Apartment for Rent: With or Without a Ghost?

01 chambers architects new orleans apt hauntedHaunted is good for business in New Orleans.Chambers Architects doesn’t usually post articles about ghosts or the supernatural. But, when the spirits of the dead are a major part of the psyche of a culture and add value to marketing campaigns focused on architecture, we take notice.

On a recent trip to the French Quarter as research for a book, the number of tours and signs advertising live-in ghosts, or the absence of phantoms, impressed us. One retail store posted this sign at their entrance, “Good Spirits Allowed.” Not knowing whether we were good or bad for business, we dared to enter. At Marie Leveau’s home, we were asked to use “Only Positive Magic Please.”02 chambers architects not haunted aptNot haunted with a balcony is good for business in New Orleans.

One of the Finest Street Museums in the World

The evolution of house forms, from French Colonial Plantations, Creole Cottages, Entresol, Townhouses and Shotguns to Cornerstone Storehouses, can all be seen in and within walking distance of the Quarter. Only three solely French structures remain in the eighty-five block area of the National Historic Landmark district known as the French Quarter. 

The Great 1788 New Orleans Fire destroyed 856 of the 1,100 structures in New Orleans, Louisiana while it was a colony called New Spain. Rebuilding continued in Spanish style, and most French-style architecture disappeared from the city.

Had the French held on to more than the name in the rebuilding of the Quarter architecture, most buildings in the Vieux Carre would have retained French influences. After forty years of Spanish rule, the settlers abandoned the character of their homes, keeping only the French language and customs. They still make the sauces of their ancestors, drip coffee the French way and dance in the streets long after their children have fallen asleep. The Quarter's par terre gardens remain French in style with flowers in the middle of yards and walkways along the boundaries. Grassy lawns are not common and considered lacking in imagination.03 Chambers Architects Shotgun House sketchBracket Shotgun Double, circa 1880-1905, New Orleans Vieux Carre, hand-drawn sketch by Steve Chambers, AIA

What Remains of Quarter Architecture is Primarily Spanish. 

A semi-fortified streetscape, common-wall buildings, narrow alleyways and secluded patios abound. The Spanish also gave New Orleans their flat tile-roofed buildings and entresol houses with hidden mezzanines. The use of repeating arches, Arabesque ironwork, covered passageways, and attempts to guard the privacy of building inhabitants are all Spanish in nature. Creole townhouses have the Spanish addition of a short middle level or entresol between the shop and the residence that was used for stock and storage. The mezzanine spaces get light and air from extra high, arched and barred, first-story transoms. They were an experiment with full-service vertical living in the growing 18th century city.05 chambers architects pontalbaThe Pontalba Apartments overlooking Jackson Square feature Spanish-style ironwork and a few ghosts at night in its windows

Some Famous Ghosts

The ghostly tale of the Lalaurie Mansion dates back to 1832. Madame Lalaurie was known as the most influential French-Creole woman in the city. But there was another side to Madame. The finery of her household was attended to by dozens of slaves and Madame Lalaurie was brutally cruel to them. There were whispered conversations among neighbors how the Lalaurie slaves seemed to come and go quite often.

In 1834, a terrible fire broke out in the Lalaurie kitchen. Fire fighters discovered a secret barred door to the attic. Many slaves were found chained to the wall. Most in Madame Lalaurie's "Torture Chamber" were dead.

08 new orleans lalaurie houseThe infamous Lalaurie Mansion, the "torture chamber" removed long ago, is renovated and ready for occupancy.The stories of ghosts and a haunting at 1140 Royal Street began almost as soon as the Lalaurie carriage fled the house. In 1837, the house was purchased by a man who kept it only three months. He was plagued by strange noises, cries and groans in the night and soon abandoned the place.

It was never easy to keep tenants in the house and finally, after word spread of the strange goings-on, the mansion was deserted once again. Today, the house has been renovated and restored as luxury apartments.

