Portfolio / Historic Homes
Francis Palmer House
When Francis Palmer Smith, Dean of the School of Architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology, designed and built his personal home in 1925, he could hardly have imagined that 90 years later his beautiful Colonial Revival house would be in a state of serious despair. In fact, the condition of the house was so poor that it was unclear whether it would survive or be restored to live another day.
The house had fallen into decay from lack of maintenance to the point that the slate roof had begun to leak, the plaster ceilings had cracked or collapsed, paint was peeling from the walls, and the hardwood floors were buckling. The original bathrooms and kitchen were in a serious condition and the house was generally uninhabitable.
When Baker and the new owners, the Bergesons, arrived to examine the house, two policemen were standing at the entrance to the driveway. They had been summoned by the real estate agent to gain save entrance to the house because a squatter in the house claimed to be armed and threatened to shoot anyone daring to enter the house. The police secured the house, confirmed the occupant was unarmed, and escorted us through the debris strewn rooms. Thus began the journey to save the house and renew it for life in the 21st century.
Fortunately, the drawings were rescued in time to be preserved and are now archived at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Architecture. One of the drawings is a beautiful rendering of a beaux arts-style building drawn by Smith as a part of his thesis when he was an architecture student at the University of Pennsylvania. The owners kept this drawing and it is now framed and displayed in the home's paneled library.
Other treasures were discovered hidden in a wall safe in the master bedroom. The family had lost the combination and no one knew what it contained. The new owners had the safe opened and, to everyone's surprise, it contained diamond jewelry, Smith's pocket watch, and other family pieces! These were graciously returned to the Smith family.
Treasures of an architectural nature were found in the basement of the house. Stacked on top of the furnace were parts of the original, but now missing, front-porch railing along with an original shutter. These were used the replicate the originals and rebuild the front porch to look exactly as it had in 1925. The porch's fine columns with their Temple of the Wind capitals were repaired, and missing pieces of the cornice were recast and repaired. The broken glass in the leaded sidelights and transom of the front door were repaired, and an acid patina applied to the new lead to match the original material. Rotten siding was replaced and woodpecker holes sealed and caulked. Smith's custom shutters with heart cutouts were carefully duplicated and hung with operable hinges. When the house was finished in 2012, it looked as crisp and fresh as it had the day the Smith family first moved in nine decades earlier.
The Bergesons wanted to expand the house's service core to include a larger more modern kitchen, breakfast room, butler's pantry, and connecting