Inside the White Rock Lake Bungalow by architect Bentley Tibbs
When architect Bentley Tibbs was a kid growing up in the Mississippi Delta, he and his brothers built forts in the hay barn. An old weathered structure several hundred feet long, it had a roof full of holes that cast rays of sunlight through the bar. Dust swirled in the light, and he was mesmerized. “The whole space was pierced with these vibrant luminous columns, and the dust made them seem almost solid,” he recalls. “It was the start of how I understood that light could be used as a structural material. “
Tibbs’ sleek design sensibility – which he calls Southern Modernism – was shaped by his early years and later refined by his mentors. “In the Delta, all the buildings were agricultural farm buildings, just collapsing. The old wood, the sound of rain hitting the metal roof and the light coming out of it – it was all so lush and beautiful, ”he says. At Texas A&M in the early 1990s, he studied architecture under British modernist Malcolm Quantrill, who taught him to work with tools and materials, as well as to research and think critically. After college, Tibbs worked for legendary regionalist architect Frank Welch, who designed in the Texas vernacular. “Its streamlined details favored the path I was already on,” says Tibbs.
He opened his own architectural firm in 2000. Although small in size, the firm often tackles several large projects simultaneously. Tibbs currently has three such projects under construction, including a ranch east of Dallas. “I kept the business deliberately small,” he says. “There’s a level of intimate collaboration with the client that really gets a project done with rigor – and it’s all about them and the site. He has my sensitivity, and that’s why they come to me.
His own home, a 1945 bungalow near White Rock Lake, exhibits many aspects of Southern Modernism that define its design aesthetic. Situated on a corner lot in leafy Shamrock Shores a few blocks from the lake, the house was originally a small vacation home, one of many built for young families at the time. Tibbs renovated it, adding 1,000 square feet and a yard. The placement of the main pieces around the courtyard was specific to how he wanted the light to fall.
“Choreographing how and when light hits surfaces allows you to use light,” he says. “Does he wash on the floor where you have your morning coffee?” Does it brush against a wall at dusk? All of these things connect you to the outdoors, to the natural world. The light is weak and delicate on my dining room floor in the morning, but strong and bright in the afternoon. I use this space throughout the day for coffee, meals and as an office. I am constantly aware of the time of day and the time of year by the way the light shapes the room.
Tibbs was trained in the Modernist school of architecture – he prefers clean lines and simple materials to picky ornaments – but he’s not a fan of the movement’s large open plan plans. “One of the downsides of modernism is that it can seem so monumental and the human aspect is lost,” he says. In his own home, he created a feeling of space without sacrificing walls or doors. The kitchen, dining room, glass hallway and den all have aligned doors that create a long view from the front of the house to the back. It feels voluminous and rich to the eye. “The procession, or enfilade, is multi-layered, woven by natural light, colors, art and materials,” he says. “If you dissect it, there’s a lot going on every step of the way. “
A spectacular zinc wall with a portal separates the living room and the dining room. “The portal lets in light so it feels open, but each room still has its own identity,” he says. Throughout the house, the ceilings and walls are covered with simple materials usually reserved for outdoors, such as zinc, cedar, and painted planks. They feel surprisingly lush when used indoors, he says, and subtly reinforce a bond with the outdoors.
Like the architecture of Tibbs, the interior furnishings and art are very personal. He designed a large blue velvet sofa for the living room because it reminds him of his roots. “There was a blue velvet sofa in my childhood homes, so it’s a touchstone for me,” he says. His portrait collection includes half a dozen works from Biloxi, Mississippi, by artist Miles Cleveland Goodwin, who often places his subjects in southern rural landscapes. “They’re not sentimental – they have real strength,” says Tibbs.
He is also drawn to furniture that has character, regardless of the century or style of design. In the den, a worn leather chair from England from the 19th century and a carved piece of furniture from the same period are paired with modern pieces like a 1950s George Nelson tray table and a rare bird’s-foot table in bronze designed in the 1930s by a surrealist artist Méret Oppenheim. He eats, works, and contemplates at a 350-year-old French farmhouse table in the dining room, seated on a chair by mid-20th century design icon Eero Saarinen. He collects muscular Georgian silver cutlery from England and earthy McCartys pottery made from clay from the Mississippi River. And all against a background of dark blues and greens. “Good architecture benefits from decoration,” he says. “An empty building needs to sing, and the way people live is the beauty of space.”
Tibbs’ house has its own beauty to experience. In 2016, a year before his 50th birthday, he got rid of his television and canceled his home internet service. “It wasn’t a moral decision,” he says. “Television and the Internet are distractions. Without them, I do more important things. He started rowing on the lake, and he’s reading more books. He also has more time to take care of his large rose garden, a hobby he acquired at the age of 9 after his boxing trainer – of all people – gave him rose bushes and he learned to cultivate them. He spends a lot of time in the kitchen preparing dishes that his Louisiana-born mother taught him, like crayfish stew and lobster chowder.
The house is often silent, with the exception of a grandfather clock from the 1780s which strikes and strikes on time. “As deliberate as I have made this place a quiet getaway, it’s also a wonderful place to entertain people and hear stories,” says Tibbs, who regularly hosts dinners at his house and invites his neighbors for drinks. . “Spaces have to be quiet – they don’t have to scream for attention – and they have to be loud. But they also need people to supplement them.