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Call Me Ishee

Carroll B. Ishee was born on July 23, 1921 in Hattiesburg, MS.  He was a lawyer, general contractor, and realtor who designed and built unabashedly modern homes and small commercial buildings on seemingly unapproachable sites along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He had a love for nature and believed people needed to coexist with it not merely experience it from afar.

 

The motivation behind Ishee’s desire to build homes was the need he saw for improving the lack of quality in the houses he was trying to sell to his real estate clients. He began his pursuit to build high quality homes in 1956 with the purchase of a lot in the Gulf Hills neighborhood in Ocean Springs, MS. Ishee went on to build approximately 150 custom homes along the Gulf Coast in what can only be described as a remarkable pace of construction considering he started building in 1956 at the age of 35 and died in 1982 at the age of 61 — 26 years.

 

He drove an old white pickup truck, stored his building supplies which he would often buy out of old buildings on their way to renovation or demolition in a large warehouse near the railroad tracks in Ocean Springs, MS, and was a just a “lanky dude with some kind of persuasive manner”. He would use his manner of persuasion to attract building clients, often at some public place like a grocery store, to go with him on a journey to build his view of what the client’s home should become. We state “his view” because he very rarely took design advice from clients. He was driven to create his opinion of what a great home should be and all he asked for from a client was a building program that listed the number and types of rooms a client wanted in their home.

 

Home of Ellen Ellis Lee

Ellen Ellis Lee’s home is an excellent example of Ishee’s thought process on how a home should be compiled and its many intricate layers. The home consists of three parts: a lower section that was built in 1957 and that is now used as Ellen’s art studio, an upper section that was added on several years later for entertaining purposes and to add two bedrooms, and a detached guest house that was built several years after the second section which contained an indoor garden. All three were flooded and nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but Ellen knew that her Ishees would survive and even thrive after carefully being renovated. The first and third sections express Ishee’s early pursuit of simple building shapes with elegant and rectilinear façade compositions with large expanses of single-pane glass. The second section seems to express a more seasoned and unapologetic, contemporary design intent that relies on irregular roof shapes combined with angular punched windows and a meandering floor plan. The three sections create a nature lover’s haven that is constantly evolving and improving. The home is so inviting and in tune with nature that the owner, a free spirited artist with a heart of gold, must “roar” at a local raccoon family to prevent them from claiming the home for themselves.

 

Home of Brian Milling

Brian Milling’s home was built in 1974 and is what seems to be Ishee’s attempt to create an expansive home with the footprint of a tiny cottage. The expansiveness is created within a traditional house shape, the type a child might draw when asked to draw a house. The traditional notions of ornate moldings and stuffy enclosed rooms, though, are nowhere to be found. Large amounts of glass, as in one of the home’s four exterior walls is made entirely of glass set in a minimal wooden frame, combined with a strategically low amount of walls creates a grand interior space that seems to reach out to the marsh that is a few feet behind the home. The home, while it might appear less structurally strong than other homes, was strong enough to make it through Hurricane Katrina unscathed, where many of its neighbors did not. The only damage occurred when a construction worker accidentally hit the original front door with a tractor while repairing a neighbor’s house.

 

Home of Kris Byrd

Kris Byrd and her husband purchased their jewel-box of a home in 1979 from a bachelor who had hired Ishee to build a home in 1977 that would be tucked within dense trees on a hilly lot.  The structure was so carefully crafted to fit on its varied terrain that when the home was finished one could barely tell from the street, which was about one hundred feet away, that it was there. The exterior composition of the home, due to its planned hidden existence within nature, is in direct relation to Ishee’s other homes—clean lines, subtle material palette, and thoughtful proportions. The interior, though, is where the home reveals its jewel-box identity and Ishee’s maturity as a home designer. Ishee employed strategically placed walls of glass set within wooden frames and high pitched white plastered ceilings to provide clear sight lines though the house and to force occupants to observe the power of nature. Ishee’s opinionated presence about his homes was seen and felt. So much so that Kris, a ceramic artist, painted a wall in her house brown not long after moving in, and upon Ishee’s next visit to the home he exclaimed, “Kris, what have you done to my house?!” Kris said she groveled a bit but soon realized he was right, and she repainted the wall back to its original color-white.

 

As Kris and her husband’s life grew and their children were born, they knew that the former bachelor pad would no longer serve their needs. By this time, Ishee had died, but a few members of his former construction team were still building houses. The expanding family subsequently compiled an Ishee-educated design and construction team that would go on to add a large family room, several bedrooms, and a grand front entrance to the home. While the staunch designer was not directly involved in the continuation of the home, his presence was skillfully channeled into the light-filled, glass surrounded, plaster walled rooms, and as architects, it is even difficult for us to see where Ishee left off and his followers succeeded him.

 

Home of Judi Altman

Judi Altman’s home seems to be a grand culmination of Carroll Ishee’s career as a home designer and builder. The home was built in 1978 or 1979—three years before he died, is three stories tall, and is a composition of irregular roof and building shapes combined with large amounts of plate glass and soaring, atrium-like interior spaces. Standing in those atrium-like spaces forces one to embrace all of nature’s changing beauty due to the floor-to-ceiling glass windows that face a grove of trees at the bottom of a shallow valley that the home seems to be have been built precariously above. Judi, when asked where her favorite part of the house was said after a week of contemplation, “I can’t answer your question directly… because my favorite part of the house changes with the seasons.” From the street side of the exterior, the asymmetrical composition of the two-story building shapes is grounded by a floating concrete walkway that leads to an oversized bright red front door. From the grove side of the exterior, the home is a three-story composition of mostly glass walls covered by roof overhangs that combine with a multi-level deck and a third-story cantilevered balcony to create a building form that seems to be tumbling into the valley below.

 

The home for Judi, her husband, and their two children, was always a bit of a mystery until after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While the family had lived in the home for five years before Katrina, there was something about seeing this majestic piece of architecture taken down to its bare bones that lent some understanding to who Carroll Ishee was and why he did what he did. Judi says the moment when she first truly appreciated the home was when she went down to the first floor of the home, saw the damage, and decided she needed to “have a talk”, and maybe a glass of wine, with Carroll. She asked him, “Carroll, what am I supposed to do now?” After this conversation, Judi felt like she was one with the house and she truly began to make it her own.

 

Author Biography

Mark Talley and Madison Talley own TALLstudio, an architecture firm located on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Mark graduated from Mississippi State in 2010 with a degree in architecture, went on to work in several award winning architecture firms across the Southeast, and recently became a licensed architect. Madison graduated from Mississippi State in 2011 with a degree in architecture and upon graduation went to work as a Visual Artist for Anthropologie. They both left their respective positions in May of 2014 to venture out on their own and to promote insightful and pragmatic design on many different platforms.  To learn a bit more about them and to see a sampling of their work visit www.tall-studio.com.

 

Disclaimer

The authors, Madison and Mark Talley, performed the research into these four Ishee homes. They fact-checked the details the home owners told them about each home, but they could have made a few mistakes. This research, while intended to be based on facts, was compiled to write an opinionated paper on Carroll Ishee and his career.  So, if you find flaws in the research, please contact the authors! They would love to sit down with you and pick your brain about Ishee.