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From the ground up: with his own two hands, a Spring Hill architect constructs a hip but humble country hideaway in the footprint of its homesite predecessor.

When John Beard decided to make the leap from renter to homeowner, he began by looking for a great location.

"At that time, I was living at the old schoolhouse in Spring Hill (near Eupora). I knew I wanted an old home place and looked all over the county for property but just couldn't find what I wanted," Beard says. "I'd been driving by this place forever, but it had a 'no trespassing' sign on the driveway. Even so, one day I pulled up, looked around, and just fell in love with the site."

A visit to the courthouse revealed that the property belonged to Beard's neighbor, Joy Hendricks, whose parents had lived in the original house. After some negotiation, Beard found himself the new owner of a dilapidated two-room dogtrot house and six acres of land.

Beard, an architect and graduate of Mississippi State University, initially hoped to restore the original structure but quickly discovered that wasn't a viable option. "I worked for about a year tearing down the old place and getting things sorted in my mind. There was so much damage to the original house--the foundation and the sills were completely gone--that 1 began salvaging material."

Once Beard decided to build a new home, he focused on creating a design that would stand in the footprint of the original house. A big factor in this decision was his desire to maintain key elements of the original landscaping. At the front of the house, flanking the porch, are a large holly and a Japanese magnolia tree. The backyard boasts an enormous mulberry tree planted decades ago by Joy Hendricks' mother.

"When I was working on the design, I knew that I wanted open space," Beard says. The 1,100-square-foot home he ultimately constructed consists of one large living area and kitchen space along with a bedroom and bath that can be closed off from the main room with sliding doors. Adding to the spacious feeling are two eight-foot-wide sliding glass doors that open onto a screened back porch that spans the length of the living area.

"Because of the shape of the hill, I knew the front of the house should be lower than the back. I built the house so the high end is north and the low end is south, and that way I never get direct sun--I just get light." Another feature that works with the elements is the wide overhang on the front of the house that shades it during summer when the sun is high but allows sunlight in during winter months. This feature adds to the rustic charm and also helps to make the house economical to heat and cool.

According to Beard, the construction materials had to meet a number of his own criteria: durability, serviceability, budget, and aesthetics. The exterior of the house is constructed of Hardi board (fiber cement siding) and sheets of corrugated tin, while the interior walls are built from 1/4-inch plywood with battens. "It gave me what I wanted aesthetically, but it also gave me what I needed from an installation perspective because they were inexpensive and still allowed me to create interesting patterns. When I first started, I would plan out each elevation and where each joint was going to be so that I could get the pattern I wanted. Then, as I was working, I decided to just let it happen. Where there's a joint, that's where it goes. It was a very practical thing, but it also has an interesting visual quality that works."

Beard has a simple answer to the question of why he chose such an open design and unusual materials. "It's just the way my mind works. I love barns and rustic buildings--probably more than I appreciate more formal forms of architecture. This house is very true to itself."

While he did most of the work himself, Beard did welcome outside help for some projects. "I had someone for the plumbing and electrical work, and John Ballard of Ballard Construction in Mathiston did most of the big framing," he says. "I didn't have a full set of detailed drawings for the project, and it was sort of build-as-you-go. I would sketch and wave my hands and explain, and he (Ballard) was very good about getting into my head on the framing details."

Assistance also came from a source closer to home. "My father (Elbert Beard of Pontotoc) was critical to it all. Working together helped us find a new respect for each other. He has a lot of experience in construction, so he was my teacher, and, of course, he had the tools ... although, through the process, my tool collection also expanded exponentially." Beard's mother also contributed to the house in her own way by showing up on weekend afternoons with a trunk full of food and setting up a table in the big room. "We couldn't have done all of this without Mom's fried chicken," he smiles.

The highest point in the house is 18 feet, and the ceiling in the main room is covered with the tin roof from the original structure. In keeping with Beard's desire to recycle as much of the original structure as possible, the island that divides the kitchen and main room is also made from wood saved from the original house. For flooring, he selected white oak for both its appearance and durability. "I wanted a true hardwood because I am hard on floors. I entertain a lot and have dogs running around and muddy boots in and out, so I needed a floor that was forgiving and something that I could live with."

