The award-winning architect and recent author praises the pillars of Western style and tells us how to mimic his take on rustic sophistication.
When I first reached out to Jeffrey Dungan, it was about featuring one of his architectural beauties in the pages of our magazine. Like the light shining through the kitchen windows of that Southern farmhouse in our October 2018 issue, Dungan’s Alabama roots reflected off every ceiling plank, floorboard, and structural element of his architectural design. While interviewing him, it was clear that that natural world served as his summit of inspiration. “I think nature is supreme in its ability to inspire and move us,” he told me, before quoting Frank Lloyd Wright’s own sentiments on the importance of the outside world. We wanted to know from Dungan, who recently penned The Nature of Home: Creating Timeless Houses, just how might we bring some of that outside light in to our own home?
Cowboys & Indians: How might a homeowner bring the beauty of their natural surroundings inside?
Jeffrey Dungan: Well, some of my favorite ways, design-wise, as an architect, I frequently work on projects that have absolutely amazing views of nature, so we work very hard to frame the surroundings as if it were a piece of art, or an amazing photograph by, say, Ansel Adams. Another way is to make a more direct physical connection to the outdoors vis a vis terraces and porches or courtyards. These devices also stretch the capabilities of rooms making them feel larger—and with the right fenestration, they can connect the inside and outside in a wonderful way.
C&I: If someone doesn’t have their own farmhouse, how can they still incorporate that rugged Southern style at home?
Dungan: For me it’s always a lot about materials and how they affect us emotionally. I have studied stonework for over 25 years, and it is so varied in terms of color, texture, and shape—I have not come to the end of options in using it. When you bring materials normally used on the exterior inside, you also bring that feeling with it. Also—wood is wonderful and it doesn’t have to be reclaimed from a cotton gin to give off an air of rustic sophistication. Using materials that are less fussy is a wonderful way to accomplish that objective.
When I think of Western architecture, it’s usually about a low-slung and natural place: ranches and barns and bunkhouses that were not usually made by an architect but by people who worked with the land and used natural and simple methods.
C&I: What is your favorite element of classic Western design?
Dungan: When I think of Western architecture, it’s usually about a low-slung and natural place: ranches and barns and bunkhouses that were not usually made by an architect but by people who worked with the land and used natural and simple methods. They also had to design in a way that worked with the sun and protected from searing heat without mechanical systems, so I find the creativity of these indigenous places so very authentic and powerful.
C&I: What trend is worth trying this year?
Dungan: Timelessness is always worth trying for.
C&I: What trend are you ready to say bye to?
Dungan: White everything! So done with that—although white always has its place in my palette.
C&I: What is your style mantra, and what does it mean to you?
Dungan: I want to create emotion in our work and I believe that simple and classic (not classic-AL, necessarily) is always better than the latest fad.
C&I: Generally, what is your favorite room in the house?
Dungan: Usually a small space with a lot of natural light and some layers of antiques and collected pieces—and a banquette is always welcome.
C&I: When it comes to home improvements and design, where do you tell homeowners to save their money?
Dungan: Don’t make the house bigger than it needs to be to comfortably live. I hate rooms that only are used once or twice a year. Now, take all that money we saved and make the materials and quality better.
PHOTOGRAPHY: (From Top) Chris Luker; Helen Norman; sketch by Jeffrey Dungan; Jeffrey Dungan.