The great room of the Southern Living Idea House 2023 in Leiper's Fork, TN, featuring a Marvin Ultimate Multi-Slide door looking out to tall trees with fall colored leaves.

Tennessee Hilltop Oasis

Designed to look like its evolved in place over the years, the 2023 Southern Living Idea House marries the farmhouse tradition with inviting modern elegance.

Boiled down, it was this: Empty nesters. Love dogs. Love music. Love indoor-outdoor living. Simple, right? But for residential designers Bill Holloway and Luke Sippel of Lake + Land Studio, taking this description of the ideal homeowners for a house and turning it into the perfect home wasn’t just another project for a client. It was the culmination of their work, experience, careers, and partnership up until this point. It was the final exam of architectural projects: the Southern Living Idea House.

But even before the project really began for the Lake + Land duo, before they could make the dogs, music, and outdoors into something, there was a curveball that would’ve struck out even the most seasoned batters. They’d be breaking new ground for an Idea House – by not breaking new ground at all. For the first time ever, the Idea House would be a renovation of an existing home. No from-scratch build like they’d been expecting. No clean slate with which to fully articulate their design vision. No imaginations run wild. Just a “1980s Ranch house,” Sippel said. “It had 8-foot ceilings. The hallway was literally 2 feet, 11 inches.”

Something to Build On

Then, in a twist more Hollywood Hills than Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, a build site on the same piece of property as the renovation house became available. A hilltop expanse that would allow them all the space they’d need. (Owned by the project’s builders, Mary and Patrick Hatcliff, who bore a striking, if somewhat coincidental, resemblance to the empty nester, dog- and music-loving, inside-outside living clients in the project’s creative brief.) The hundreds of hours spent on plans for renovating and updating the existing house could be mostly shelved. Now they could bring their dream build to fruition, from the perfect vantage point.

“We were really thrilled when we were able to go up to the top of the hill [to build],” Sippel said. “There's this valley that falls down away from you. It's a really beautiful, majestic spot. We were thrilled to be able to get an opportunity to do a custom house that we felt was perfect for that lot.”

Realized Views

What rose from that Tennessee hillside, courtesy of Lake + Land Studio, along with Hatcliff Construction, interior design by Laura Hodges of Laura Hodges Studio, and Butch Hamby of Southern Creations Landscaping, is nothing short of a spectacular 5,600 square-foot contemporary Southern farmhouse that checks all of the boxes: perfect for dog lovers, music fans, and inside-outside living aficionados. Its thousands of visitors have described it in glowing terms, from “warm and inviting” to “stunning” to “just perfect.” And it all started with the view.

“Whenever we walked on the lot, what really jumped out to us was that view. So, one of the things that was important to us was preserving that view and having the house be transparent in the core,” Holloway said. “So, we did a completely open access, especially to the back, all the way through the house.”

Back in Focus

One of Holloway and Sippel’s calling cards is designing homes for a private lakeside community in Mississippi, so the idea of a house with stunning views and living spaces situated toward the back of the house was a natural fit. So was bringing the outside in. The designers made sure to specify an item they’ve seen requested more and more these days: a large Marvin Ultimate Multi-Slide door that, when fully opened, can unify the living spaces into an oasis of inside-outside bliss. For the Idea House, the door combines the great room with a large, covered porch that runs nearly the entire length of the back of the home on the main floor, as well as one on the lower level that opens onto the poolside.

“We wanted to give that connection to the outside,” Holloway said. “That flexibility of space, like in our living room and dining room, there's that giant door that opens up to the outdoor space, the porch. For us, that is an extension of the home.”

“We wanted to give that connection to the outside,” Holloway said. “That flexibility of space, like in our living room and dining room, there's that giant door that opens up to the outdoor space, the porch. For us, that is an extension of the home.”

Porch Life

It’d be nearly impossible to talk about a Southern home without porches, and that’s certainly the case with the Idea House. Protection from the rain, the hot summer sun, and a chance to capture some breezes.

“A lot of farmhouses would have had really high, open ceilings and a porch on each side,” Holloway said, “You'd want a morning porch and an afternoon porch.”

Sippel continued, “You have to have deep porches. People in the South live outside, it’s all about that porch living.”

Placement Matters

The natural world (namely summers full of hot sunny days) leads to some very intentional decisions in traditional Southern homebuilding. It wasn’t just your porches and house’s design, it was the way your house faced. In the case of the Idea House, for all the fits and starts of the project, it did catch one lucky break: its east/west exposure. Situated amongst a stand of beautiful mature trees, it’s exactly how a long-ago farm family would’ve built it:

“It is perfect because the sun rises in the rear of the house, so you have these beautiful sunlit mornings coming in to the house,” builder Mary Hatcliff said. “And then it sets towards the front of the house, and there are big trees in the front. So, it does provide shade from that afternoon sun. It worked out beautifully.”

“It's perfect,” she continued with a smile. “But that was kind of coincidental.”

Among the Trees

While the exposure as Hatcliff described may have been a happy accident, for Holloway, there was always intentionality around how they wanted the house to be perceived:

“We positioned the house so it was framed by the trees because we wanted the house to feel like it had been there longer than the trees,” he said. “Maybe the core of the house was original to the property and then somebody started planting trees around the house versus the house placed within the trees. We wanted it to feel as if it was really settled and like it had always been there.”

“And we were able to keep almost all the trees on top of the hill,” Sippel said proudly. “I think we only lost one with the garage.”

Hatcliff agreed with the Lake + Land duo’s take: “It does look like the house has been there and evolved generationally over the years,” she said, “with layers and layers, and different materials, and how it's changed and evolved over the years.”

Life Outside the House

The inside-outside living and interactions with the natural world aren’t only confined to porches and slider doors, there are also nods to another Southern farmhouse tradition: outbuildings. The property boasts a “party barn,” an unattached garage-like structure built for entertaining, as the name suggests, as well as a garden folly, affectionately known as “Mary’s Folly,” due to builder Mary Hatcliff’s love of flowers and gardening. There’s even a small doghouse nearby clad and styled in a way that ties it in with the house and these bonus structures.

“We loved those two structures so much,” Sippel said, referring to the party barn and garden folly. They’d been part of the plans for the original renovation project. “We took those, Mary's Folly and the party barn, because they anchor the two edges, and then the house comes out of the middle.”

Cues from the Past

Attention to detail and reverence for the past is readily apparent in the house for those with a keen eye, especially when it comes to the windows. Holloway excitedly talked about how the mulls between the windows in the front of the house are wider than they’d be on a contemporary home. And why, you ask?

“We usually have around a 5-and-a-half-inch mull and that's to mimic historically what people would have in older houses,” Holloway explained. “The stile would have ropes and pulleys inside of it, and that's why the mull would be that width. We use that trick a lot … a nod to Southern and historic architecture.”

In Tune

With the house being just 30 miles south of Nashville, it was only right that the Music City left an imprint on the home, and it does so in the clubby, almost speakeasy feel of the downstairs music room, deftly designed (like the rest of the house) by Laura Hodges.

“We could not have been paired with a better interior designer for this project,” Holloway said. “The way she honored the architecture; it was tasteful, subtle, but timeless. It was awesome to work with her.”

Lastly: Ruff-ing It

Empty nesters? Music lovers? Inside-outside living? All accounted for. Sure, there’s the outside doghouse, but what about the rest of the dog design cues? It’s hardly a Southern porch if there’s not a dog by your side.

“The house is set up for dogs,” Mary Hatcliff shared assuredly. “There are dog beds all over the place. In the laundry room, there's a dog wash and a dog feeding-and-watering station. You won't be able to miss the dogs.”

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