Clark and Menefee Architects



Maggie Cookman September 27, 2000

The Reid House was designed by W.G. Clark and Charles Menefee and built in John’s Island, SC in 1986. Menefee and Clark designed primarily in the American South. Clark and Menefee are known for their “tripartite vertical organization.” The base level normally consists of secondary bedroom(s)/studio spaces and services. The First floor is a “piano nobile of principal rooms with a double-height living space.” The attic level usually consists of the master bedroom and bath. The Reid House is set up in this fashion. The house is located in a modest setting, surrounded by house trailers and cheaply built houses. The image of the house was “derived from vernacular farm buildings as well as from more formal Palladian structures.” One author described the setting as “John’s Island, a peaceful landscape where truck farmers tend tomato fields carved out of scrub-pine and dwarf-cedar forests, and where the front yards of shacks are littered with junked cars, rusting agricultural machinery, and other decaying impedimenta of the Industrial Revolution.” The house is a three-story tower with two components. The first is a 20 ft. sq. section made of concrete block, housing the living and bedrooms, referred to as the “served space(s).” The second part, referred to as the “serving space(s),” is a wood-frame shed that holds the kitchen and the bathrooms. These two components are “joined at the fireplace and chimney, around which the stair winds.”
The materials used for the house are inexpensive, in keeping with the surrounding structures. One section is made of concrete blocks, exposed on the inside and covered with waterproofing paint on the outside. The other part of the house is “sheathed in plywood and battens and its roof is covered in asphalt shingle.” The floors are painted pine, the interior partitions, painted plywood. The total cost of the house was $102,000, only $2,000 over the budget that the Reids had set. They wanted the house built because they wanted to move their two small children out of a trailer home, and they wanted to have a larger space in which they could manage their 120-acre horse farm. The total area of the house is only 1600 sq. ft. One author noted that the house “[reconciles] lofty aspirations and modest means.”
W.G. Clark is not a native to Charleston. He worked for six years for Robert Venturi before going to work with Charles Menefee on the Middleton Inn for Charles Duell. This project was Clark’s first major work, and was more in tune with the work of Peter Eisenman. Charles Duell, a Middleton descendent, dreamed up the idea of the Middleton Inn, 15 miles outside of Charleston. He envisioned a guesthouse and conference center, and planned on seasonal guests who came for flower festivals and other annual events. The Inn was remote from city tourist attractions, and Clark “capitalized on this and made it a rural retreat in the woods.” The Inn was filled with Charleston details, which helped to bridge the gap between the city and the rural hideaway in the woods. These details included terra-cotta chimney pots, wooden shutters, stick-style furniture, special stucco called “slave coat,” and Charleston Green paint, which accentuated the building in the midst of the trees and growth in the surrounding woods.
Clark and Menefee exemplified an uncommon American virtue, restraint. Their structures had a simple and clear formal order, and were compact in plan. Their belief was that generosity was achieved in section. In describing their architecture, one critic notes that Clark and Menefee’s buildings “distil a didactic language through which both formal meaning and construction can be revealed and understood.” It was also said that their houses were “idealized pavilions sitting solidly on the site in the classical manner.” Their designs were small and succinct, and interior finishes were sometimes rough, but their craft was excellent. Clark and Menefee succeeded in practical designs, while economizing on budgets and space.




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