While no house in the Quarter has a past as grisly as the Lalaurie House, many houses and apartments are still considered haunted. Sightings at the end of the strange dark passageways in the Pontalba Apartments, where several literary ghosts are said to still hold their ‘salons,’ are often reported. The eccentric Madame the Baroness Pontalba would be pleased at the notoriety of her eponymous apartments.

Why NOLA Has So Many Ghosts?

We’re not sure, but we have a few ideas. Living in a city simultaneously located at or below the level of the sea and the mighty Mississippi River must facilitate a bond with the unseen world. How does a city manage to hang on to its resources and beauty when every day is a walk with capricious elements? Each of the French, Spanish, Caribbean African and Acadian immigrant cultures brought with them their own superstitions and folk remedies for ‘bad spirits.' The early inhabitants must have started each day with a prayer, a treatment and the hope that nature wouldn’t get angry and wash away their city. The new arrivals wanted to appease the bad spirits and encourage the good ones to safeguard their precarious balance in nature. One has to wonder if the spirits born from all of the city’s tragedies and continuing battles with nature can ever really rest, when there's so much work to do?

More pictures by Chambers Architects in the gallery, below.

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chambers architects blanco river cabins destroyedRemnants of an exterior wall and fireplace in one of the destroyed antique cabins on the Blanco River near Wimberley Texas.There were no injuries or loss of life at the Pulley's two historic Craftsman-built stone cabins on the Blanco River, because of the good judgment of the owners. David and Tegwin Pulley knew of the wild reputation of the normally lazy and shallow river. When an historic Texas drought was broken by three weeks of steady rain, the couple decided to skip their annual Memorial Day trip to Wimberley. The two fine examples of the playful 1920s Hill Country stone work were destroyed by the recent flooding of this Central Texas river. Their cabins were sited at twenty-seven feet above the Blanco. The river broke the flood gauge at forty-four feet. The previous flood record was at thirty-three feet in 1929. The roofs and walls of their stout solid masonry cabins were submerged and swept away, washing against the nearby Highway 12 bridge. The highway was subsequently closed for repairs. Chambers Architects was lucky to have spent many wonderful evenings at the cabins on the Blanco River and document these beautiful examples of 1920s stone craftsmanship. We're saddened by the loss of historic treasures, "Rocky "and "Woody," but thankful we still have our dear friends. Photos of cabin damage, below. The story of our visit to the cabins several years ago to document the stone work follows.

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Hill Country Stone Home Wimberley"Rocky," one of two of the Pulley's antique cabins. All that remains of this cabin today is a wall and a fireplace.In the early 1920’s, stone weekend homes were designed and built in the Texas Hill Country on small ranches and rural property. As urban dwellers used the improved highways and automobiles to retreat from Austin and San Antonio, the area drew some residents, but many more vacationers and weekend visitors. Because of its natural beauty, relatively high altitude, cool rivers, and wildlife, Wimberley was known as an attraction for artists, musicians, and sportsmen.


Several years ago, spent time visiting with friends who own two 1920’s vintage stone cabins on the Blanco River. blancodeer 2White tail deer walking in six inches of water in the normally placid Blanco River.As an architect who specializes in designing homes, I spend a lot of time studying historic structures. And although I have visited these properties previously, on this occasion I spent more time examining the details of these quaint masonry structures. The owners’ sensitive renovation of these river cabins provides modern comfort, yet shares the rustic ambiance and charm of early Texas cabin life. A close observation of the stonework reveals the masons’ attention to detail and their artistic whimsy. Though most likely not directed by an architect, the crafstman's inclusion of various exotic and contrasting stones: petrified wood, geodes, quartz, and a blend of various colors and textures of local limestone, is aesthetically pleasing.  One can still see the ‘hands of the masons’ in the tool marks around corners and openings where they cut the stone and finished the edges with bush hammers and other tools to blend them in with the native stone surfaces. The construction of the buildings is a curious combination of wood framing and masonry. It appears that a 2x4 framework, apparently without sheathing, was built and then masonry added to the inside and outside, in some cases extending through the wood framing. The end result is a wood structure braced by stone that resembles a solid masonry building.

