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  • Harris Armstrong, South Side

    Posted on September 1st, 2005 Toby Weiss 8 comments
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    Because of this report, I got to tour this house!

    After posting photos and a review of an Armstrong house for sale in Kirkwood, the current owner of the above house simultaneously contacted BELT and architect Andrew Raimist. She invited us over for a delightful afternoon of architectural euphoria and info sharing.

    Before processing any of my surroundings, I immediately ran up to the second floor and out onto the deck (below, left & right. Click on all photos for a larger view).

    I’ve spent years gazing up at this house on the hill, imagining myself on that terrace, calmly gazing out at the city below me… And here I finally stood.
    And it was good.
    And I threw up my arms in victory, squealed, “Yessss!” and waved to any of the people driving down Chippewa who just might have glanced up and noticed a deliriously happy gal dancing atop the house.


    (Above, left & right) The backyard of the former Deffaa Residence (where the tombstone of their beloved pet Nuki still resides) is surprisingly large and lush, with the newest owner adding copious greenery accented with whimsical details throughout. There’s even a secret gate at the end of the yard that lets you walk down to the public sidewalk below.

    Most all of its original details remain in place (above, right).
    While the house is wildly different in style than its neighbors (above left), it gracefully fits in, serving as an exclamation point for the immediate neighborhood.

    And one of those neighbors was the gal who now lives inside. Living down the street, she had long coveted the house, and the minute a For Sale sign went up, she knocked on the door to ask for a tour. The owner let her inside, and as she stood in the entry quickly surveying the first floor, she said, “I want to make an offer.”
    The owner said, “Uh, don’t you want to see the rest of the place, first?”
    Of course, she did, but she already knew she wanted it.
    Before financial common sense could kick in, she turned in contracts to the realtor. Immediately after that, major panic set in. But her architectural destiny was this house, and she’s deliriously happy as the Lady Of The House (LOTH).

    The top level of the house is the master and 2nd bedroom (above, left & right, respectively), and both have doors that lead onto the outdoor terrace. There is a generous amount of light pouring in because of all the windows, and trees frame every view from the house. The view from the upstairs bathroom window is especially sweet, as it peeks down into the riot of green in the backyard. Note, also, that the master bedroom windows will be mirrored in the exact position on the first floor (coming up, below).

    By today’s standards, the bedrooms would be considered small. But, respectfully, I disagree with today’s square footage standards. How big does a bedroom really need to be? If a bedroom also serves as a home gym, office and closet wing, then I suppose it needs to be huge. But if you merely wish to store your clothing and sleep, then a bedroom doesn’t require excessive s.f. The Deffaa House bedrooms are filled with LOTH’s essentials without any sense of clutter or cramp; both rooms feel comfortable and airy, due to all the windows, the wood floors and access to the deck. In the end, how a room feels and functions is much more important than s.f. stats.

    The stairwell (above) leading down to ground level is simply breathtaking. So much drama and light in a transitory space.
    Every facet of the 68 year old house is in exceptional condition because LOTH has taken great pains to restore and improve as needed. The stairs are a delicious golden honey shade, and a work of fine sculpture in and of themselves.


    The front entry (above) summarizes the theme of yards of glass welcoming in the daylight. We arrived in the late afternoon of a cloudy day, and without a single light on, the entire first floor was bathed in light from all sides.

    The living room (above) features a gas fireplace recently installed into a space that was formerly a recessed bookcase. Upon reviewing Armstrong’s original floor plans, Raimist discovered that a fireplace was always intended to go in that spot. Meaning, LOTH has an intuitive sense of what’s right for the space!

    When experiencing modern homes, it goes one of 3 ways:
    #1: The owners stay so authentic to the original aesthetic that the place becomes a sterile museum.
    #2: Their inappropriate furnishings have nothing to do with the surroundings and it becomes a tragic waste of space.
    #3: They find a way to balance appropriate aesthetics and their lifestyle without breaking the bank or their comfort.
    LOTH has achieved #3 in a large way. She told of her previous home’s gothic furnishing not working in the new place, and of her adventures in whittling down, trading over and incorporating old favorites into a new mix. She has the utmost respect and understanding of the lines and feel of the home, but she has not compromised her comfort or personality. The raw physicality of the house has geometric grace and light built in, but the owner – through color, texture and intelligence – has transformed it into a wholly inviting home. Everything about the place feels exactly right.

    The stairwell leading up to the 2nd story (above, left) and the dining room as viewed from the entry (above, right). I was pleasantly surprised to find my original portrait of the house on the dining room window sill. Much like sending a fan letter to your favorite star, I mailed a letter with an extra print to the previous owners, just because. They had sent me a thank you card and invited me over for a tour, but it never came about.

    Turns out that person had started a scrapbook on the house, which was passed on to LOTH. My original fan letter and photo are part of the contents, which includes a 1986 Suburban Journal article, brief histories of the architect and snapshots of the house throughout the decades and seasons (the house is locally renowned for the simplicity of a lit tree on its balcony at Christmas time). Raimist – who is working on a book about Armstrong – gave LOTH a poster-size print of the house at the time it was built, as well as mountains of detailed information to add to the evolving history of the house.

    The galley kitchen (above) is pristine and highly efficient, with another gorgeous view to the backyard. Across from the sink is an entry that leads to the garage and basement. The finished basement contains a laundry, bath and guest bedroom, as well as a small office space. So, in effect, it’s a 3-story house, working efficient square footage in a gorgeous, modern package.
    For years, I yearned to see this house, and it was more awesome and inspiring than imagined. Both the owner and the house are a South Side jewel.

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    8 Responses to “Harris Armstrong, South Side”

    1. Wow! Totally amazing feature piece, Toby!!

      Where is that house? You said Chippewa, but didn’t specify beyond that. I’d love to drive by and see it.

      Hey, another question… did you climb that cool ladder of metal rungs to the rooftop?! I wouldn’t have been able to resist!!

      -joe

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    3. Wong Online PoKér Hu

      What I like about this house is the painting. The idea to cover it with white is great. Although white tends to be stained, I think that it blends well with the color of nature. Houses painted with white are heavenly inspired.

    4. The house is located at Itaska and… Sutherland, I believe. The Bread Co. is at Chippewa and Lansdowne and if you exit one side of the parking lot at the Bread Co., you will be on Itaska. Go up (away from Chippewa) one block and you will see this house on the corner on your left.

    5. Is is actually at the corner of Ivanhoe and Sutherland. One block north of the Bread Company overlooking Chippewa.

    6. Awesome house. And have I mentioned to you lately what a cool and unique blog this is?

    7. Probably the coolest-looking house in south St. Louis.

    8. I am so glad I ran across this article! I used to live in the area and always admired that house! I would walk the dogs down that street because I loved looking at the house and imagining the setup inside 🙂
      Now I know 🙂

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