One of the great things about our profession is that we receive invitations to design projects of all sizes.  The ingredients of any abode are basically the same – shelter, living, sleeping, bathing.  Sometimes the bowl we mix them in is considerable – oftentimes it’s small.  A commenter on a recent post requested I spotlight a few of our more diminutive concoctions.  I’m happy to oblige.

IMG_0661 copy

This house is located in the bucolic West End neighborhood of Aspen. Adjacent to downtown Aspen, the West End district is composed primarily of narrow lots which once housed modest “miner’s cabins”. Over time, many of these humble cabins have been leveled to make way for more modern dwellings. This Victorian inspired cottage is probably one of our narrowest- at its widest point it’s a mere 24 feet. Given the stringent restrictions of land use in Aspen, available square footage is severely limited by the city. Although this certainly holds back the designer’s hand in terms of space, the end result is a miniaturized scale maintaing the charm and quaintness of the area. This little gem comes to a total of less than 2,000 square feet of heated space above grade.


Cindy Smith, an interior designer in Charlotte North Carolina had been searching for years for a lot in in the tony area of Meyers Park. As often happens in popular neighborhoods, property was difficult to come by. She finally stumbled upon someone who offered to sell her a portion of their rear yard. This street-facing property, a whopping 60 feet wide, held much promise in the imaginations of us like-minded designers. Unburdened by the needs of suburban garages and mudrooms, Cindy envisioned an urban French townhouse with a gravel motor court delivering you right up to the oversized front door. Upon entering this 38-foot-wide placard of a house, one traverses along the length of a two story light-filled side gallery which serves as circulation and dining – proving that even small packages can be a host for great drama.


The previous examples were certainly made small by site limitations. This cabin, on the other hand, had vast property at its disposal; its needs were merely modest. A weekend house situated on a gentleman’s farm, this minute dwelling serves up humble comforts but offers them regally. Nestled beside a lake in a soft-spoken manner, this little lodge sought to elevate simple camping to new heights.

Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley

All Content on this Site is the Property of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture. Copyright © 2014 McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Each house we design and draw is a work of art, handcrafted in its detail. We often refer to the houses we design as bespoke, like a custom tailored outfit: a dress or a suit. Just as every house needs a bedroom, bathroom and a kitchen, every suit has sleeves, buttons and collar. Each bespoke suit is made to fit the wearer and every house we do is crafted for each of our clients.

We often find ourselves taking the analogy further. Each house can be discussed in anthropomorphic terms – relating it to the human body or figure and even how we dress our bodies.


When you are out on a porch, enjoying the view, the porch roof should sit down low, like the brim of a baseball cap over your eyes. Perfect for a sunset and a cool drink.


An animated thatch roof sits on top of a landscape folly like a hat, one perched playfully and dramatically on top of a graceful head.


Chimneys or parapetted gabled ends of a Cape Dutch house have shoulders. Nobody wants to see slouching shoulders on a person, so these house “shoulders” should appear relaxed but strong, graceful but confident.


The rafter tails along the edge of a roof should always sit down on top of the doors or windows under the eave. If not, it will reveal too much “forehead” above the doors. That would be like wearing a top hat tilted back at a 45 degree angle on your head.


Houses will sometimes have projected bases or watertables that act as a “belt” around the façade. The human body can look disproportionate if a person wears their belt too high, or too low, or cinched too tightly. A house is the same – its belt will allow the base below to be grounded, while the body (or torso, if you will) above is elevated and accentuated.


Landscape walls and stone bases are meant to be like flared pant legs, or pants with a cuff, providing a connection to the ground that is stable and organic.


Some houses, like their owners, are meant to be tall, slender and elegant. Other houses are low and humble, rooted to the landscape, salt-of-the-earth and kind, just like their owners.

Every client has their distinct personality and style; so too their house. Art and life are entwined in each drawing and design.

“Ars imitator vitae. Ars vitae.”*


John Sease for McAlpine Tankersley

*translation: “Life imitates art. Art imitates life.”

