Modern Form and Function ~ A Glass and Dream Home Perched Above the Arkansas River ~

September 1, 2009 | By More

Something about the Arkansas River Valley draws people back. Whether family ties, the lush natural beauty of the area or affordable cost of living, retirees are settling here in record numbers.

Some retirees, like artist and photographer, Carroll Rowbotham, moved away after graduating Clarksville High School in 1952 to start a successful career in the ‘big city’ where he prospered, very well, immersed in the sprawling urban landscape of Dallas, Texas.

But his love for the natural beauty of the River Valley kept pulling him back, so in 2005 he started building his dream retirement home within less than 25 miles from his birthplace in Scranton. Fortunately, Rowbotham’s wife, Sherry, an Iowa-born girl from Dallas with a lively artistic streak of her own, shared his vision.

Rowbotham’s dream home, which took nearly two years to build, is a testament to their art. Not surprisingly, the couple chose a light-filled, multi-leveled urban design for their stunning steel, glass and concrete retirement home on the Arkansas River in Johnson County.

With its steel and concrete construction and three cantilevered decks, people who see the Rowbotham home agree there is nothing like it in the River Valley. With its stark angles and unexpected curves, some have suggested it looks like a giant metal nest perched on towering ledge above the river with its unobstructed view for 50 miles. But that’s exactly what the Rowbothams envisioned when they designed and named their home “Le Perchoir De L’Aigle” or “Perch of the Eagle” in French, the language of their favorite European country.

“We’ve got the best of both worlds right here,” said Carroll Rowbotham, a retired Public Relations executive for General Telephone (now called Verizon) and owner of a successful Dallas advertising agency. While living in Dallas, he met Sherry, who was a real estate broker and artist. Today, both Rowbothams are still “serious amateur artists” and their dream home reflects their modern aesthetic tastes.

Designed by Tom Clause Architecture from DesMoines, Iowa, the home is a masterpiece of contemporary form and function that allows a seamless transition between the breathtaking scenery and spaces indoors. And, with its sweeping decks overlooking the magnificent view, one gets the feeling of being on a houseboat floating high above the river.

“It was a challenging and time-consuming home to build,” said Carroll who hired Clayton Davis, a Dallas-based “tinkerer” who specializes in metal constructions, to move to Clarksville for a year to oversee the welding operation on the 3,100 sq ft. steel and concrete building.

For construction of the building itself, Rowbotham hired now-retired Clarksville home builder, Doug Strubel. “I think we did him in, as this was the last house he built,” quipped Carroll.

As the Rowbotham land slopes down to the river at a steep angle, Strubel’s first job was to excavate 30 feet into the bluff to allow three giant piers to be constructed to hold the immense weight of the steal, concrete and glass structure.

Approximately 70% of the house is made of tinted commercial-grade environmental E-glass, an expensive but important consideration, when dealing with Arkansas weather variations, said Sherry. She recently added custom blinds purchased from a local merchant.

To complete the owner’s vision, three cantilevered decks afford stunning views of the Arkansas River and Ouachita Mountain range. The house plan includes a protected outside entrance of each of three levels, a massive great room with convex 18-foot ceilings and clearstory windows, a gourmet kitchen, three bedrooms, two full baths and one half bath. Two attached double garages, one used as an art studio and a second artist studio on the lower floor, complete the layout.

The home features optical illusions and devices throughout the house to bring in the outside. A glass-enclosed elevator connecting the three levels allows direct views of the outdoors as passengers move from floor to floor.

“Because of the illusion of almost floating in mid-air, some people won’t ride in it,” said Carroll.

There is more optical magic upstairs. The top level master suite has a private outside deck overlooking both the river and the great room below through clerestory windows. In the sumptuous master “Jack and Jill” bath there is a television hidden behind one-way glass so the Rowbothams can watch TV while getting ready in the morning. When the television is off, one would never know it was located right above the sink.

The main level includes a gated courtyard and private screened in porch with direct access to a second bath. A dramatic tiled and maple hardwood hallway leads to the great room with gorgeous views of the River from both inside the home and from the large deck outside.

The efficient kitchen, with its modern floor to ceiling cabinets and African granite countertops, also affords multiple views of the river and features a serving ledge that accesses the dining area.

The lower level contains another three- room “Jack and Jill” bathroom, two guest bedrooms and a fourth bedroom now used as Sherry’s well-lit art studio.

Surprisingly, the Rowbothams used local sources for most of their home’s fixtures including lighting, kitchen cabinets and unique bathroom fixtures and their landscaping was done using local plant materials for low maintenance. Several of Carroll’s life sized cement animal sculptures, which he constructed on site, grace the landscaping to provide additional interest.

Although it wasn’t always so, now Sherry enthusiastically agrees with her husband’s assessment of having the ‘best of both worlds’ in the River Valley.

“Being from Dallas, I was used to having everything at my fingertips like good shopping, restaurants, night life and cultural events. I didn’t think there would be anything to do here, no shopping,” said Sherry.

Then, during one fateful trip back to visit Carroll’s family, Sherry fell in love with the River Valley.

“Up until that point, I had absolutely no interest in moving here, but then after Carroll showed me this property, I was sold on the idea.”

“People think there is nothing to do in a small town, but they are mistaken. I didn’t even know a lot of my neighbors when I lived in Dallas, but now I have more social opportunities than ever,” Sherry added. ”People are so friendly here, they just take you in. I love it here!”

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