More than Machines for Living: The Priceless Design Lessons of a Small Southern Town

Like many people in my profession, literally for as long as I can remember I knew that architecture was a path that I would follow. Also like so many of those people, I have always felt that it was not me who chose architecture, rather it was architecture that chose me. It was more than a childhood love of crayons and markers, Lincoln Logs and Legos (although that love was most definitely there!); for me, there was always a persistent passion for houses, specifically.

I have since learned to credit much of that to the small town in which I grew up.  Bainbridge is nestled deep in the southwest corner of Georgia, and is the epitome of a small southern town.  It has all the history, charm, character, and drenching humidity that one would expect.  It has a broad, slow moving river, a Victorian town square, and a Christmas parade.  The people there are kind, gracious and endearingly suspicious of outsiders. And the houses there are everything that those in a turn-of-the-century South Georgia town should be:  they are grand but humble, classic but quirky, and reflective of the souls that both lived and live in them.  A canopy of ancient moss-draped live oaks and pines makes these perfectly imperfect houses feel as though they fell straight from the pages of Gone with the Wind.  But Bainbridge is real.

The color palette and front door details on this house have long been an inspiration. I also love the simplicity of its silhouette. I used a trim color very similar to this one on my own house recently.

One of Bainbridge’s most iconic Victorians, I can still remember watching the restoration of this house when I was a child.  It's mix of symmetry and asymmetry has always been intriguing to me.

The sense of place that this house has is almost palpable.  Its connection to the street and to the live oak in its front yard are almost as noteworthy as its mix of classical and Victorian elements.  One of my long-time favorites, with lots of lessons to teach.

Seldom do I start a project - whether for a new house or a renovation of an old one – that I don’t call on my memories of growing up in Bainbridge, and the lessons its houses unknowingly taught me. The visual inspiration that comes in the form of my library of images, both digital and mental, is priceless, of course; but more often than not I look to those houses to inspire a mood, an emotion, a feeling – those elusive, intangible elements that make a house more than simply a structure, by giving it an almost tangible personality.

The circa 1907 Callahan House was built for a local steamship businessman.  The overt references to his profession and stature in the community have captured not only the spirit of the era, but the spirit of its original owner.  It is locally known as “The Steamboat House”.

This is one of the few truly neoclassical residences in Bainbridge, and one of its finest.  It was built in 1903 from bricks that were made in its own back yard.  I have always found the scale and proportions here to be impeccable, and the way it sits amidst the towering oaks is near perfection.

Le Corbusier, one of the pioneers of Modern architecture in the first half of the 20th century, once commented that “a house is a machine for living”. While I do agree with a great deal of his architectural teachings, my own design philosophy speaks entirely to the contrary, thanks in large part to my hometown. I prefer to think of houses, rather, as “a backdrop for living”. I believe we must think of the houses that we design and build as places both inside and outside of which lives will unfold. We must infuse them with a purpose, an innocence, a sense of place, and a veritable personality that puts those lives in their most flattering light, making the houses themselves cherished members of both families and communities.

The classic symmetry of this house is perhaps more influential on me than any other in Bainbridge.  There is a naivety and sophistication about it that gives it such personality; even its imperfections are endearing. The wing wall on the right has become one of my favorite architectural devices.

Houses can be precious and beautiful. They can be elegant masterpieces of design and construction. And while these are things that I most certainly strive for when designing a house, I also know that a house can be nothing without a lovable character and spirit that invites real life to happen. For this knowledge, I am most grateful for the experience of growing up in a small town in the South.

Brandon Ingram is owner of C. Brandon Ingram Design, an award-winning full service Atlanta-based Residential Design Firm with major concentration on Custom Homes, Renovations, and Architectural Interiors. Drawing constant inspiration from classic and traditional architecture of the past, Brandon artistically crafts homes that are rooted in history, but are also unique and of their time. A sense of charm, character, and familiarity created through subtle, honest details have become a hallmark of the CBI portfolio. A South Georgia native, Georgia Tech Alumnus, and winner of the prestigious Philip Trammel Shutze Award, Brandon has designed homes throughout the South, and has been featured in local and national publications.