A Place Called Home
In sweeping script strokes above an arched doorway in Pam and Ray Doumar’s kitchen are Abraham Lincoln’s words: “In the end it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Not only is the quote reflective of the two attorneys’ personal philosophies, but it also speaks to the history of their Henry Street home, where they are raising their three children, Emily, 16, and twins Jackson and Allie, 9.
Seven or eight massive hardwoods, oaks and an enormous ash tree stand watch over the house like sentinels. This Wendell-designed home is almost eye-to-eye with its 100th year. But it’s length of tenure on the approximately one-and-a-half-acre lot, remarkably flat for the Hill and perfect for gardening, is nothing compared to the people, the parents, the children who have passed in and out of its doors, up and down its stairs, in the place each one called home.
Large bracketed eaves supported by masonry brick walls on the lower level and stucco on the upper offer an obvious tip-off to classic Wendell architecture.
On the first landing of the back staircase hang Henry Wendell’s original blueprints, framed, with meticulous labeling and notations in white, specifying the details of his assignment: Residence for Mrs. C. Burdell. The Burdells occupied the three-story house, at the end of the brick herringbone walkway running from sidewalk to front door, from 1916-1928. Wendell, a forward thinker who designed and supervised construction of a notable number of Augusta commercial and residential properties, including Saint Paul’s Church, envisaged his creation’s continued use far beyond Mrs. Burdell’s. A well-proportioned space with timeless appeal and comfortably-sized rooms resulted.
Typical of the many structures Wendell planned during his indelible nine-year career in Augusta, the Doumars’ home boasts a twice-turned staircase spiraling upward toward a round, leaded glass skylight. Not a man of afterthought, Wendell made provision for electric “moonlight” illumination of the skylight, as well, which is accessed on the third story. Perhaps he meant it as a romantic gesture, but true to form, he also maximized the decorative impact and the skylight’s usefulness.
In an era when storage was seldom more than a shallow, narrow niche with a door, his closet designs were characterized by capacity and functionality. The generous silver closet in the dining room is but one example. His trademark conservation of space is demonstrated by the powder room tucked under the back stairs. Windows and doors of the spacious living room, as expected, collect within the arms of Wendell’s segmented arches, a feature most everyone associates with the architect’s work.
Naturally, the Doumars, in their 15-month renovation (six months of which the family of five lived in the small cottage out back, which they also refurbished) desired to stay true to Wendell’s vision for Mrs. Carter Burdell’s home. Aside from kitchen addition, which includes the area of the old kitchen plus square footage to accommodate a sizable island, new cabinetry, updated appliances, wine and coffee bars, and a breakfast room, they maintained the original footprint. Materials recovered from the tear out, such as bricks and cabinets, were repurposed.
While the kitchen is decidedly an updated, modern workspace with ample room for a family to gather, on the exterior of the house it looks as if it has always been there. The new stucco coalesces with the old. The walls of windows complement the ones of the sleeping porch above. Hand-scratched brick salvaged from the project wraps below the windows and ties it all together.
Even inside, arches in the expanded kitchen space provide continuity of design. The Doumars, in their actions and their words, hold great respect for their home’s longevity and its past. The families who cared for it and preserved it made it possible for Pam and Ray and their children to contribute more life to the house’s years. “We live in the whole house,” says Ray, “every bit of it. It’s not like we have a grand room that no one sits in.” The same can probably be said for prior owners, and Wendell would likely take pride in Ray’s statement. Easy-going armchairs situated by the original kitchen fireplace provide a point from which to observe the entire addition. They represent a symbolic crossroads of the old and the new.
Sleek marble floors and vanities reface and refresh all five bathrooms. Modern fixtures, such as a steam shower in the master bath, introduce a touch of luxury. The rear wall of the living room, once an exterior wall, was removed to improve traffic flow and accessibility. Visitors egress to the antique French terra-cotta of the kitchen through French doors within a segmented arch. To brighten the short hallway extending from the gracious entry to the rear of the house, the Doumars added a doorway from the hall to the dining room. Removal of a drop-ceiling in the hallway reveals the treat of an overhead view of a segment of the raw underside of the twice-turned stairs; looking up, a person peeks not only at the solid construction of the house but also into the imaginative mind of the architect.
During renovations, three sets of pocket doors were discovered sealed within the case mouldings of the dining room, library and living room. In keeping with their commitment to preserve Wendell’s vision, all three sets of doors were restored to working order. In the same vein, contrary to popular practice, they chose to restore plaster rather than drywall over it and to retain the original windows, ensuring that each is in proper working order. Sisal rugs and a soothing shade of blue—in certain lighting, green-ish—paint, called sea-salt, unite the décor throughout, upstairs and down, without distracting from elegant light fixtures (hand-sketched by Wendell in his plans), eight individually unique mantles and their marble surrounds, and pristine hardwood floors. All in all, the Doumars successfully integrated modern comforts while maintaining architectural integrity.
