People who live in glass houses

The glass house is 40-by-40 feet square and is situated on 1.2 acres.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the famous “glass house” built on a cliff in South Knoxville’s Lakemoor Hills neighborhood by longtime University of Tennessee architecture professor William Starke Shell. He donated it to the Knoxville Museum of Art when he passed away in 2017.

“I would describe it as the most beautiful and the most impractical house in Knoxville,” the museum’s executive director, David Butler, told the News Sentinel last year when the museum put the home up for sale.

It was purchased by Jon and Toni Lawler for $545,000. Jon currently uses the 1,600-square foot one-bedroom, one-bath home as an office. The Lawlers generously offered to let the Knoxville Symphony League hold one of its “Elegant Dining” events there recently and the dinner quickly sold out.

The home took Shell nearly 15 years to build, according to Kathy Proctor, who was a student, friend, caregiver and executor of the introverted professor. She spoke to the Symphony League group and described Dr. Shell as “the professor everyone was scared to have.”

Professor William Starke Shell.

“I hated having him,” she admitted. “But I’m so glad I had him because he caused me to set the standards so high in my own practice.”

The home took so long to build, Proctor said, because Shell was paying cash for it as it was being constructed. Shell’s mentor, with whom he worked in Chicago before coming to UT in 1967 as one of the school’s first architecture professors, was German-born Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, another proponent of starkly geometric architecture.

For 40 years prior to building the glass house, Shell lived in Fort Sanders behind the Copper Cellar restaurant. The home was just part of a $1.2 million estate Shell left to the Knoxville Museum of Art. Shell only lived in the house a couple of years before he passed away, Proctor said.

The event earlier this month was a great “Elegant Dining” evening. Rather than hire a caterer, the volunteer hosts — Linda and John Haynes, Harriet and Fred Hodge, Sue and Randy Humble, Debbie and Lewis Kinnard and Lee and Jim Ley — made all the food themselves and it was delicious. The addition of a young harpist to the festivities and the talk by Proctor made it a very memorable evening which will benefit the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

Some of the hosts. From left, Sue Humble, Debbie Kinnard, Harriet Hodge and Linda Haynes.

Almost all the interior walls are on rollers, so the home can be configured a number of ways. This was the living room on the night we visited.

Another view from outside.

There’s a gas fireplace on the porch.

The view of the Tennessee River from the porch. Sequoyah Hills is directly across the water.

Linda Haynes on the side porch.

The bedroom.

Mingling before the program.

More mingling.

A cheerful Vanessa Haynes helped out with bartending.

Speaking of which, I was happy to see this friendly fish! It adorns my favorite pinot grigio.

Korenna Hodge is the principal harpist for the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra. Her beautiful playing added the perfect touch to the evening.

Patricia Bible, left, and Elizabeth Offringa were among those who scored tickets to the sold-out event.

From left, Laurie Macnair, Ki Stulberg and Cathy Briscoe-Graves.

Mary Cushman, left, and Judy Handley with the signature cocktail called a “Glass House.”

From left, speaker Kathy Proctor with hosts Randy and Sue Humble.

Host Harriet Hodge welcomed everyone.

Then folks settled down to listen to Kathy Proctor tell about Professor Shell and the house that was his passion. An interesting point: Although the place has almost entirely hard surfaces, the sound was not deafening. Shell had put noise-calming apparatuses into the construction. I wish some of my favorite local restaurants would do the same!

Here’s some of that fabulous food. You can’t go wrong with beef tenderloin and horseradish sauce!

Or smoked salmon roll-ups.

My favorite: homemade deviled eggs.

From left, Harriet Hodge, Emma Hines and Clara Hardin.

John Haynes was assigned shuttle duty so guests wouldn’t have to navigate the steep winding driveway. We appreciated it!

Host Lewis Kinnard was documenting the situation.

Judy Smith, left, and Sara Davis.

Connie and Townsend Collins.

Gina Buffum, left, with Elizabeth Koester.

Their husbands, Fred Buffum, left, and Rudy Koester.

Enjoying the ambience, from left, Caroline Buckner, Harriet Hodge, Judy Jorden and Sue Byerly.

Alan Carmichael with Kathy Proctor.

The signature dessert also was called “The Glass House.” Created by pastry chef Karen Crumley at Kitchen 919, it was a Capriole goat cheese and paw paw cheesecake with a pecan crust drizzled with a Malabar spiced liqueur reduction and sprinkled with bourbon candied cocoa nibs and candied mint leaves! Can you believe it?

I was kind of relieved when Linda Haynes showed us this feature. All the windows are equipped with shades that can be completely closed by the touch of a button — either on-site or remotely from the owner’s cellphone.

Here they are all the way down.

What a unique evening. Thanks, again, to the Lawlers and the hosts.



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11 Responses to People who live in glass houses

  1. Alan Carmichael, on October 15th, 2019 at 2:18 pm said:

    The League hosts put on a wonderful event, and Kathy Proctor was an extremely knowledgeable interpreter of the house and the builder, who was very interesting to say the least. Nice to know that the bathroom was completely enclosed. And not moveable.

  2. Melinda Meador, on October 15th, 2019 at 2:28 pm said:

    Thanks for sharing such great photos of the house. I’ve always been fascinated by it.

  3. Diana Morgan, on October 15th, 2019 at 3:11 pm said:

    I am so glad to know what happened to this unique home!
    It is a Knoxville treasure.

  4. Laurence Brown, on October 15th, 2019 at 4:07 pm said:

    Great view but the house itself is hideous. I love industrial modern minimalism, but this design misses the mark…but THAT VIEW!

  5. Cynthia Moxley, on October 15th, 2019 at 4:21 pm said:

    Alan: It sure was a great event. I love the Elegant Dining experiences.
    Melinda: I have, as well.
    Diana: I agree that it is a treasure. Not sure I’d want to live there, but great for a party!
    Laurence: Don’t you think it makes a wonderful office? I think I’d like it for that.

  6. Harriet Hodge, on October 15th, 2019 at 5:11 pm said:

    Cynthia. Thanks for sharing this special Elegant Dining event. As always, we appreciate so much all your and Alan’s support for our wonderful Symphony Orchestra. And a “thank you” to Jon Lawler as well.

  7. Gay Lyons, on October 15th, 2019 at 8:17 pm said:

    I love this house. Wouldn’t it be great to roll walls where you want them? What an inspired location for an Elegant Dining event. I’m sorry I missed this one.

  8. Monique Anderson, on October 16th, 2019 at 12:43 am said:

    The house looks very interesting.

  9. Carolyn leahy, on October 17th, 2019 at 10:57 am said:

    Incredibly interesting. Thanks for sharing the tour.

  10. Connie Wallace, on October 20th, 2019 at 1:55 pm said:

    Kathy Proctor is uniquely qualified to speak about this house. Lucky you to have her there to enlighten you and fill you in on the house’s history. When I toured the house the bedroom was situated overlooking the river, (left) of the core, in the back of structure. So interesting to see the reconfigurable moveable walls in practice. I’d love to see what was involved in changing the layout. I respectfully disagree that this house is hideous. I think it is the very definition of industrial modernism and a very pure structure. Glorious to behold, impossible for most of us to live in. Thanks for sharing this party.

  11. Angela Howard, on October 28th, 2019 at 2:23 pm said:

    Wonderful article! I hope there will be a “next time” to get in on this spectacular event!

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