Ask an Architect: Restoring Historic Houses

Photo by Tausha Dickinson

Tyler F. LeMarinel, AIA, NCARB, is a Partner with Allard Ward Architects, LLC, a local firm he’s been involved with since 2006. He holds a B.A. in Architectural Sciences from Western Kentucky University and a Master of Architecture from the University of Colorado, Denver. In his time with AWA, Tyler has worked with a number of historic buildings, including private residences, the Public Works Garages at Rolling Mill Hill, Vanderbilt University’s Cohen Memorial Hall, and the Hall-Harding-McCampbell House (listed on our 2009 Nashville Nine). Three of these projects have been awarded Metro Historical Commission Preservation Awards, including the renovation of the firm’s own offices, located in a restored historic home on 16th Avenue South near Belmont University. We asked Tyler for his views on restoring historic homes and preservation in Nashville.

What was the most interesting part of the latest award-winning project, the restoration of the Hall-Harding-McCampbell House (c. 1805)?
One thing we see over and over again with old houses is that they are so well-built compared to today’s standards, yet they were built for folks who had a very different way of living than we do today. When someone buys a house like the Hall-Harding-McCampbell House, it’s always a challenge to cohesively reconcile the beauty of the historic structure with the functionality that is expected by today’s families. With this home, we felt as though the homeowner had a very clear vision of which parts were to be preserved and which parts would be more contemporary. It’s always a relief when the homeowner is as concerned about the historic as we are. That combined vision made for a successful restoration and addition to this incredible property. Of course, there are always some things that need help. Some may find they need to contact a foundation repair company to help bring their home back to standards, to name but one example. Similar to the restoration process, it seems equally important to maintain the house post-restoration. Regular cleaning and maintenance can help prevent problems such as mold, mildew, and dust buildup. These problems can be damaging to the structure of the house and cause health problems. Regular cleaning can be done by hiring a housekeeper from Dallas housekeeping service (or an equivalent company nearby).

McCampbell House
Harding-Hall-McCampbell House after restoration with addition visible. Photo by Tyler LeMarinel.

Do Allard Ward Architects specialize in preservation projects, or are you just frequently approached for this kind of work?
We do specialize in old houses. We really have no idea how much historic work other architecture firms do around Nashville, but it seems like we have dozens of them each year – which we suspect is more than any other local firm. We have always considered ourselves “neighborhood architects” whose goal is to provide local residents with good design guidance that will elevate the quality and aesthetics of our city. With that, we also do a lot of non-profit work, educational, business, etc.

Allard Ward Architects LLC offices on 16th Ave S.

Why do you think it’s important to preserve historic buildings in Nashville?
Nashville really does have a rich history and that history is exemplified in its architecture. Centuries of Nashville’s cultural growth can be traced by the architecture – where things were built, what style they are, what materials were used, and even how the floor plans are arranged all speak to how people lived in a different time. That heritage is worth saving, and it’s worth the immense energy and cost to love these old buildings. My best advice would be this: in Nashville’s current economy, where development and restoration is so driven by the dollar, take the time to learn about an old building, its neighborhood, and its neighbors. Learn about the people who occupied that building and how they lived in it. Let that knowledge inform your design decisions. In our experience, the special moments in the restoration/renovation of an old house have everything to do with the ideas generated from that knowledge. After all, what is an old house without its story?

Read our profile of the Harding-Hall-McCampbell House restoration!
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