They have also retained reminders of the residents who preceded them. Upstairs, sunshine streams into the windowed sleeping porch, now dressed-out in dainty girl décor, perfect for a 9-year-old. A large, square, leaded-glass window over the bed provides elegant passage for light from the sleeping porch to the second floor landing of the back stairs—another neat and tidy and typical component of Wendell’s design. Equally important, though not as obvious, the moulding between two of the windows overlooking the backyard tattle-tells on a former resident of the room, Hale Barrett. In 1928, his parents, Teto and George Barrett, bought the home from Mrs. Burdell, and their three children, Mary, Katherine and Hale had the run of the house and the expansive yard. The Barretts spent 32 years in the house.
Long before he was nudged from the nest, though, Hale left his mark. Not as artistically rendered as Mark Twain’s wise words decoratively painted above a kitchen arch—“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. It’s the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening”—is the hint of a rudimentary piece of self-expression and exactly the right word at the time. Hale’s bedroom, the sleeping porch, a room to itself, afforded the privacy needed for a 7-year-old lad to test the keen blade of a new pocketknife. He carved his name good and deep, for posterity of course, into the moulding. Not even layers of paint can obscure the evidence of his achievement—a lasting reminder that the house is permanent, though the people are not.
Once the Barrett children grew up and started families of their own, the Henry Street home begged for busy feet once again. When 1960 arrived, Bertha and Alfred Battey bought the house and introduced it to seven children. The seven bedrooms, again, boiled with activity. Eventually, enclosing one of the porches gained more space for the large family. Still the entire place bustled with joy and commotion, which inevitably spilled out into the capacious yard.
One stroll around the grounds and Pam and Ray both knew they had found home before ever entering the house. Pam shares with her predecessors, Teto Barrett and Bertha Battey Toole, a penchant for gardening and the green thumb to go with it. Camellias and dogwoods planted by Teto and Bertha still populate the landscape. Of particular interest is the George B. Barrett camellia, named for the former homeowner, cultivated by Mrs. E.W. Hagler and patented in 1947. Assigned to Orton Plantation Nursery in North Carolina, their 1949 catalogue described it as an early bloomer with large, white, semi-double blossoms hosting golden stamens scattered among the petals.
Pam says, “Bertha Toole and Teto were both very well-known gardeners” and, in reworking the landscape, she sought to conserve their plantings amidst her own. Spirea, roses, camellias, dogwoods, snowdrop, lilies, even a pear tree, were saved, regrouped, reinvigorated and incorporated in the landscape design, as parterres were added, a new driveway was smoothed, the pierced brick wall was restored, an outdoor kitchen was constructed, an urban orchard was planted and a back lawn was cleared. To protect the roots of the massive hardwoods, as grand and as old as the house, the hardscape is defined primarily by pea gravel rather than cement or stone. “It’s so nice having the land and trees in town,” says Ray. The ash tree thrives as it lends shade to the copper-roofed cottage and the circular garden beneath.
More than just propagating beauty, however, Pam delights in growing children in her yard. “Children are fed with milk and praise,” a hand-painted phrase above the refrigerator reads. Pam also feeds them with homegrown sunshine and fruits and vegetables and eggs. Though the Doumars moved into the Augusta city limits in 2001 from a sprawling farm in Appling, they did not shed their predilection for rural conventions. Situated in the side yard, between the driveway and the front lawn, a grouping of apple, pear, and pomegranate trees grows, discreetly mingle with camellias, forsythia and bulbs. Strawberries, blueberries and bee boxes broaden the bounty, as do the fruit trees and raspberry and blackberry bushes on the other side of the driveway. Pam avoids using pesticides, saying she plants enough for all to share, people, animals and insects. Emily, Allie and Jackson are free to browse and pick and eat straight from the orchard as they please.
A raised garden bed built with bricks leftover from the house renovation occupies the grassy “way back” yard, located beyond the parterres and brick wall, recovered from creeping bamboo. Five laying hens roost in the stylish chicken coop. Passion flower, known better as May Pops and wild as a barefoot Georgia dirt road, drapes itself over the henhouse roof in a canopy of early summer purple blooms. In the redwood rabbit hutch, nestled into a bed of blue hydrangeas, a happy, white fur-ball attests to the harmony and balance Pam and Ray have attained on this parcel of land within the city limits. Their affection for quiet rural living has found a place within their affinity for urban conveniences.
The number of people crossing over the threshold of this hand-scratched brick and classic stucco house has not slowed, even as the century mark approaches. The yard, the gardens, the pool, the cottage and the house burgeon with activity. Honey bees buzz, children laugh, hens cluck, party guests toast and neighbors chat. “We have so many friends up and down the street,” says Pam. “Our neighbors make living here so special.” Present weaves into past and out again, enriching the Henry Street house’s every year with abundant, vibrant life—enriching the Doumar family right along with it.
Someday, hopefully far, far into the future, another family will traipse through Wendell’s masterpiece, infusing it with more memories. Another family will move in and make it theirs, updating, altering, tweaking. And when they run their fingertips over the place on the sleeping porch where the letters H-A-L-E tattle-tell from under a cover of paint, they’ll think of the families whose careful stewardship preserved the place they call home.