The Fadum House represents the influence of the newly formed School of Design at North Carolina State College (now University) and the work of modern architects brought in by its dean, Henry Kamphoefner.
In 1949, Dr. Ralph E. Fadum, chair of the Civil Engineering Department, and Nancy, his wife, turned to Kamphoefner for advice on an architect who could design a modest and modern single-family house. After being introduced to the faculty, Nancy selected James W. Fitzgibbon to design the house on a double lot adjacent to Kamphoefner’s, where he was building his own modernist house.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Fitzgibbon was trained in architecture at Syracuse University and the University of Pennsylvania. He was responsible for two other modernist houses in Raleigh: the extensive renovation of his own residence at 617 Kirby Street (1948) and the design of the Paschal House at 3334 Alamance Drive (1950, demolished 2013). Together with the Kamphoefner and Fadum houses, these were among the first modernist residential buildings in Raleigh and exemplify the influence School of Design faculty exerted on the development of modern architecture in North Carolina. Before leaving to teach at Washington University in St. Louis, Fitzgibbon worked with R. Buckminster Fuller and T.C. Howard at Synergetics, Inc. to develop geodesic dome structures.
The Fadum House is located in the Country Club Hills subdivision—then at the far edge of suburban development—on a deep, wooded lot that slopes upward to a golf course at the rear. The design was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses, buildings that balance good design with mass-produced materials and efficient spatial configurations. Like much of Wright’s Usonian work, the Fadum House is based on a clear grid plan. It was the first residential structure in Raleigh that used built-up, load-bearing wood columns to support the double-cantilevered roof truss grid, all made with standard building materials. The column tops fit between the roof girders and the bottoms are bolted to a steel plate resting on brick piers, which are incorporated into the concrete slab foundation. The roof itself has a large, single slope, giving the house its distinctive, wedge-shaped profile.
The angled roof rises above the gently sloping site while the finished floor elevation remains level throughout. This creates a spatial gradient of single-story rooms near the street progressing to a double-story facade facing the golf course in the rear. A walkway leads from the driveway to a sunken patio and main entrance on the southwestern side of the house. The entrance opens onto the living areas where Fitzgibbon’s manipulation of space is immediately apparent. To the right is a single-story living room with open-riser stairs leading to a mezzanine. To the left is the one-and-a half-story dining space with a large brick fireplace and sunken hearth that functions as the centerpiece of the living space. Cabinets separate the living and dining rooms while parquet oak floors impart fluidity to the space. A low brick retaining wall outlines this partially underground space. Wood-framed windows meeting at mitered, butt-jointed corners, provide uninterrupted views of the golf course beyond. In the mezzanine, interior windows look down onto the dining space below. A redwood wall in the dining space separates the living areas from the bedrooms, bathroom, and galley kitchen. The two small bedrooms have built-in cabinets and vanities. A double brick wall maintains privacy with recessed glazing at the top that lets in light.
At 1,390 square feet, the Fadum House did not meet the requirements of twenty-first-century life. In 2002, Nancy Fadum’s estate left her house to the School of Design. After subdividing the property, NC State sold the house in 2004 to Nick and Julia Fountain. The Fountains hired architect Brian Shawcroft, who taught at the School of Design and built many modernist houses in the area, to renovate the structure. Working with builder Tom Brown, Shawcroft’s 600-square-foot addition contains a master suite, screened-in porch, and storage shed. An entrance hallway connects the two structures. The sloping roof of the addition echoes the wedge form of the Fadum House albeit rotated ninety degrees. The house remains a private residence.
Butner, Richard. “Polishing a Modernist Gem: Architect and New Owners Give a Raleigh House New Life by Respecting its Beginnings.” News and Observer, February 17, 2007.
Edmisten, Linda Harris, “Fadum House,” Wake County, North Carolina. National Registry of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1993. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
“House is Raleigh, North Carolina: James W. Fitzgibbon architect.” Architectural Record110 (October 1951).
“James Walter Fitzgibbon” North Carolina Modernist Houses. Accessed March 11, 2019. http://www.ncmodernist.org/.
“The Modern Angle … A House of Light by Day and By Night.” News and Observer, March 25, 1951.