Another area where Beard combined style with economy was in his choice of material for the kitchen countertops. "Before the front porch was added, we backed a concrete truck up to the front sliding doors and had a chute coming in and poured them in place. My father and my brother (David Beard of Tupelo) helped with the construction, and then I did the finishing work."

Beard also credits longtime friend Kenneth Paschall with helping him keep everything in perspective, a challenging task for an architect designing his own house instead of a client's.

Although Beard had worked on numerous design projects for others during a job in New York with the Museum of Modern Art's curator of architecture and in his most recent position with Belinda Stewart Architects in Eupora, he had never worked on a project for himself.

"It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done. Sometimes, after I had worked all day and would come back here and work until the middle of the night, I would think what a great client I would be for another architect. Next time, I may find someone I trust and admire, someone I have absolute confidence in, hire them, and not come back until it's finished."

Beard says he learned many valuable lessons while working on this project. "As a student of architecture, you're taught a certain amount of perfection in what you do. Then you start to swing the hammer yourself, and you have a whole new perspective on what's acceptable and what's not. For me, that's been a very good thing. When I first started the house, I barely knew what a hammer was, so I was on a big learning curve. Now I have a better sense of what's doable versus what's not and where those lines are."

Building his own home also brought economic reality into focus. "When I was working in New York, I could spend $100,000 designing a steel staircase. Then I started buying for myself and realized that everything I had used in my professional life I couldn't afford. So I looked for interesting materials that were also affordable. That is what this whole house is really about finding something interesting, then finding a creative way to use it."

For this homebuilder-homeowner, the most pleasing aspect of the house is the feeling that it belongs to its environment. "This particular house is about this site and couldn't be anywhere else," he says.

Beard will soon move to Greenwood to open his own architecture practice and hopes to continue designing houses that are rooted in the specifics of site and architectural tradition. His thoughts are already turning to his next home. "I grew up in a military family, so moving is what I've always done. This is the longest I have ever lived anywhere, and my best memories of this house will always be of friends and family and the great times we had here."



John Beard took an unconventional route in financing and constructing his home. Most people building a house will follow a more traditional path. Here are five key questions to consider before beginning to build:

WHO should build my home?

Before selecting a builder, look at several homes under construction as well as some that have been completed by the builders you are considering. Talk to other homeowners, and ask if they found the builder easy to contact and work with and if the job was completed on schedule. The same research should be performed when selecting an architect. Homeowners are usually willing to share this information, whether positive or negative.

WHAT kind of home does my family want and need?

This is the time to make some basic decisions about location and design. Would your family be happier in the city, or do you prefer a country location? Does your family need a gourmet kitchen, or are you looking for a large backyard? If you want to build in a remote rural location, check to make sure utility services will be available, and consider whether the site will be difficult for construction crews to access. Research local regulations or restrictions such as zoning and covenant ordinances before buying the land.

WHEN is the right time financially for me to build a house?

Take the time to draw up a realistic budget, and meet with a financial advisor. A financial professional with experience in homebuilding projects can help you arrive at a reasonable overall budget for your own home and evaluate what you can afford to spend each month. Make sure you allow for flexibility in the budget, as unexpected expenses are inevitable with any building process.

WHERE do I find the right house plans?

Begin by looking at homebuilding magazines, home design catalogs, and Web sites. For a custom home, consider hiring an architect or building designer to help design your home and draw the plans. However, there are many stock building plans available in catalogs and online that include floor plans and elevation drawings. Another option is to order a set of stock house plans and then hire a residential designer to customize some of the details.

HOW do I select building materials?

Lumber is the overwhelmingly most popular choice for home framing material. However, steel framing studs, used for years in commercial buildings, are now being used more and more in the residential market. Steel doesn't deteriorate and can withstand extreme weather conditions better than wood, but it is more expensive and requires different construction techniques. Once the frame is up, consider following Beard's lead by seeking out materials that are both aesthetically pleasing and affordable.

Architect: John Beard, Howard Street, Greenwood, 662/897-5678, e-mail

Construction: Ballard Construction, Mathiston, 662/258-5264.
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Title Annotation:HOMEBUILDING
Author:Gurner, Jessie
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:May 1, 2006
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