Last year, a little house in Fayetteville set a new record for the state. It first won an American Institute of Architects (AIA) honor award for Arkansas, then one for the Gulf Region, and ultimately moved on to the big prize: a national AIA honor award—one of only eight given across the U.S.—for a single-family custom home.
Though the awards were a pleasant surprise, the home’s owners and creators, architects Marlon and Ati Blackwell, always planned to apply their professional know-how to their own place. “Even when I was in college, I told my roommate that I would never own a house that I hadn’t designed,” says Marlon. “Architect Fay Jones used to say that there were principles he built by, and principles he lived by, and they weren’t that different—that statement rang true for us.”
The challenge to these principles came when the pair, partners in the downtown Fayetteville-based firm Marlon Blackwell Architects, sought to put down roots close to their business and the University of Arkansas campus, where Marlon is a tenured professor. “Our two kids were reaching school age,” says Ati, “and it was time to settle into a neighborhood.”
Opportunity arose when the couple noticed a vacant plot of land for sale in their favorite part of town, a site previously deemed unsuitable for building because of a creek cutting diagonally through the property. “To me, it was a slice of the Ozarks, with a creek and indigenous trees, dropped into the middle of a neighborhood,” says Marlon. “Our firm is known for being able to be inventive with a site, and we saw this as an opportunity.”
They purchased the land, rented a house alongside it and then spent a year watching the ebb and flow of the creek and the nuances of the property throughout the seasons. Eventually, they settled on the idea of the house as a bridge across the creek bed, which is dry most of the summer but has significant flow during rainy seasons.
Starting with steel beams and columns that span the creek, Marlon designed the house as a modern variation of a covered bridge—it’s just one room deep, so all the spaces can receive natural light from four sides, and it stretches across the site horizontally to allow adequate room for both front and back yards. With this modest footprint, a second floor was necessary for bedrooms and family spaces, and Marlon designed a similar box-like layout as the first floor but spun it out at a 90-degree angle to recess it into a row of trees. The resulting L-shape became the name of the 2,500-square-foot residence (L-Stack House), and Marlon used the triangular geometry of a dramatic glass staircase to link the two distinctive forms.
On the interior, abundant light and views were the top priorities, allowing the family to look out to the natural setting but also easily see from room to room. “A sense of openness was important,” says Ati, who concentrated her architectural skills on interior details while Marlon focused on the exterior components. “We wanted to feel as if we were in the middle of everything,” she says, “so we could see what was going on both inside and out.”
Rather than add walls, they defined rooms with a series of boxed windows and partial dividers. A large window seat overlooking the creek is a focal point in the living area, and the shape is repeated in the framing holding the kitchen cabinetry and then again in expansive windows lining the dining space. “They’re forms that reinforce the idea of the bridge,” says Marlon, “and transition you from one room to another.”
Moving from inside to out is seamless as well, with a porch adjacent to the dining area and a covered patio spanning the area below the cantilevered second story. “The notion of the flow of the creek carries over to the house,” he adds. “You can easily move between indoor and outdoor spaces, and that makes for easy, informal living.”
Architect, Interior Design Marlon Blackwell Architects, Fayetteville
Contractor Benchmark Framing, Fayetteville
Landscape Stuart Fulbright Garden Architect, Fayetteville
Appliances Metro Builders Supply, Springdale
Countertops Petersen Granite & Marble, Springdale
Floors Dramis Hardwood Floors, Fayetteville
Furnishings Lacuna Modern Interiors, Fayetteville