While many lavish weekend houses have been added in recent years to the landscape of this Hill Country retreat, they pale by comparison for those of us who seek a built environment that introduces us to the authenticity of the past rather than sanitizing it. Few capture the honest character as well as these craftsman-built 1920’s homes.

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01 chambers architects bosque county st.olafs Norwegian church restoration native limestoneRecently restored St. Olaf's Church near Cranfills Gap, Texas, features a four-sidled bell tower extending from the east end of the structure. The tower design was based on a similar one in Norway. The building has been unaltered since its completion in 1886. Photo credit: Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc.The small number of Norwegians who came to Texas in the 1850s were from the agrarian areas of Norway and became farmers in their adopted homeland. Bosque County in the Texas Hill Country reminded them of the rolling landscape of rural Norway. Those who founded the community of Norse, Texas, came seeking economic and social advancement. Their old-world customs and language were maintained into the 1920s. By 1940, their descendants, wholly integrated into the fabric of Texas culture and used English exclusively.

St. Olaf's Kirke is located on a rise overlooking Meridian Creek valley, four miles east of Cranfills Gap in Bosque County, Texas. Built in 1884 of native limestone, it originally had a dirt floor and the pews were planks laid on wooden kegs. Designed  by Andrew Michelson, St. Olaf's Kirke was constructed from limestone quarried from the surrounding hills. It was recently refurbished.

Norwegian was the primary language used during church services into the 1920s. Today, St. Olaf Kirke serves as a historical landmark with special significance for the descendants of the Norwegian settlers of the area. Special events, such as weddings and funerals, continue to be held in the church. The church was designated a historical landmark by the Texas Historical Commission in 1974 and entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. 02-chambers-architects-dallas-restoration-architectsSt. Olaf's stained wooden altar contrasts with the sky blue arched plank ceiling. The recent restoration revealed the original yellow and blue paint. All photos: Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc.03-chambers-architects-st-olafs-church-interior-restorationAntique wood burning stove near the altar of St. Olaf's, used to heat the church.04-chambers-architects-st.olafs-church-restoration-bosque-county-texasHigh risers and short treads make this stair a steep climb to the organ and choir loft.05-chambers-architects-restoration-Norse-Texas-Norwegian-communityThe ends of the pews are hand painted to give the appearance of burled wood.06-chambers-architects-texas-resotration-architects-Cranfills-GapChoir and organ loft. The restoration architect stripped all of the paint down to reveal the original colors. They are replicated here.


01-chambers-architects-visits-ItalyOrvieto is located on a tuffaceous (tuff volcanic rock) outcropping called "The Rupe." Twelve hundred caves were carved underneath the city by the Etruscans for wells, cisterns, mangers, workspace for olive oil production and dovecotes for pigeons to roost.Texas residential architect, Steve Chambers, considers Italy his favorite travel destination because of its concentration of well-preserved architecture from many periods of history. Central Italy’s topography and climate are akin to what we experience in the Texas Hill Country. The Caves of Orvieto are so unusual we feel our architectural blog readers will want to make this city on a volcanic tuff a future travel destination.

Orvieto, an Italian city in southwest Umbria with the aura of a fairy tale, is situated on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff called The Rupe. It was founded by the Etruscans in the 9th century B.C. Rising above vertical-faced cliffs with defensive walls fabricated in the same stone, the city’s site is one of the most dramatic in Europe. How this stunning hilltop city managed to endure on such a precarious site is a story of creative ingenuity. Its particular constellation of geological features causes landslides that impact the cliff’s perimeter. Mass movements over time have wrought a slow but unalterable degradation, progressively reducing the size of the historic village.12-chambers-architects-Orvieto-duomoOrvieto's Cathedral (Duomo) became the Papal Palace in the early 13th-14th century when popes moved there to escape conflict in Rome between the Holy Roman and Byzantine Empires.

