Only an architect with a notably unique background could have executed a project in Greenville that required an interior renovation of an 1,800-square-foot home built in the 1920s—plus the audacious addition of a two-story modernist wing (also 1,800 square feet)—and make it all cohere.
That architect is Elie-Antoine Atallah of the Studio of Metropolitan Design, who was introduced to his new clients by a sculptor, as they all own his work. Atallah brought a sensibility informed by a circuitous route that took him from his native Lebanon to studying fine arts in Le Marche, Italy, to an architectural degree at Syracuse University (he also studied design at Harvard) to an invaluable tenure at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
The global firm, famous for its modernist aesthetic, conjured some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, including Chicago’s Willis Tower, New York’s One World Trade Center and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower. “It was an education,” he says of his six years there. “It is why, I think, I am as good an architect as I am.”
The original stone Tudor house, which stands on an 8-acre hilltop, was built a century ago for a DuPont lawyer; it proved to be perhaps a bit too evocative for this modern family. “It was a little too dark for their lifestyle,” Atallah recalls, “and they were looking for a bit more light and airiness.” Losing several dozen trees in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020 prompted the homeowners to reimagine the entire property. It was the open-style addition, which Atallah calls a “temple of light,” that transformed the site.
The original home, with its steep gables, weathered stone and channeled chimneys, looks like the setting for a murder mystery, a repository of secrets. In contrast, the addition epitomizes transparency, with the feel of a modern museum gallery. It’s monumental, but because of its thin concrete columns and insulated steel-framed glass walls (it recalls the work of Atallah’s influences, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier), the structure appears to float.
The design process began in late 2020; construction was completed two years later. The owners requested a modern, light-filled, flexible space devoid of interior walls. Atallah designed a breakfast area on one side; on the opposite end, the architect created a fireplace with a poured-in-place concrete wall. Fashioned to look like tile, it climbs to the ceiling and is flanked by a pair of Eames chairs, which produces an intimate effect. Rarely used English sycamore paneling, which the architect calls “a modern take on the paneling in the 1920s house,” was chosen for storage, closets, an entertainment center, a bar and bookcases.
Naturally, given the expansive walls of glass, the positioning of the room relative to the sun was paramount. The curtain wall captures the sun’s heat so effectively that the owners open the clerestory windows in the winter (radiant heat from the floors warms the addition, as well as the original home). Meanwhile, in the summer, the sun is so high that it barely grazes the windows. Automatic shades lower by sensor to filter whatever sun peeks through.
None of this would have worked had Atallah not been commissioned to rethink the interiors of the original house as well, with the two sections nodding amiably to each other. “The addition is a modern reinterpretation of the old space,” he says. “The new space has learned from the old space.” Case in point: “We built the addition with poured-in-place concrete, and the color of concrete is incredibly close to the stone that was used on the original house,” the architect explains. And the addition’s porcelain tile flooring resembles the oak floors in the original home.
Then there’s the older home’s custom-designed kitchen and dining area, which serves as a transition between the old and the new. The open space is clean and bright, featuring a contemporary sculptural array of Larose Guyon pendants, but it integrates a stone fireplace against a stark white wall.
Atallah’s role extended beyond architecture to landscaping and interior design, with many Herman Miller pieces sourced from Design Within Reach. He takes only a select number of projects so that he can do a comprehensive job on the commissions he does accept: “When I get involved in a project,” he says, “it’s from soup to nuts.”
A swimming pool predates Atallah’s involvement, and though handsome, with a scalloped edge and an adjacent Jacuzzi, it’s not exactly in the style of the addition. It seems to call for a geometric sliver, which would serve a functional purpose as well—the owner is a swimmer, so a pool suitable for lap swimming is required. “That’s probably our next project,” Atallah says.