Views of sprawling farmland and rolling hillsides are unobstructed from a structure that sits high on the Tennessee hills. Three years ago, a couple purchased this land and had a countryside observation tower built — the first in a series of structures on the property. Atop the tower, a glass jewel box offers panoramic views of the vista. “We saw an opportunity to build something special on this spot,” shares Jamie Pfeffer of Pfeffer Torode Architecture, the firm hired to design and build the silo. “The idea was to have a small getaway for the owners and to have a place where they could entertain and enjoy the natural setting.”
The structure was built with materials that celebrate the surrounding landscape. “The materials are locally sourced and harvested,” Jamie explains, “and the palette was very intentionally tied to the color tone of the landscape and the vegetation.” The outdoor fireplace and grill area features stone harvested from the site, that was then artistically placed by Ben Page of Page|Duke Landscape Architects.
“We had a blast doing this project,” Ben tells us. “We had such a great, deeply involved team with a talented architect and dynamic client. Everyone was energized by the opportunity and the drama of the site and the building.” Along with Jamie and the client, Ben scouted the property and when they arrived at this location, it was an aha moment. “We canvased the property, and this site was beyond the most compelling for a building like this,” he says. According to Ben, the clients are deeply passionate about the inside-outside relationship. “The outdoor fireplace area was a very organic outgrowth of their lifestyle,” he explains. “We used native, indigenous materials and were particularly careful to make sure the existing tree canopy was essential to the final design.”
The rich materiality continues inside the home with natural oak, chiseled stone and stucco with a stucco spiral staircase anchoring the space. “When you are doing a very small, vertical structure, the stairs have to become both art and function,” Jamie says. “The staircase adds to the drama — you are in an open well before getting to the glass box, where you can be free and unencumbered.”
At the foot of the stairs, the entryway welcomes you. Known as the “Thunder Room,” the entryway was designed to withstand the muddy boots that accompany visitors who have likely spent time exploring the surrounding land. As the first substantial structure on the land, it often was (and still is) a shelter for those caught in a storm. Concrete floors and heavy masonry give the space a rustic feel. While Jamie wouldn’t describe the structure in its entirety as practical, the Thunder Room is a practical space within. The stairs lead from the Thunder Room to a small kitchenette and powder room. A contrast to the levels above and below it, the support level is framed by oak, thick stone walls and balconies on either side. “A natural-oak and chiseled-stone kitchen offers all the modern amenities needed, and a 19th-century Swiss farmhouse sink brings a sense of history and permanence to the powder room,” shares Peter Fleming, who leads Pfeffer Torode Architecture’s Interior Architecture Studio.
Pushing the boundaries of design, the observation room allows you to walk to the edge and look beyond the structure. The space is small, but its impact is amplified by the glass windows. “All of the compression that was emphasized below is relieved,” Jamie explains of the dramatic opening up of the space. “The box floats atop a masonry base, and there is a certain kind of integral, applied strength that comes out of the countryside.” Commanding views of a large pasture, the valley and the horizon are seen from the three walls of floor-to-ceiling windows.
“Obviously, it is a special project. This is not an everyday living space, which means it is done on a smaller scale — a distilled project. You can see the attention to detail and the thoughtfulness in a project that is pared down to the essentials,” Jamie says.
- Architect: Pfeffer Torode Architecture — Jamie Pfeffer, Jonathan Torode, Peter Fleming
- Masonry: Peffen Cline Masonry
- Structural Engineering: Ruth Alwes Engineering
- General Contractor: WAC Contractors
- Landscape Architecture: Page|Duke Landscape Architects — Ben Page
- Photography: Jon Cook
- AIA Middle Tennessee Merit Award
- Highest honor from the Masonry Institute of Tennessee for Excellence in Masonry
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