Nanajam RAD: Restoration and design in partnership with James Askins
James Askins is a third-generation carpenter who’s fantastic at siting, designing space for maximum flexibility, and utilization of materials. He often works without plans, sketching on wood scraps or napkins to show me what he has in mind. Thanks to James’s expertise and fearlessness, his execution always surpasses my imagination. I characterize him as “a Harley-riding country-carpenter with the heart of a Jewish mother.” We’re a good team.
Where You’ll Find Me
My house was moved to Winterville from Winder, Georgia, where it was built by Richard Brevard Russell Sr. sometime around 1910. The structure originally served as his law office as well as the office for the stocking factory he built next-door. When my friend Kenneth spotted the tiny Victorian, it was overgrown and abandoned. He thought I would love it, and I did.
Judge Russell culminated his career in law as Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Georgia. Perhaps the house suits me so well because I was born under the sign of Libra, represented by the scales of justice.
After moving from my big old house, I desperately needed a place to store my lifetime collection of everything. James built this barn out of humble materials like “chicken house” tin and efficient mobile-home windows: It was planned with future residential conversion in mind, and could easily find its place in the tiny-house movement! The only splurge was the tinted glass we inserted in the balcony doors, which came from our collection. It casts a golden glow across the “upstairs” space, which might someday serve as someone’s sleeping loft or studio….maybe even a writing room for me!
I know I’m fortunate to have this place. Aside from housing a mountain of 50-gallon storage tubs, it makes it easier on the vendors (and customers) at A World Away, who can stash their wares or purchases and retrieve them when it’s most convenient.
The barn is simple, but it’s functional and, I think, quite generous!
The Land Trust didn’t want it; few friends could fathom why I did. Poor house…forlorn and crooked, most every window boarded up. I could almost feel it cringe as trucks whizzed by incessantly on the way-too-close four-lane, 441.
I checked it out alone at first, and as I inched my way over sagging floors, I wondered what the hell I’d come for. I saw walls cobbled together with unmatched lumber. I saw snake skins and mouse turds and things I didn’t want to know from. I glimpsed the bathroom only once: It encouraged me to “hold it.”
But I sensed a house that someone’d scrimped and saved for, who’d used whatever he could find to build. I sensed a house that once had room to breathe, before the widened road encroached, before those speeding trucks swallowed every ounce of air. I sensed too that James could work some magic, but I wasn’t sure what he would think. I should have known that he’d relate to the soul who’d built it, and that he’d make sure it would be saved.
Now that house sits high above a country road with wildlife and a few cars passing by. It still has its endearing quirks, but there’s a new upstairs and a cozy screened porch and a wide, open one to welcome you. Now it’s full of art and books and window sills spilling over with succulents. There’s a happy cat and two people I love, and I am so, so glad that James and I gave that crooked little house a brand new home.
For more Nanajam RAD designs, please see