The Tower House
You can’t miss it.
Driving along the back roads of Meriwether County, Georgia you navigate a rugged trail no wider than the driveway of most suburban homes. The land gently rolls, and the vegetation—native grasses mostly, with an array of wildflowers and a swath of cattails near a gleaming pond—creep above your waist. Less than an hour’s drive south of Atlanta, and a full 20 blood pressure points lower in speed and tension, you enter a 300,000-square-acre tract of forest and farmland that is deer and turkey country, and a mecca for thousands of southerners who love to spend fall mornings in hunting boots and tree stands. And, then, there it is, above the treetops, like a stone obelisk from a long-forgotten time, a silo, or an ancient lookout tower. If it sat near a sea, you’d swear it was a lighthouse, which just adds to the incongruence. What could this beautiful old building be?
As you get closer and the pavement ends, you realize it’s not old at all, even though its architecture and materials were around long before Sherman’s troops marched through this land. The structure, to break it down to its barest description, is a 20-foot-by-20-foot tower reaching 70 feet high, with five stories and a basement that have been the weekend home and country studio for one of the Southeast’s most noted architects, Keith Summerour, for the last 12 years.
The home has been called many things. When it was under construction, Keith’s staff called it “Keith’s big Gay tower,” since the nearest town is Gay, Georgia (population 83). But the name that stuck is the Towerhouse, which quickly morphed into Towerhouse Farm, as it sits on the 600 acres of farmland Keith acquired as a hunting retreat and breathable workspace.
“I wanted a home that had the feel of being outdoors, much like the farmhouse I would visit with my grandfather when I was young,” Keith says not long after he completed his tower home. But there was more to it than that. After earning his degree in architecture at Auburn University, Keith went to Europe where he studied the classical architecture of everything from the manors and castles of England and Scotland to the cliff-side chalets and inland towers of Italy. He brought all those concepts back to America. Once he opened his own shop, Summerour Architects, the design philosophies from all the far-flung regions spilled into the homes and buildings that bore his name. Except one—his own.
“I’m an architect and didn’t get to design my own home,” Keith says. Until now. After almost three decades in the business, he finally got that chance. Keith incorporated many elements from Europe and the American South. Each of the floors in his tower has either arched doors or windows that, when opened, give the home an almost tree house feel. On the main floor, there are no walls or demarcations between the living area, kitchen, and dining space. The bottom floor has a wrap-around porch on two sides. Open the doors and the entertainment space doubles.
Keith used vintage Heart Pine for the floors throughout and reclaimed cypress for the walls of the first floor living area. Those elements give the place a centuries-old feel, as does the stone exterior, all the pieces of which came from the property.
The second floor houses the bedrooms, which nod to the chalets of the Mediterranean with one modest sized bedroom, another that would barely qualify as a closet in most suburban residences, and a third sleeping nook under the window. Throw in the fact that there isn’t an actual closet to be found and the whole thing has a camp out feel, which is exactly what Keith wanted. In the first drafts of his original design, he even forgot a bathroom. “Someone on my staff said, ‘Yeah, we might need that.’”
The third and fourth floors are the studio space. It is there that the rolling terrain of Meriwether County begins to reveal itself. Towerhouse Farm falls away toward the Flint River, which starts just south of Atlanta, flows beneath the runways of the world’s busiest airport (Hartsfield-Jackson), and meanders through central and south Georgia, coming within a whisker of the Andersonville Civil War Prison Camp before dumping into lake Seminole on the Florida line. Just beyond the river, an architect looking for inspiration from a landscape will see Pine Mountain, which is more of a rise when compared to the Appalachian peaks in the northernmost part of the state. But given the gentleness of its surroundings, Pine Mountain provides a perfect backdrop to the panoply of colors this area offers.
The top floor is open-air, a spot where owls often hide the remains of an evening meal and where someone so inclined could climb into a hammock to catch a long and much-needed nap.
The basement houses the mudroom and gun safe, with one of the local wild turkeys mounted over the door. The drive in from the gate is grass and pea gravel. Keith’s only nod to the modern world is a swimming pool adjacent to the back deck, a spot his sons and their friends enjoyed regularly.
But all those features aside, the question remains: Why a tower? When you have 600 acres, there is no real need for a second story, much less a home so tall it required a construction crane for the final floor. Sure, the views are spectacular from the top level, but an observation deck or a giant hunting stand would have been cheaper. So, why do this?
“It’s the fact that the current suburban model of living, in my view, is unsustainable,” Keith says. “When you look at traffic, congestion, sprawl, and the fact that people are moving farther and farther away…”
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