground floor apartment and the Cottage. The remainder of the side yard was enhanced by hardscape and landscape. The meandering path of individual paving stones between plantings of ground cover becomes a solid path between higher plantings leading to the stone terrace at the rear with benches for the residents. The landscape now provides a delightful view from the adjacent Town Hall windows. The other side yard is narrow for service but is finished with the same level of detail with white fencing and a stamped concrete sidewalk. Between the existing building and the rear detached Cottage is another hardscaped area of stamped concrete with a grille, table and chairs for the tenants to enjoy al-fresco socializing. The surrounding buildings provide an enclosure for this space as a counterpoint to the open space of the side yard.
The architecture was totally and magnificently transformed. Gone are the front porch wrought iron supports, odd second floor window arrangement and the undistinguished attic window. The elegant front façade now stands proudly in her place in the streetscape. There are now white columns detailed with simple caps and plinths at each end of the façade with the third column framing the bay containing the original front door that has been stripped and refinished. The main floor bay window now stands out in the wider column spacing of the other bay. Three 2/2 windows are equally spaced on the second floor and side windows at the low slope extension over the front porch creates a delightful sitting room for the second floor apartment. The third floor now has an accent window with decorative dual arches over the header that is more in keeping with the houses in the Historic District. Creamy white trim, moldings, corner boards, skirt boards and light yellow lap siding create a tranquil color palette.
The side elevation facing the landscaped yard is equally appealing and since the building telescopes down slightly Charles Goebel cleverly wrapped the lap siding at the front corner and then changed to vertical board and batten siding at the step-down break for greater architectural interest. A small addition at the back side increases the interior space for the first floor apartment while providing the second floor apartment with a delightful balcony for a panoramic view of the landscape below. Roofs with brackets over the side entrance to the first floor apartment and the Cottage’s entrance, dormers that project above the roof eaves, skirt boards, corner boards and moldings further articulate the façade.
The front entrances to each apartment were spaced to create an entry sequence to maintain privacy for each tenant. The second floor apartment has the original front door and staircase whose original balustrade was restored. The first floor apartment door was set into the middle of the side elevation and both it and the Cottage front door at the rear of the lot overlook the landscaped side yard. I was able to tour the second floor apartment and the sunlight from multiple windows, wood floors, moldings and trim, open plan living-dining-kitchen balanced by the rear two bedrooms creates a stunning home environment.
The other apartments also have unique floor plans. The ground floor apartment has an open plan living and dining area with the bay window at the front and a fireplace centered in the side wall flanked by two high windows. The side entry with a coat closet and powder room opens to a vista to one of the side windows. Between the living-dining area is the core of kitchen and large ADA accessible bath with two equally sized bedrooms. The free-standing one-level Cottage is angled slightly to follow the rear property line. Half of the space is an open plan living-dining-kitchen next to two bedrooms separated by closets and an ADA accessible bath.
This project sets the bar for new downtown housing-a stunning architectural transformation, wonderful open and enclosed outdoor spaces for the residents, thoughtful and efficient interior layouts-who could resist being in the heart of Town if you could live here? Easton Equity LLC is committed to enhancing Easton’s Historic District and downtown with housing. They are flexible and can work either as the Project Developer or become Partners with building owners who wish to develop their buildings. Bravo Team!
Spy House of the Week is an ongoing series that selects a different home each week. The Spy’s Habitat editor Jennifer Martella makes these selections based exclusively on her experience as a architect.
Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.