Orvieto's Myth

At the end of the 1970s, an immense landslide took a huge bite out of Orvieto’s Rupe, not far from its famous Duomo. The landslide from the Rupe alarmed the world that the city, the Duomo (one of Italy’s most important pieces of Gothic architecture) and its works of art might not survive. But, the disaster intrigued a small and experienced group of local cave experts. In the city's urban legend, Orvieto was mythicized to be hollow beneath its Rupe. The landslide exposed mysterious gaps, windows with regular contours, in some of its high projecting walls. Like black holes in space, these "empty and dark eyes hinted at an inexplicable and unexplored world"(1) became an irresistible attraction for cave specialists. 

The More Surprising Truth

The discovery of an incredible underground reality began when the elevated holes appeared. After securing ropes to trees in the gardens that ring the majority of the city’s upper perimeter, speleologists scaled down the many-sided butte. Thrills awaited them inside the rupestrian grottos. Square rooms were linked together by galleries illuminated by the small windows to the outside. Room after room followed in succession by means of overlapping levels joined by short wells and chutes. In the more internal walls were narrow tunnels leading to the heart of the Rupe. One person could navigate the tunnels on all fours or lying down. 

Why Did the Etruscans Need Caves in Orvieto?

33-chambers-architects-Orvieto-dovecotes-window-nestsRectangular dovecotes (center) provided pigeon roosts when the town was under siege. The town's inhabitants always had a continuous supply of fresh meat. The window to the outside (left) is one discovered by cave experts (speleologists) following the landslide. Orvieto was a well-known major center of Etruscan civilization. Why did they construct such an intricate warren of tunneled chutes and ladders? The city captivates many visitors to Italy, but few are aware that twelve hundred caves lie below the volcanic tuff. 

At the time of founding on the high plateau, the ancient civilization called the town Velzna. It had great protection from enemies, but unfortunately no water. The Etruscans dug deep slender rectangular wells in search of underground springs. The longest walls of the wells have regular intervals of small notches, pedarole (foot holds), which made movement within the vertical channels possible. The Etruscans also created cisterns for holding rainwater as well as an extended network of tunnels for its conveyance. The caves allowed them self-sufficiency, as well as protection. They could live within them for months on end without the worry of provisions. Velzna finally fell to the Romans in 264 B.C., but only after withstanding a lengthy two-year siege. Over successive centuries the digging continued.

Four hundred of the caves have been used for millennia by the citizenry for wells, refrigeration, and, during Roman and barbarian sieges, as dovecotes to encourage the Umbrian specialty, Palombo (pigeon), to roost in the caves. The birds provided access to fresh meat without leaving the city walls. (2) The caves also sheltered the township from bombs that were dropped on the valley below during WWII.

During recent excavations, the subsurface of the city revealed enormous pits from which tons of volcanic ash were extracted, wells and cisterns of all ages and sizes, galleries, cellars, shelters, litter wells that still provide fragmentary samples of refined medieval and Renaissance ceramics.

Chambers Architects' Journey Through the Caves16-chambers-architects-castles-valley-below-OrvietoView of valley floor and fields where pigeons ate as seen from one of the Rupe openings used by the birds to enter the underground roosts. Pigeon (Palombo) is a Umbrian delicacy..

Arriving by sharp turns off the main road from Viterbo, Orvieto has an intriguing appearance from afar. At the southern end, The Rupe stands out in the landscape like an isolated ship. The block appears to have been dropped from space.