Congratulations to commenter Jan Hoenk, the lucky recipient of last week’s giveaway!  A copy of our little book, Finding Home, is on its way to you.

All Content on this Site is the Property of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture. Copyright © 2014 McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, All Rights Reserved Worldwide


We always like to celebrate the anniversary of our blog “Finding Home” with a giveaway – a chance for our readers to grab one of our brass rings (well, usually they’re paper but we hope they have value to our fans). So, to honor our second anniversary, we’re offering the chance to possess a rare McAlpine Tankersley item. We published this little book Finding Home (coincidentally that’s where this blog obtained its moniker) about 10 years ago to celebrate our then 20th anniversary. It was a self-published tiny tome – its pages comprised of sepia photographs of our work and Bobby’s poetry. Originally it was given out to our clients as a humble thank you for their years of patronage. I can’t tell you how many requests I get from folks who want to buy one of these. We only have two or three left and I was able to sneak one out of our business manager’s clutches. Barbara Sallick, the founder of Waterworks, tells me she keeps it on her bedside table and even honored it on her blog.

Leave a comment below and this minute treasure could be gracing your bedside table.

Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley

All Content on this Site is the Property of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture. Copyright © 2014 McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, All Rights Reserved Worldwide


Bobby McAlpine and Susan Ferrier are like an old married couple, often finishing each other’s thoughts and sentences. It’s no wonder their built collaborations are often so seamless, resulting in a body of work celebrated by some of the top shelter publications in the world. On Thursday, January 30th, the public will get the rare opportunity to crawl into the minds of this creative pair. Bobby and Susan will be sharing the experiences of their combined efforts at the esteemed Cathedral Antique Show in Atlanta, Georgia. Tickets are available here.  It’s bound to be an exciting experience to see and hear how architecture and interior design can work, hand in hand.


Available soon is the duo’s first collaborative tome, Art of the House: Reflections on Design from Rizzoli Books, available for pre-order on Amazon.


Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley

All Content on this Site is the Property of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture. Copyright © 2014 McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

There are those who think money is essential in creating something architecturally beautiful. Elaborate finishes, rich materials and custom elements do ratchet up building costs but one need only look around to see that pricey elements are also attributes to a lot of ugly.

I posit that what sets the graceful and beautiful apart from the awkward and homely does not have a price tag attached to it at all. Any thing of great loveliness possesses three magnificent qualities: composition, balance and proportion, none of which cost a dime. To the common eye, this essential triptych of good design goes beautifully unseen. You just instinctively know when something is pretty or looks perfect. These are the mystical tools of any good artist, sculptor and architect whose adept eyes and hands can take basic elements and alchemize them into something extraordinary. This creative orchestration – not monetary expenditure – is what actually separates the sheep from the goats.

Stepping off my soapbox for a moment, I’d like to show some examples to explain how one can see these essential design elements in a piece of work.


The street elevation of this house is an excellent case of how a simple orchestration of elements can create bold imagery. Here, the main gable is squarely anchored by a grand second floor bay window. This bay is made even more lofty by the squatty humble door assembly below – a playful game of proportions. This strongly centered balance is at once thrown off by the lilting roof to the left. Finally, the two small windows (one on the first floor and the other on the second) act as perfectly placed pieces in the composition, tilting the scale to bring the entire formation into balanced harmony.


The prior example was a simple composition exercise; this one is a bit more complex. It is interesting to note, though, that the same basic elements are used – beautiful music is still desirable whether your stage contains a quartet or a full orchestra. In examining this house, the front contains three strong elements – a powerful central gable, flanked on the right by a thin, soaring chimney and a an assembly of stacked windows to the left. This whole composition is a play of proportions – take for example the tiny windows hugging either side of the chimney, almost like children hugging close to their parent. Balanced in the middle of the gable, the enormous stair window sits atop a tiny slit window. Throughout the design of this house, whenever a grand gesture was made, an apology immediately followed. Here, asymmetry, with a nod to symmetry, leads the conversation of civility and balance.


