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Patch In Plain Sight: Brick, Slate Grace New Home

Local designer and builder Clay Chapman finished work on a new Tudor revival house in the MAK Historic District.

Brick by brick, the two-story Tudor Revival house at 317 South McDonough St. slowly became a reality.

Local builder and house designer C. Clay Chapman has picked up the certificate of occupancy for a new house in Decatur’s McDonough-Adams-Kings Highway (MAK) Historic District. The home took one year to build and required approval from the Decatur Historic Preservation Commission. The project also required a zoning variance to protect a specimen tree on the property.

Chapman, who lives in Oakhurst, owns C. Clay Chapman/Period Architecture and does work throughout the United States. Chapman specializes in masonry construction that draws heavily from historical architecture. Slate and brick are among his favorite materials. The new house built for Jack and Ninon Daulton has lots of  each.

“That’s your material palette," Chapman said.  The challenge, he said, is to configure the materials in ways that use relief and light to create interesting building details.

This is not a minimalist design. The 3,500-square-foot house features two soaring brick chimneys, arched brick window hoods, wing walls, flared eaves, a copper standing seam metal awning, thick slate roofing and corbelled cornices. The two-story, two-bay garage mirrors the house in materials, design and finishes.

The new home’s bricks were burned by the General Shale Company based in Johnson City, Tenn., and the Cambrian slate was quarried in Vermont. Chapman boasts that the slate is 500 million years old and that the new roof will last a century.

“When it gets replaced, 80 percent of it can be recycled into the new roof." Chapman said. "But it’s the copper that fails in 100 years, not the slate.”

The Tudor Revival style was a natural fit for Chapman’s preferred materials. "In addition to being a designer, I’m a structural mason,” he said. “The brick just has so much more of an application for the Tudor. I think Tudor is a very elegant style. I certainly have a penchant for the narrow, tall type Tudor style.”

The new house is nestled among more modest one- and 1.5-story frame bungalows and cottages. Located across the street from Agnes Scott College, the property sat vacant for 30 years. After the lot’s purchase and Chapman’s plans were announced, some neighbors expressed concerns that the green space was going to disappear and that the neighborhood’s character would be altered by the new house.

The latter concerns were heard by the Decatur Historic Preservation Commission. Because the property was located inside Decatur’s first designated historic district, the infill construction was subject to regulatory review. Regina Brewer, Decatur’s historic preservation planner, was concerned the new house would be too much for the historic district.

“The design that Mr. Chapman proposed is a wonderful design,” Brewer said. “It’s very detailed and rich but it’s a very high-style Tudor.”

Although the MAK Historic District has some high-style bungalows designed by noted architect Leila Ross Wilburn, most of the housing stock is more subdued and was built on a smaller scale -- vernacular, as some architectural historians call it. There are some Tudor Revival homes in the historic district, but those have minimal expressions of the early 20 century style.

“They are very simple in their details," Brewer said. "The only thing that really speaks to English vernacular revival is the arched door, front door, perhaps the chimney applied to the front façade and that it’s all brick.”

Brewer recommended Chapman’s application for a certificate of appropriateness be denied. The Historic Preservation Commission voted to approve the project and work began last April.

Despite his difference of opinion with Decatur’s historic preservation planner, Chapman remains a supporter of historic preservation. “Our identity is our history so certainly we need to understand where we come from and appreciate that,” he said. “I don’t think that it should stagnate our growth. I don’t think that we should adhere to anything particular to the past, but we should appreciate it and learn from it and take care of it.”

In addition to the historic preservation review, Chapman also had to come up with a creative approach to protecting an old water oak tree’s root system. The new home’s proposed driveway runs along the lot’s north side, right under the specimen tree’s canopy. Chapman’s solution was to develop a tree protection plan that included construction of a metal bridge carrying the driveway over the sensitive area.

“A conventional driveway would kill the tree,” Chapman said. “We just kind of scratched our heads a little bit and I came up with the basic design. I drew up some plans for it and we got a stability engineer involved with running the numbers on it.”

As the Daulton family prepares to move into the new home, another chapter in the MAK Historic District is about to begin. And sometimes the stories behind new houses can be as compelling as those behind the historic buildings.

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