We happened on the caves by accident. After a tour of the breathtaking Duomo, we stopped for a lunch of pizza and wine on the patio of a taverna across from its steps. We spotted a sign that offered tickets to “Underground Orvieto.” Having visited the city several times, we’d never seen the signs offering this opportunity. Rushing over to the biglietteria, we discovered the next tour was leaving in thirty minutes. We ordered slices and cups to go, hitched up our backpacks and headed to the meeting place, a gate near a narrow walkway around the city. Upon entrance into the first cave, our eyes adjusted to the dark in the vast underground world that had been dug, used and forgotten. A dark labyrinth had been rendered and subdivided into a thousand grottoes, tunnels, wells and reservoirs, created by the scrapes of men over three millenniums. The trek won’t disappoint those seeking an out-of-the-ordinary understanding of the origin of Italy’s profoundly creative culture.

A Most Fascinating Discovery Near Orvieto's Duomo

The most fascinating discovery was made in a cavity near Piazza Duomo. A medieval oil press for olives was found, complete with millstones, press, furnace, mangers for the animals working the grindstones, water mains and cisterns. The big system of vaults calls to mind the patterns of many hypogea (underground cellars and tombs) of 34-chambers-architects-Orvieto-cavesGrindstone found in one of the excavated caves around which animals walked to power the mill. The animals were kept in mangers in the caves.the Etruscan era. One of the “not to miss places” of historical and archaeological interest that allows us a touch of the past. In fact, every day, starting with the offices of the Tourist Promotion Company in Piazza Duomo, qualified staff accompany visitors on an easy route for about an hour called “Orvieto Underground”, which unwinds through two of the biggest and most important grottoes hidden in the Rupe. Here, in search of ancient secrets preserved by the silent darkness of the grottoes, everyone can discover, to his surprise, engagement with 9th century ingenuity in this underground wonder.

In the late middle-ages, as the city began to stabilize and prosper, these underground caverns were expanded and converted to also house workshops for the local ceramic production (cooling cisterns and the remains of a kiln can still be found) and quarries to excavate the soft stone to mix as cement (which continued into the early 20th century). One of the biggest caverns was most recently used as an olive oil press, and the massive millstones and presses still on view make it easy to imagine the room crowded with pickers and workers pressing out one of Umbria’s most prized product each fall.

One Thing to Remember When Parking the Car

There’s one caveat to travel in Italy’s cities built in antiquity: parking is frustrating. It becomes humorous after recalling the incident later with a bottle of wine. Central parking garages near the centro antico require you to pay immediately after parking your car. The exit meters do not take credit cards or cash. You’ll need the ticket to exit the garage and the old town. Good luck trying to get out of the garage without a pre-stamped bigliette! It took us at least an hour to explain our dilemma to the carabinieri and get the car out of the parking garage. Italian police non capisco greenhorns!


Photo Credits: Stephanie and Steve Chambers, Chambers Architects, Dallas, Texas

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(2) Susan Nelson:


When men and women are rightly occupied, amusement grows out of their work…emotions become steady, deep, perpetual, and vivifying to the soul as the natural pulse to the body. Now, having no true business, we pour our whole energy into the false business of money-making…having no true emotion, we must have false emotions dressed up for us to play with. John Ruskin---Sesame and Lilies, 1865.

A Social and A Design Philosophy

JRuskinJohn Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, an art patron, writer, draftsman, watercolorist, prominent social thinker and philanthropist.The writings of art critic John Ruskin and architect Augustus Pugin ignited the Arts and Crafts movement led by William Morris. Its emphasis on handcrafted design became an international movement, developing between 1880 and 1910. Its influence continued well into the 1930s. Not just a style, it was a way of living founded on Utopian ideals. Much of the philosophy was based on the medieval concept of celebrating the central role of craftsman and the elevation of craft to fine art. Proponents thought of 'the craftsman' as free and creative because he worked with his hands. In contrast, 'the machine' was soulless, repetitive, and inhuman. Craftsman Style, as it became known when it migrated to the United States, is currently experiencing a revival among young upwardly mobile urban dwellers.