I’ve been speaking of using these elements in the design of a house but, since they are artistically universal, they can also be used in interior design. Take for instance, the above vignette. The strong presence of this Italian desk is paired with a tall, wiry floor lamp – a play of proportions – think Mr. and Mrs. Jack Sprat. The robust symmetry of the desk is then asymmetrically balanced by the grouping of gilt candlesticks on top and a pair of vases on the writing surface. A small painting and book act to further visual equity. Finally, an upholstered stool weights the top-heavy composition to the floor. All is now right.

Look around your life. I’ll bet whenever you come across anything pleasing to your eye, whether it’s a building, a room, a painting, a sculpture, a furnishing – anything of design- it will undoubtedly be a masterful assembly of composition, balance and proportion. You can’t put a price on this. These unquantifiable components are indeed priceless.

Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley

All Content on this Site is the Property of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture. Copyright © 2014 McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, All Rights Reserved Worldwide


As an architectural element, nothing is more inviting than a bay window. It’s literally like basking in your own personal terrarium, a guest of the concentrated, surrounding sunlight of the day. Traditionally, bay windows are quaint elements furnished with only a long, cushioned seat fit for the single lazy reader or the family cat. We feel, however, these luminous habitats are suitable for much more: their warm, encompassing ambiance should be amplified and celebrated.

By enlarging these fanciful devices, we create spaces that can house entire seating groups, casual dining areas or bathing rooms. Suddenly there is room for all in the coveted window seat. These ports in the storm can now harbor more boats.

On the exterior of the house, these architectural accessories become glowing lanterns at night, light spilling out into the evening. Like moths to a flame, we are unconsciously drawn to these beacons.

The napping cat suddenly has company.


Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley

All Content on this Site is the Property of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture. Copyright © 2014 McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, All Rights Reserved Worldwide


We’re excited and proud to announce a new partner here at McAlpine Tankersley. No, it’s not Barbara Bush (though we wish her well in her recovery) but the fellow to her right, David Baker. David joins Bobby McAlpine, Greg Tankersley, Chris Tippett and John Sease as a leader here in our “factory of original thinking” (Bobby’s fond phrase for our office).

David, a native Canadian, began working as a summer student intern and joined the firm right after he completed his Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1998. Soon afterward, he married his wife, Carol, and began to raise a family. Three children, Isabella, Davis, and Lily, call him Dad.  He craves the outdoors and any extra time not devoted to his job, family or church, is spent either on the field, court or green. David’s endless energy and creativity over the years have been made evident in the projects he’s helmed, some of which are pictured below.


Construction picture of a South African Cape Dutch inspired estate, located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This house was recently photographed by Architectural Digest and will be featured in an upcoming 2014 issue.


The salon of a recently completed house in Houston, Texas.


Construction of a classical pool cabana, a part of a major renovation project in Charleston, South Carolina.


Construction of a new restaurant, LaV, in Austin, Texas.  Progress on the restaurant was recently featured on the popular national dining blog, Eater.


Construction of a shingled lake house at Lake Martin, Alabama.

Thanks, David for being our long time comrade and we’re happy you’ve joined our professional fold.  We look forword to the lovely wonders you’ll no doubt continue to create.

Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley

All Content on this Site is the Property of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture. Copyright © 2014 McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Scan 1

Today, we celebrate our 100th blog post!

In keeping with the centennial theme, I’d like to share the profile of our firms that is featured in the January issue of Architectural Digest’s AD100 issue. I’m also including a few paparazzi pics from the AD100 announcement event that took place at the Four Seasons Pool Room in Manhattan last month. This is an esteemed group of 100, of which we are honored to be called a member.

I eagerly anticipate our next 100 posts. Thank you for reading my weekly ramblings for the past two years and I wish you hundreds of blessings in 2014! May it be a grand year.


Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley

Photography courtesy of Patrick McMullen

All Content on this Site is the Property of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture. Copyright © 2013 McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Exterior35mmDetails-0038Walking timidly, toward Christmas
not trusting what I know to want or confess.

I am humbled by design,
by all I’ve gotten and squandered.

The desitnations I’ve mispronounced.
The answer hovers in the air
around me
too familiar too see.
It is “something to pray for”
that is haunting me.

When I was small
it all seemed simple.
I’d put my coins in piggy banks,
but as time rolled on
they had holes and all became gone.

For I’d stored my wishes
and trusted in currency given
not found,
not by me.

So now thoughts roll toward
what I’ve mined myself,
and is mine.

And strangely,
there is no hole.

“I’ve found my wealth.”
I cannot lose.
The treasure is mine.

I surrender
that what’s inside
is all that is mine.

The rest I’ve plumbed
to trot outside.

I’ve found my prayer.
I’ll pray today
to stay that way.

Bobby McAlpine

Photo by Tria Giovan

All Content on this Site is the Property of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture. Copyright © 2013 McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, All Rights Reserved Worldwide


I once heard Bobby tell a potential client “Never hire an architect or designer until you see how they live”. In other words, do they actually practice what they preach? On this blog, we show a lot of the work we do for others but today, I’d like to open the doors to some of our staff’s homes – in particular, the kitchen. Here’s what a few of our staff have at home on the stove.

During Bobby’s residency in Nashville (he now calls Atlanta home), he renovated and lived in three houses. The picture above is from the most contemporary of the trio; the following is from the most traditional. Both kitchens had a culinary laboratory-like feel and were featured in Veranda and House and Garden, respectively.


My wife, Mary Robin Jurkiewicz, and I have also renovated three houses here in Montgomery. Two of the projects featured a bold programmatic move -the relocation of the kitchen function into existing dining room spaces. In most older houses, the kitchen is usually relegated to a servant’s position in the rear of the house. Meanwhile the beautiful formal dining room usually languishes unused. Room reassignment suddenly allowed a vibrantly active social space to be placed in the least used real estate in the heart of these lovely old houses. Once situated, these “exposed” kitchens called for a new aesthetic – one of furnishing the room as opposed to lining it with cabinetry, A large island replaces the dining table and free standing appliances serve as buffets and armoires. I call these experiments in design the anti-suburban kitchens.


In the renovation of their Craftsman style cottage, partner Chris Tippett and his wife Anne decided to make their renovated kitchen look like an old Southern sleeping porch. Wood plank walls, barn door pantries and wrought iron touches compliment the humble nature of their simple, elegant kitchen.


In the renovation of a turn of the century neighborhood fire station, staff architect David Braly and his partner Mark Montoya turned their talented hands to the creation of their eclectic kitchen. This casual cook’s hearth, located at the end of their sunny living room, comes across quaintly European in nature. It’s evident in this design that David’s extensive travel experiences have marinated and were brought home to simmer. As a matter of fact, this kitchen was recently featured on another blog and can be found here.


Nicely composed and appointed spaces aren’t just delegated to our designers.  Our business manager Richard Norris and his partner, Mark Leslie, turned their small sunlit garden facing breakfast room into a brilliant example of restraint and elegance in kitchen design. A less-is-more exploration, their happy kitchen utilizes a few bold elements: an elliptical marble-topped island, a pier mirror backsplash, a ridiculously gangly gothic chandelier, all combined to create a harmonious chamber orchestra piece. This kitchen was also featured in House Beautiful’s book Kitchens.


I’ll wrap up with the smallest kitchen of the bunch – the kitchen in my Manhattan apartment. Due to the efficiency of New York real estate size, It became an editing exercise in juggling necessity and beauty. Basically a glorified contemporary buffet juxtaposed with a rustic rolling island table, it showed me what little you actually need to get cooking.



Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley

All Content on this Site is the Property of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture. Copyright © 2013 McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, All Rights Reserved Worldwide