Phil Coffman belongs in that category of lucky people that grew up in a Mid-century Modern house, and over time Phil has learned the value of his father’s Arkansas Mid-Century Modern home: The Chambers House.
A personal significance exists, for Phil, already when it comes to this iconic piece of architecture of Fort Smith, Arkansas. “My father bought the house for my mother, who loved it.”
Rumors always swirled about who designed the house. Phil’s father is the only person who actually remembers that the architect was Ernie Jacks. After some research, Phil found Jacks to be an emeritus professor at the University of Arkansas. Previously, the architect served as the Associate Dean of the university’s school of architecture.
When Phil reached out to the professor for advice on finding a good appraiser, Jacks filled him in on the house’s beginning days. “Your house is very much an example of Mid-20th Century Modern Architecture”, he wrote. It turns out the home’s design is the product of Jacks’ early work in Los Angeles with architect Craig Ellwood, who designed some of the most elegant homes of the 1950s and 1960s, and Edward Durell Stone.
Phil says, “I asked the professor so many questions that he sent me his memoirs of Craig Ellwood, I think just to shut me up. It worked. Until I finished the memoirs.”
Books by and about Stone, instead, only exist in reference in the Los Angeles Public Library, Phil found. He searched until he came across a copy of a biography by Stone’s son at UCLA. He arrived at a point where he had the memoirs of Jacks and of each of the key designers who influenced his father’s Mid-Century house design.
The connection to Stone is obvious with how Ernie Jacks built the corridors. Ed Stone hated hallways. That’s why, rather than a hallway at the front of the house, there is a dining room, which connects the living room with the breakfast and family rooms.
One of the corridor’s walls overlooks the central terrace while Stone’s influence is also seen in Jacks’ technique with the bedroom corridor. “In the case of the bedroom corridor, Jacks took a hallway, made it wider, and then made cabinets of storage out of the extra space.”
Ellwood’s influences on the design, instead, are in the ways the vertical steel columns are positioned and planted into the hill.
Jacks considers the Chambers House to be one of his prized accomplishments. Its design took place during winter of 1962 then construction began in the spring. “The house is of unusual quality if only because of its walnut interior woodwork – unheard of or impossible today – and the restaurant-quality kitchen equipment, Jacuzzi bath, four fireplaces and library”, wrote professor Jacks.
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A good architect needs a good builder and a good owner. Professor Jacks regards the builder of the Chambers House to have been the “very best” he “ever encountered”, while the owner “spared no expense”.
Oscar Chambers was the house’s first owner. Much of his influence spawns from his family’s needs. “The kitchen has an indoor grill, hood vent, and a counter-top of laminated hardwood which is a cutting board, because Oscar Chambers liked to cook”, says Phil.
The house has brick floors and a large central terrace that has an upper and lower level. Off of the kitchen is a small breakfast terrace. Because the Chambers had several children, there is a playhouse, a play room, and a wing for just the children’s bedrooms. The design also boasts a long children’s balcony, a 2-storey playhouse, and walnut cabinetry in the children’s bedrooms.
Also Phil, in his way, is leaving his own influence and touches with how he has taken care of the property. He arranged for a landscaping crew to bring up the dogwoods, magnolias, and hollies around the house, which had almost totally covered it before.
To preserve the historical legacy of the house, Phil also initiated registering the home with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. If the house gets onto the National Register, future owners will have the opportunity to claim up to $25,000 in tax incentives for work done on the home.
Overall, what are Phil’s favorite features of his family’s house? “The paneling of western red cedar seems to absorb and get rid of smells.”
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