Some Craftsman Neighborhoods Still Intact in Texas

Chambers Architects recently designed a Craftsman home for clients currently living in California and relocating to DFW. In doing the research for their home's architecture and interiors, we became fervent supporters not only of the aesthetics of the movement, but the philosophy by behind its development. Tyler Willmann, a San Antonio realtor with Keller Williams, gave us a tour of Mahncke Park in San Antonio where many charming Craftsman bungalows remain intact. Mahncke Park, a neighborhood near Brackenridge Park on the city's north side, has recently been divided over whether to move forward with historic designation because of the restrictions these designations often place on efforts to remodel a home. Signs against the designation can be seen in the photographic gallery (below). Belmont is a neighborhood in Dallas successful in obtaining historic designation in order to retain the vintage craft character of its homes and community.chambers-architects-art-craft-designConcept by Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc. for a new Dallas area Craftsman style home

Origins of the Movement in England 

WMorrisWilliam Morris, English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and social activist was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textiles and the Arts and Crafts Movement. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre.By the mid-nineteenth century, cheap factory-made goods had almost entirely driven away hand craftsmen and women from their trades. The old techniques of making well-crafted, elegant objects by hand were nearly lost. The term "arts and crafts" was coined in England around this time to describe the revival in the decorative arts. The Arts and Crafts Movement held at its core the ideal that the handmade object was both beautiful and useful in everyday life. Its philosophy derived partially from Ruskin's social criticism, which related the moral and social health of a nation to the qualities of its architecture and to the nature of work. Ruskin considered the sort of mechanized labor in the industrial revolution to be "servile." He felt healthy societies required independent workers who designed things and made them by hand. Followers of the movement favored craft production over industrial manufacturing and were troubled by the ethics and effects of the factory system on workers.

The aesthetic and social vision of the Arts and Crafts Movement also derived its ideas from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of the 1850s. The Brotherhood was formed by a group of friends at the University of Oxford, including William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and some of Burne-Jones' associates from Birmingham at Pembroke College, who became known as the Birmingham Set. The Birmingham Set had first-hand experience of modern industrial society and combined their love of the Romantic literature of Tennyson, Keats and Shelley with a commitment to social reform. By 1855 they had discovered the writings of John Ruskin and, conscious of the contrast between the barbarity of contemporary culture and the art of the middle ages, in particular the art preceding Raphael (1483-1530), they formed themselves into the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to pursue their literary and artistic aims.

The Arts and Crafts Movement developed and was most fully realized in the British Isles, then spread across the British Empire to the rest of Europe and North America. It stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often applied a vocabulary of Gothic, romantic, folk, organic and natural motifs into stylized patterns. It advocated economic and social reform, and was essentially anti-industrial. The objects fabricated were simple in form, without superfluous or excessive decoration, and how they were constructed was often still visible. They tended to emphasize the qualities of the materials used and the principle of "truth to the material."

Craftsman in the United States

13-craftsmanmantelCraftsman fireplace on which Chambers Architects based their design for the great room in a home near Dallas, Texas. It features an oak mantel and handmade Arts & Crafts tiles from North Prairie Tileworks. Teco pottery, on top, is from the period.In the United States, the Arts and Crafts style initiated a variety of attempts to reinterpret European Arts and Crafts ideals for Americans. These included the "Craftsman"-style architecture, furniture, and other decorative arts such as designs promoted by Gustav Stickley in his magazine, The Craftsman and designs produced on the Roycroft campus as publicized in Elbert Hubbard's The Fra. Both men used their magazines as a vehicle to promote the goods produced with the Craftsman workshop in Eastwood, NY and Elbert Hubbard's Roycroft campus in East Aurora, NY. A host of imitators of Stickley's furniture, the designs of which are often mislabeled the "Mission Style," included three companies established by his brothers.

