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MA! Spotlights Unique Homes With Satellite Tour of Athens

For those who think the words “interior design” and “porn” go hand in hand, there is another house tour on the horizon. And if you’re reading this from the comfort of your Eames lounge chair, it’s got your name on it. 

Modern Atlanta (MA!) Design Is Human offers a satellite tour of Athens Sunday, June 4 from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. as part of the larger Atlanta Design Festival. Tickets for the local tour, which is self-guided and features three homes, are $20 and can be purchased at It is a fundraiser for Athens Area Habitat for Humanity.

While all three homes feature thoughtful modern design, not all are brand new. The Green-Franklin home was originally built in 1840 for the Rev. Bedford Langford of Mars Hill Baptist Church, the oldest church in Oconee County. That original home, beloved to its current owners, who purchased it in 1989, was the template and inspiration for a modern addition, which connects to it by an enclosed breezeway. The new structure echoes the form of the original, but is stepped back from the front facade of the historic home.

Homeowners Christine Franklin and Dale Green “very much wanted to maintain the historical integrity” of the original home while combining it with a more open structure for their contemporary lifestyle. The addition defers to the historic home while maintaining the validity and honesty of its contemporary construction. This works in part because both structures are carefully designed; the addition is the work of architect Lori Bork Newcomer.

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Green-Franklin House

In her now-classic book, The Not So Big House, author and architect Sarah Susanka stated, “The current pattern of building big to allow for quantities of furniture with still more room to spare is more akin to wearing a sack than a tailored suit. It may offer capacity, but at the cost of comfort and charm. Spaciousness, although it can look appealing in a photograph, just isn’t conducive to comfort. Many of the huge rooms we see in magazines today are really only comfortable to be in when they are filled with people.”

Michael and Mary Songster, who went to the Lamar Dodd School of Art together years ago and now own their own construction company focusing on custom-build homes, have created the antidote to this unfortunate building trend with a 775-square-foot home that is perfectly fitted to their personalities and lifestyle. The result is a comfortable, energy-efficient house that meets their needs and also serves as a demonstration project to be shared with clients. The intown home, just 16 feet wide but multi-leveled, is a reflection of their values.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about, ‘How will we live here?’” says Mary Songster. The couple wanted to create a home that was just large enough for themselves but flexible enough for entertaining and accommodating their visiting adult daughters. The couple stresses that the house is all about living a large life in a smaller house, and that it is not part of the tiny-house movement. They cite infill housing in Japan and New York City as influences. “They live the life they want to live, but in tiny spaces.”

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Swagler-Marlowe House

On the tour, visitors will get to see firsthand how careful manipulation of ceiling heights, well-placed windows and clever storage (including drawers built into the steps) create a home that is not only efficient, but feels spacious and comfortable.

Because the home fills most of the 1,540-square-foot lot, the roof is utilized as a garden. Half of it is covered in 12 inches of soil and is planted with vegetables and herbs; the other half is an entertaining area. Suspended solar panels provide welcome shade.

The owners of the tour’s third home are admirers of the midcentury aesthetic, reflected in its low-pitched roofs, deep overhangs, single level and the relationship between the house and its sloping site. Julia Marlowe and Roger Swagler were inspired by “memories from our childhood—what was contemporary then. We like the angles as well as the informal look.”

The couple also worked with Newcomer in order to get the single level they strongly desired. “The process was iterative—we gave ideas, she responded, we then responded,” Marlowe says. “The result is so perfect for us that we would encourage people to use an architect.” 

Mary Songster reflects the sentiments of all of the homeowners on the tour, saying of her house, “It lives very well.”