THE ARCHITECT’S SON: Lessons From My Father’s House

By Peter Freeman • Photograph by Amy Freeman

My father would have turned 90 this past fall. Time meanders and memories scatter, and from time to time I squint to remember the contours of his face or the tone of his voice. But as chance would have it, the lessons of my father are all around me. My wife, Amy, and I stumbled on the opportunity to purchase the High Point house I grew up in many years ago, and seized the moment — not only for nostalgic reasons, but because the house “got” us. That’s right . . . the quintessentially midcentury Modern house was smart, efficient, simple and up-to-date with loads of personality — even though it was designed more than 60 years ago and as you probably guessed, by my father.

When he built the house, my dad, Bill Freeman, was an up-and-coming architect of 26, with a young bride and a newborn son. And as I have come to learn, even at that early age, he was able to demonstrate through his craft important lessons that I’ve carried through my life. “Be curious,” he would say, so that I might look at the world from a different perspective, to continue to search or see another approach  to a problem that I hadn’t seen before. In a similar way, the house offers an invitation for curiosity, with sweeping views to the outdoors and seductive layered views from room to room, constantly reminding me to look again.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” was Dad’s way of making sure that my siblings and I poured our all into any task — and just as important, that we finished with the same vigor we started with. How often, in my youth, did I lose interest in a given project? I can’t believe I ever earned my Eagle Scout Award. Without my father’s guidance and fi rm encouragement, I may not have completed many of my proudest accomplishments. His persistence and thoroughness is evident throughout the house, its thoughtful details carried through in plan and elevation with the golden rectangle as an organizing element. (The golden rectangle or “divine proportion” has been used for centuries as a ratio for composition in design and the arts.)

The structure is honest, visible and an integral part of the aesthetic. The rhythmic composite beams penetrate the width of the house and gracefully intersect the built-up columns quietly following through their task.

“Half the battle is getting the paper taped down to the drawing board,” is another of Dad’s pearls of wisdom. It served as a constant reminder for me to just get started, not to hesitate and not to procrastinate.

This lesson has carried me far, especially in difficult times when the challenges of the day seem unrelenting. My father reminded me that the act of doing overcomes stagnation, and that a little “get up and go” goes a long way. But I don’t have to search far to seize this energy: Dancing light that pierces through overhead skylights and carefully positioned windows creates dynamic displays of movement, shaping and reshaping the space that is our home. What a range of mood and spirit the light and shadow provides from morning to evening, day to day and [season to season!]

“Be brave” was my father’s most common farewell. What a powerful salutation to embrace my next exploit. Those two words have always stuck with me as an open invitation to walk fearlessly, unafraid to express myself or be an individual. In the same way, our house is truly an original. Designed for a specific site and its environmental attributes — a wooded slope and small creek below — it combines authenticity with uniqueness in both form and attitude. Its style (International Style Modern) was a bold departure from other homes from the same era. Just living here, I intuited that my father followed his own path.

My family moved away from the house while I was still in grade school, but the lessons of my father, so evident in its walls, followed me. Now, I have the opportunity to share those lessons with my family. Some would say I’ve come full-circle; I prefer to call it coming home.

Peter Freeman is a practicing architect with Freeman Kennett Architects and a self-described modernist and new urbanist. Following in his dad and granddad’s footsteps, Peter continued in the family practice and assisted his father in the design of the Greensboro Country Club, The Grandfather Golf and Country Club and various projects for GTCC, among others.

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