Arts and Crafts ideals disseminated in America through journal and newspaper writing and were supplemented by societies that sponsored lectures and programs. The first was organized in Boston in the late 1890s, when a group of influential architects, designers, and educators determined to bring to America the design reforms begun in Britain by William Morris. They met to organize an exhibition of contemporary craft objects. The first American Arts and Crafts Exhibition began on April 5, 1897, at Copley Hall, Boston featuring more than 1000 objects made by 160 craftsmen, half of whom were women.

The "Prairie School" of Frank Lloyd Wright, George Washington Maher and other architects in Chicago, the Country Day School movement, the bungalow and ultimate bungalow style of houses popularized by Greene and Greene, Julia Morgan, and Bernard Maybeck are some examples of the American Arts and Crafts and American Craftsman style of architecture. Restored and landmark-protected examples are still present in America, especially in California in Berkeley and Pasadena, and the sections of other towns originally developed during the era and not experiencing post-war urban renewal. Mission Revival, Prairie School, and the 'California bungalow' styles of residential building remain popular in the United States today.

Lasting Legacy

housebackA new Craftsman style home near Celina, Texas by Chambers Architects in the mid-construction phase By the end of the nineteenth century, Arts and Crafts ideals had influenced architecture, painting, sculpture, graphics, illustration, book making and photography, domestic design and the decorative arts, including furniture and woodwork, stained glass, leatherwork, lacemaking, embroidery, rug making and weaving, jewelry and metalwork, enameling and ceramics.

Characteristics of the Style in Residential Architecture

  • 1-2 stories
  • Low-pitched roof, hipped, gabled, sometimes with a clipped gable. Rooflines often complex and cross-gabled.
  • Broad eaves
  • Knee braces, exposed rafter tails and beams, elaborated rafter ends and verge boards, occasionally roof ridge finials are seen
  • Natural materials indigenous to location
  • Open floor plan
  • Dormers: shed, gabled, hipped, sometimes in combination
  • Fireplace, brick or native stone
  • Handcrafted, built-in cabinetry including buffets, bookcases, colonnades
  • Unique custom features such as inglenooks and window seats
  • Craftsman-designed hardware, lighting, and tile work by notable design houses: Roycroft, Batchelder, and Yellin
  • Broad covered porches
  • Windows, double-hung, multiple lights over single pane below. Multiple windows appear together in banks. Casement windows are also seen.
  • Shingle, lapped, and stucco siding is common.
  • Attention to Detail
  • Simplicity 

Honest details that reflect the true construction of an object and not covered or hidden by decoration is a hallmark of the Craftsman style and the design aesthetic of Stephen B. Chambers Architects' home design.

Reference sources for this research: Judith Miller Arts & Crafts, Dorlng Kindersley Limited Publishers; In The Arts & Crafts Style, Chronicle Books; Arts & Crafts Furniture, The Taunton Press.

To find Craftsman style bungalows and homes for sale in San Antonio, contact Tyler Willmann at this link:

All photography in the San Antonio gallery of homes, below, by Stephanie Chambers, Chambers Architects

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The Need for Creativity and Imagination

01-steve-chambers-architects-cottingley-fairies1910 photograph of Frances Griffiths with the Cottingley FairiesRecent advances in the speed and amount of information creates an overload that leads us to believe the world is in turmoil and change more intense than ever before. Tapping into fantasy and the imagination is one way of turning from anxiety and toward enchantment. The art and architecture we find around us helps to clarify and replace disconcerting memories and images.05-chambers-architects-susan kae grantArtist and professor, Susan kae Grant, in her studio

Susan kae Grant, a photographer and friend of Stephen B. Chambers Architects, is one artist who takes her inspiration from collective memory and filters the imagery through the modern sensibility of her lens. Ms. Grant meticulously creates three-dimensional settings from street, field, and alleyway detritus and re-purposes them to conjure up dream-state photographs. Hula hoops, baby dolls, plastic bats and rats, rusted wire fencing, sticks and fabric are hung by thin wires from the ceiling and, through the use of strategically placed lighting, these found objects cast eerily soft long shadows onto an enormous sheet of white paper that she photographs. The result is inventive narrative photography with the appearance of late eighteenth century silhouette portraiture.

