The Best Laid Plans

A collection of the state's most architecturally significant homes



Courtesy of the Arkansas Architectural Archives, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries

Eden Isle, 1965
E. Fay Jones, architect

MC1373_SeriesVI_Stoneflower_LifeImage001TThe duplicity that characterized much of Jones’ career—a grounding in lower-level, cave-like spaces, offset by airy ceilings and light-filled, almost chapelesque upper levels—was perhaps never explored quite so deeply and deliberately as it was at Stoneflower, the vacation home Jones designed for two young, design-savvy landscape architects in 1965 near Greers Ferry Lake.

Shortly after it was completed, its lofty, cantilevered roof and sunken grotto caught the eye of the editors of Life magazine, who published a feature on the house, “Escape House High and Low,” in the summer of ’66. “On one level it is an airy tree house, high above the ground, with a deck that sways a little as if the wind were moving it,” the article stated. “On another level it is a cool cave, snug inside rock walls with even a hot-and cold-running waterfall. Overall, it is an all-purpose escapist home, sitting on a bluff in the foothills of the Ozarks.”

And though Jones’ captivation with both tree houses and caves—elements that had fascinated him since his childhood days exploring those Arkansas foothills—had figured prominently into his Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced designs, Stoneflower also marked a bold departure: an intense, exaggerated movement towards the vertical. This “verticality” would both distinguish Jones’ work from that of his mentor, and characterize his later career, particularly his AIA-award-winning Thorncrown Chapel, whose dimensions—24 feet wide, by 60 feet long, by 48 feet tall—are exactly double those of Stoneflower.

“I know that the folks who own Stoneflower would agree that it’s very chapellike,” says Greg Herman. “For one, they have all their family weddings there.” —kb

Stoneflower can be rented as a vacation home for $199 a night. Visit for details.


Courtesy of the Arkansas Architectural Archives, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries

The Edmondson House
Forrest City, 1980
E. Fay Jones, architect

Sitting on the screened-in porch as a gusher of rain patters on the tiled roof, the cream-colored stucco walls and the redwood siding largely unaltered, though perhaps not quite so pristine as it was when it was built back in 1980, Don Edmondson talks about his house. Which is to say, he talks about Fay Jones. In fits and starts, interspersed with anecdotes, Edmondson talks about a time long ago when Jones stood roughly where we are now (though on bare ground a few stories lower), looking up at the trees and down at the ground and back, nearly hypnotized, cupping his hands around his eyes, before telling Edmondson that they really ought to move the house a little higher up the hill.

_MC1373_Edmundson_Elevations_Presentation_smallTAs he stood there with the man he’d first met as an undergrad the better part of three decades before—Jones had given a half-dozen lectures for a course on fine-art appreciation and Edmondson had decided, right then in the lecture hall, that he’d have a house built by that man—Edmondson remembers thinking, “Ah, hell.” He’d already had Jones design one home for the 3-acre plot of land in his native Forrest City, the plans for which he’d kept on his office wall for years. But now that Edmondson was finally ready to build, it was clear Jones saw a different house than he had before.
The house that Jones would ultimately design—and a master craftsman and general contractor by the name of Jimmy Finch would construct—would take all of three years to build. Unlike Jones’ other homes, however, this one wouldn’t have a budget, and outside of a handful of constraints, Jones was given total creative control. After spending a year on the design for the house—a four-story structure rising so naturally from among the canopies of the surrounding fauna that it felt more like an extension of the grounds than an interrupting element of the landscape—Jones would be finished.

“I wouldn’t call it his most iconic house or anything like that—like, the Fay Jones look house—he deviated from that,” says architect Marlon Blackwell, a student of Jones’—and who has his own home featured on page 68. “But in that house he shows his dexterity that really speaks, I think, to his greatness as a designer. That he was able to get out of his own shell and try some different things, and make a wonderful, wonderful piece of architecture.”

But even though it does veer from what would traditionally be considered a Fay Jones home, the sheer scale and scope of the comprehensive design—the fact that the man is in literally every square inch of the home—makes it a complete expression of who Jones was. In each of the more than 100 construction designs—particularly the geometric “E” motif whose subtle lines can be found everywhere from the front door and molding to mailbox and stationery, a system of design elements and recurring themes which coalesce and make the disparate pieces a whole—you can find Jones’ touch. So, too, can he be “found” in the guesthouse, where the fireplace’s reflection is cast out into the night among the trees, and in the mile of redwood used to make a pergola on the plaza—all of which were added a few years after the main house was completed, but which still fuse and blend into the larger whole. Even in the way the house has aged—the way that the lichens have mushroomed in wobbly defined continents over the cream-colored stucco, lending it a twinge of darkness which Jones said was beautiful and they ought to keep—it’s possible to find his legacy.

In a sense, then, for the Edmondsons, who came to know Fay and Gus so well, in every interaction they have with earthenware plates and bowls in the cabinets, with the way they climb the stairs, and the imprint they make in the couch, it’s impossible not to be reminded of Jones. But of course, as he sits on the porch and the rain begins to clear, to hear Edmondson talk about the way it was planned, it couldn’t have been any other way.

“I want this house to be everything that you are,” he remembers telling Fay. “I want everything you’ve got in this house. In this property. You are the moviemaker, the ticket taker. Without you, that show doesn’t go on.” —jph

Bridging the Gap

Photos by Rett Peek

L-stack House
Fayetteville, 2006
Marlon Blackwell and Meryati Johari Blackwell, architects

RP_arlife_140608-0709cTNot long after the move, the houses changed. Where once there had been pitched roofs and boxed windows, colored-pencil structures more in keeping with the forms immortalized by teaching aids and Parker Brothers, there were now axonometric boxes. Squares stacked askew on other squares. Drawings reflecting a new idea of what a house could be, which in the words of the young artist’s father, architect Marlon Blackwell, “tips its hat” to its architectural forebears and typologies specific to the region—the dogtrot, the shotgun—and builds from them. In the house located in Fayetteville’s Wilson Park neighborhood, there’s a purposeful dialogue between the local and the universal that still manages to abide by classical principles of proportion and scale in its design. In Blackwell’s words, it is a “roux” of sorts, “where the discipline and the act of discovery overlap.”

And as you might expect, people have taken notice. In the years since its 2006 completion, the 2,500-square-foot residence has had its fair share of accolades—most notable among them an American Institute of Architects Housing Award. But for everything that it does so well—the way it overcomes a difficult trapezoid-shaped lot bisected by a seasonal creek; the way its windows act as apertures on everything that appears just beyond in the swaying of trees and the coursing of the water beneath—that it exists at all is notable just the same.

“I think that it’s the sort of natural progression of this place—of the impact the house has had,” says Modus Studio’s Chris Baribeau (who, it should be noted, worked and studied under Blackwell’s tutelage). “I think that the legacy that’s been established through Stone and Fay and Warren Segraves, and then Marlon, is that you can see that trajectory of testing ideas and thinking about the Ozarks and the place and the people and society, and all that—you can test that through built form. … It is part of that fabric now because there is such a legacy of it.”—jph


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