For Leslie and Dave Lennox, when it rains, it pours—literally.
On Sept. 21, 2009, a large fall flood caused the Chattahoochee to back up into both Nancy Creek and a small feeder stream near the Lennoxes’ home. A 1930s brick ranch, the house sat low on a flood plain off West Wesley Road for nearly 80 years unharmed. As the couple and their daughter, Hope, watched the water rise, they moved much of their furniture to the second floor and relocated some precious items (including the cars) to a neighbor’s house up the hill. Then they waited it out.
The water kept coming.
When they realized there was only one door left to exit from, the family decided to evacuate and spend the night in a hotel. The next morning, Dave woke up before dawn to check on the house they had called home for 10 years. He phoned his wife in disbelief. “It’s bad.”
“We had to wait for the water to recede,” says Leslie. “Then everyone we knew came and helped. Anything metal or glass was saved, and some friends began bleaching our furniture so we could try to salvage it.” Another friend gathered all the family’s photos and took them to her house where for months they were washed, air-dried and, most importantly, saved.
“We pulled huge carp out of the muddy water-filled pool,” says Dave. “Like the kind of fish you see on Bass Masters. It was surreal.”
“For a while, we wondered if we could ever return here,” adds Leslie. “Was it worth it to rebuild?”
The flood plain on their property hadn’t always been a negative. For years it served as a patch for garden beds that produced vegetables, herbs and whatever else the family pulled from the ground to make pesto and family meals.
The Lennoxes gave their produce and pesto away at first, but when Holeman & Finch chef Linton Hopkins started the Peachtree Road Farmers Market, they were one of the seven original vendors and have been there ever since. The pesto sold out every week. “So we created more flavors,” says Leslie. Whole Foods caught wind and wanted the pesto on the shelves of their local stores. Hope’s Gardens pesto found its way to the masses and is now sold around the city.
It was the farmers market community that came through for the family after the flood. They sent out emails to their members and found supplies the Lennoxes needed, and a house they could rent for 18 months. With that settled, the family got to work rebuilding.
“We interviewed a lot of different architects,” says Leslie. But Bryan Russell, a partner and owner with Dencity Design in the Old Fourth Ward (dencity.us), was the man for the job. “He has this fabulous way about him,” she explains. “He had zero ego. It was all about building the house for us.” Leslie, a former stylist who worked with Vera Wang at Vogue and then in the early stages of Wang’s bridal business, created storyboards of what the family wanted in their new home. “That’s how we always appraoched a project at the magazine,” she says. “Some architects design their house that you will live in. Instead, he really listened to us and what we wanted.”
This time around, they wanted a modern house. “Clean lines. Glass. Easy maintainence. Those were all on our list,” says Leslie.
“This property is so beautiful, we wanted to actually see it,” adds Dave. “We had to be up high to do that. The architect found the perfect height.”
Built 6 feet higher than the highest flood ever recorded in Georgia history, their new modular, box-style-home is not your typical structure. “I’ve seen so many flood plain houses on stilts,” says Russell. “I’m not a fan of that.” Russell has been in Atlanta for close to 20 years, but he grew up in Malibu, Calif. “I love a beach modern aesthetic,” he says. “It’s coming around [to Atlanta]. Modern is starting to catch on here.”
Russell explains that there are three things going on with the back of the house. First, it faces south, which affords the best light. Second, the floor-to-ceiling windows make each room feel bigger. Then, the overhang above and below keeps the heat off the house.
“Russell has a great sense of angles,” says Dave admiringly. “At street level, you can see into the house just enough to catch the tops of our heads. That creates privacy for the property, even though the house is very open.”
“I’m proud of that roof deck, too,” says Russell. “There are no bad views in this house, which is an architect’s dream.”
The house took more than two years to rebuild. And with Leslie’s design background at the ready, the couple immediately took to decorating themselves. “We picked everything out, down to the doorknobs,” she says.
Leslie played off the strong angles of the house with colorful, warm accents like the metallic silver banquette cushions in the breakfast nook, cowhide pillows and a sheepskin ottoman in the living room and the opalescent tile backsplash in the kitchen.
“Building a house is the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” sighs Leslie. Aside from enduring a life-altering flood, of course. “It’s 1,000 tiny decisions.”
For his part, Russell took all those ideas and created unique inlets, nooks and walkways to give the space intrigue. “The pool was at the existing angle it is now,” notes Russell about the exterior. “I played the concrete wall off the slant to create a triangular courtyard in the middle where they could entertain guests.”
How has the modular design been received by the neighborhood?
“We get people riding by and giving us a thumbs up all the time,” says Dave. “Or they shout out ‘great job’ from their car windows. Generally, the response has been good,” he adds with a chuckle.
With an expansive gaze out any room, it’s no surprise that when it came time for the family to name the house, they decided on the obvious: “Outside In.”