When I talk to people about vernacular architecture, I catch myself comparing it to messy but delicious experiments in the kitchen, or unexpected adventures, or exploring a brand new place. Sometimes, you might cook up some comfort food. Or you could create something brand new.
Local builders took familiar ways of buildings, house plans they knew, and then threw into the mix (maybe) some new and popular architectural styles floating about. Being a student of vernacular architecture means every trip down a road previously not traveled is an opportunity to discover a building whose language you might understand, but one with a whole new accent.
One of my jaunts recently took me to Summer Shade, a small community along Kentucky 90 in south-central Metcalfe County. A post office, named for nearby Glovers Creek, was established in 1862. The community was incorporated as Summer Shade in 1876, due to the large shade trees in the area, and the post office name changed as well two years later. Located about seven miles southwest of the county seat of Edmonton, the community teems with architectural delights.
This two-story frame dwelling, built around the turn of the century (1900, that is), takes eclectic and pushes it into a series of giddy handsprings. I think the plan, drawn in 1984 by a surveyor noted only as JD:BG, explains the form of the house best.
To me, it looks like the brow of a ship pushing through heaving waves. (Yes, that was a bit of purple prose.) Everywhere you look, there are angles. The rear one-story ell originally had porches on either side, but surely nothing could compete with that canted two-story front porch.
The house faces the original road alignment, which means the rear elevation is what you see from the current KY 90- making a walk around to the front even more surprising. According to the current owner, it was built by a local carpenter responsible for the construction of other houses in Summer Shade. Despite changes over the years, it retains many of its stylistic details, including the lively and intricate porch frieze.
Sadly, the owner did not know about the original builder, or what might have inspired this quirky design – but that is one of the drawbacks (and joys) of studying the everyday buildings of our landscapes. There might not be a historic plaque outside, or oft-told tales of the celebrated men (occasionally women, but usually men) who lived there – but these buildings still inspire stories, and wonder, and a quiet sense of satisfaction that in this place, a house built by a regular person, with a gift for woodworking and imagination, is still standing and functioning as a home.