The resulting prints suggest dense childhood memories, dreams, and schemata, which whimsically spring from the imagination of a mature, self-actualized woman. Ms. Grant mines her subconscious and transports us, the viewers, into a world fecund with poetic imagery and playthings juxtaposed with objects of fear.  We recognize these reveries as similar to our own nighttime excursions into involuntary underworlds of past and present snapshots of memory.

The day after visiting Susan's fascinating workplace, I read the NYT obituary of Geoffrey Crawley, the English photographic scientist. Mr. Crawley systematically debunked the 1910 Cottingley Fairies Hoax. It occurred to me that Ms. Grant's process of making art and the fairy mystery share a common thread

02-chambers-architects-SusanKaeGrant-Niki"Niki" photograph by Susan kae Grant with permissionThe atmosphere in 1910 Britain was every bit as jarring as it is today. The mystery in Cottingley emerged when two English schoolgirl cousins claimed to have taken photographs of fairy folk residing in the glen near their homes. It started with Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths deciding to play a prank on their parents by borrowing a glass-plate camera belonging to Elsie's father. They developed a photo, which showed a swirl of whitish figures surrounding Frances, the younger girl. Their parents dismissed the image as childish trickery. The girls stuck to their story and, on another occasion, snapped a second photo of a gnome who appeared in the same glen.04-chambers-architects-art-architecture-skg-flyingtiger"Flying Tiger" photograph by Susan kae Grant with permission

The images remained a private family affair until Edward Gardner, a leader of theosophy in England, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a trained physician, intervened. Hoping to advance spiritualism and the cause of the Theosophical Society in Britain, which believes in the existence of spirit life, Gardner and Doyle declared the images to be absolutely real. Impassioned champions of the photos, the men engaged a darkroom technician to create better negatives that produced more realistic-looking fairies. They asked the girls to ‘take' three more photos and the men began to use them in lectures and magazines to illustrate this epoch-making proof of human beings encountering fairies in everyday life. It took the rigorous empirical testing of Geoffrey Crawley 60 years later to deflate this tall tale of the Cottingley fairies. 

But, his writings dispelling the hoax display tenderness about a nation captivated by an idle boast of magical creatures during a time of tumultuous war and enormous change brought about by global modernization of society. Mr. Crawley gently states, "of course there are fairies, just as there is a Father Christmas, the trouble is making them corporeal. They are fine poetic concepts taking us out of this, at times, too ugly real world."

03-chambers-architects-dallas-architect-SKG2Susan kae Grant hanging and layering props in her Cedars area of Dallas studio to create a large-scale 'in silhouette' photographWe need the Cottingley fairies and artists like Susan kae Grant more than ever. They remind us that our spirit world needs as much nurture as our material one. The poet Denise Levertov once said it this way, "one is in despair over the current manifestation of malevolent imbecility and the seemingly invincible power of rapacity, yet finds oneself writing a poem about the trout lilies in spring woods."

Susan Kae Grant inspires the imagination and artist in all of us to persevere, allow our dreams to inform our consciousness, recognize the beauty in the discarded elements in both the real and subconscious worlds. Just like an airy skybridge between two elegant pieces of architecture, the intersection of the two is a magical place to invite dreams. 

Susan Kae Grant received a B.S. in 1976 and a MFA in Photography and Book Arts in 1979 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a Professor and Head of the Photography & Bookmaking Program at Texas Woman's University and teaches workshops annually at the International Center for Photography in New York City. Grant's photography is in permanent collections of various national museums including the George Eastman House; the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; the J. Paul Getty Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Susan is represented in Dallas by the Conduit Gallery. Her website is: