Ken and his interior designer wife, Charme, relax with Peppy, their energetic Jack Russell terrier, on the porch of their rambling country cottage in rural Louisiana.
Wouldn't you like to pull up a chair and sit a spell? "The house had a cottage look outside and a more contemporary feeling inside, and we liked that," Ken says. At dusk, the back of the house takes on a welcoming aura, with its deep porch and wide back steps.
"Swept Away," the painting above the living room bookcase, is by Ken, who loves art and literature. "I'm a pluralist," he says. "I'm not religiously adhered to the idea that classicism is the be-all and end-all for all forms of expression. I think it's very healthy to expand one's creative outlook."
In the guest bedroom, soothing lavender contrasts against black-and-cream toile. The photograph of the quiet, contemplative horse adds an air of luminous mystery regarding the boundaries between species: What is this gentle equine creature thinking?
Most of us wouldn't think to put a 20th-century citrus-colored Eames chair on the porch; here it looks not only comfortable and classic but also slightly insouciant.
Ken designed this French Colonial house near Jackson, Mississippi, for homeowners who love traditional style but like a more relaxed, less symmetrical architecture than classic Georgian or Greek Revival. The architect became intrigued with the French Colonial houses when he moved to Jackson, because "they were mysterious and interesting, with gates and courtyards, and they were built from old materials."
Here the exterior doors are made of reclaimed cypress; the lintels above them of antique heart pine.
Ken wanted the living room to be both convivial and functional, so he placed the fireplace on the room's long wall. "That way, it's easier to arrange furniture and walk through the room."
A pair of Italian painted torchéres flank the mantel's Louis XVI gilded mirror. Two circa-1880 cane-seat English elbow chairs pull up to the skirted table. Used as wall upholstery in the late 18th century, French toile-pattered linen panels lend a mellow look.
Here is a view of the living room from the library. The patterned rug creates a sense of transition from space to space.
The informal floor plan has an open flow that permits a view of the living room from the dining table. The antique French refectory table is illumined by an old French fixture. Ken likes even a new house to look as if it has evolved over time. Typically such houses don't have many hallways, so "it's easy to make the dining room a space you can walk through; it can be anywhere."
In this house, the dining room is in the back, between the dine-in kitchen and living room. "I like to place the dining room so it's a beautiful space that is definitely used," the architect says.
Instead of an island, a scrolled iron table with a honed marble top seats the family in the kitchen, the owners' favorite space. The room opens onto both the front porch (shown) and a back porch. The light fixture is new. Light filtered through shutters, Ken says, is the essence of French Colonial style.
Heart pine was used for beams in the kitchen; old cypress was used for the doors and for the kitchen cabinets. The materials give a look that's honest, hardworking, and warm.
The back porch speaks of tranquility and ease, a look enhanced by wicker furniture and faded colors as soft as a Southern drawl. "Historically, these houses were built in the French Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast," Ken notes, "so for much of the year, the porches functioned as outdoor rooms."
Low-key and lovely with its mixture of patterns and worn-looking rug, the master bedroom has a reproduction mahogany bed that was re-stained in ebony for a new, vaguely Caribbean look.
For this new home, Ken's mission was to create a house that would be a cross between a French country cottage and a Caribbean cottage. It needed to have a circular main staircase and a floor plan conducive to circulating.
Evidence of Ken's preference for using beautiful and highly functional materials, the unusual balusters in the foyer staircase are individual welded-metal elements that pivot at top and bottom so that they can be turned to follow the curve of the stairway.
Ken's wife, Charme, designed the interior spaces of this home. In the living room, she used a neutral color scheme to tie things together; the cowhide rugs are pure Texan, as is the fireplace in Texas limestone that has been sandblasted.
The cheery breakfast room has a great view of the lake below the bluff on which the house sits; the willow-twig chandelier echoes the setting.
High Southern hospitality reigns in the formal dining room. The room with its neoclassical motif has windows shuttered against the southern sun, so the dining chairs are slip-covered.
For this vacation home property in the Mississippi countryside, Ken worked his magic in the French West Indies/French colonial style. Inside and out, from the shuttered entrance and metal hipped roof to the exposed stud walls and wood floor in the living room, the house is quiet and spare, a place to relax.
The courtyard deck provides a sheltered gathering space. The outdoor fireplace is finished in concrete, as is the fireplace in the living room.
To create the feel of an older home, Ken created the illusion of having carved up old spaces to create new areas, like this gallery that overlooks the courtyard and kitchen.
Quiet furnishings bow to the view.
The living room in one of Ken's own homes was featured in Traditional Home in 1994, proving, as Yves St. Lauren said, that "Fashion fades, style is eternal." A 1910 Bosendorfer piano plays to a hand-carved angel from Italy and a piano bench from India, inlaid with bone and horn. "We buy things that we like," says Ken, "and put them down somewhere and see if they relate to the other things around them. If they don't, we'll move them until they do."
The remaining images in this slide show come from Ken's new book, A Classical Journey (Images, 2011, available at aamazon.com.) Light from Palladian windows heightens a huge living room's glow. Ken notes that the ceiling's massive crossbeams are bolder than you would normally see in a home. He over-scaled them intentionally to reduce the size of the room, giving a sense of intimacy and comfort.
Ken notes that this house is purer and more austere than other classical houses he's designed, so that at first glance it looks almost too symmetrical. But within the compound--the property includes a carriage house and barn--there is a shift in symmetry. The carriage house is parallel to the main house, but the barn is set well back from it.
This imposing residence was designed for clients who wanted a home inspired by the Georgian dwellings of Greenwich, Connecticut. To create the illusion that the home evolved over time, Ken created a fictional narrative to explain its progression, beginning in 1690 with the construction of a stone storage barn.
In the Colonial Revival house where this room is located, Ken says, every space is slightly different in style. "Overall, there are a lot of design elements that normally wouldn't go together, but somehow they do. The effect is like a multicourse meal--the appetizer doesn't have to complement the dessert, because you aren't eating them together."
"The Adam blue parlor is high-style Federal, very light, very New Republic in style," Ken says. (We simply call it gorgeous.)
Who doesn't love a turret? This one is an architectural detail of a house on a small lot in a neighborhood of compact houses. The home's design, Ken says, "was formed more by intuition than any rigid program of style.the turret overlooking the courtyard, the loggia facing the lake arose from my subconscious, from the archetypal language of architecture. When I presented the drawings for the house, one of the owners said, 'I always wanted a house with a turret.' This made me realize that when one follows one's intuition without any preconceived notions, one can arrive at a solution that feels right. "
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A Classical Journey: The Work of Architect Ken Tate
Ken Tate is the Mississippi-bred master of Southern vernacular design