Local houses inspire stock plans
NATCHEZ — Growing up dripping sweat and carving curves in wood to help his carpenter father on the job inspired Kirya J. Duncan into a career that’s a little more hands-off.
“That’s another reason I went into drawing — I didn’t like the manual labor,” Natchez native Duncan said as he described his career path.
A 1989 graduate of North Natchez High School, Duncan now owns his own house drafting and design company, Design Evolutions Inc. in Snellville, Ga., near Atlanta.
In addition to using his carpentry background in a housing design career, Duncan recently brought another bit of inspiration from his hometown to the job.
The Ionic columns, gable roofs and rocking-chair-ready porches of oldest city on the Mississippi River have seeped into Duncan’s drawings. With the recent launch of his Natchez Historical Home Collection, Duncan hopes to bring the architecture of Natchez to the masses.
Duncan said in his business, he sells the stock plans mostly to people who can’t afford design and architectural fees in addition to custom tailoring house designs for clients. So while plans inspired by The Burn, Shields Town House and Cherokee might not match the scale and majesty of the originals, middle class folks can get a taste of the Greek Revival houses which are as populous as crepe myrtles in Natchez.
Duncan said he didn’t realize how spoiled he was to ride his bike past works of architectural genius growing up at his house in Natchez until he left home for the Atlanta area in 1999.
“(Snellville) is a pretty old city, but considering the history of Natchez and how those homes came about, Snellville doesn’t compare,” Duncan said.
And when his colleagues kept bringing up Natchez along with places like Savannah, Ga., in discussions about architecture, Duncan said, he realized Natchez was a special place to call home in his line of work.
When he moved to Georgia, Duncan initially worked for a big residential design company. With the company, he worked on a number of high-end homes for big names. He was the project manager on a house built for 90s music group TLC member Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and for R&B singer Kelly Price. He was a featured designer in a 2007 coffee table book titled “Dream Homes Georgia.”
But now that Duncan is on his own, he’s digging into his roots for inspiration.
Duncan said he grew up a member of Beulah Baptist Church on B Street near the Shields Town House and The Burn.
“I was always intrigued by the look of the houses, knowing how old and good they looked compared to homes of today,” Duncan said.
And he also took note that tourists would pay money to walk through the houses during Pilgrimage, indicating there was a market for the designs,” he said.
Unlike ranch style homes of the 70s, for example, timelessness was also a trait he thought the Natchez-inspired designs would bring to the table.
“The houses (I chose to emulate) seem to stand the test of time; there’s no time stamp,” Duncan said.
Duncan said though his father, Willie James Letcher, didn’t design houses, a combination of his talents steered Duncan to his current career.
Duncan said he inherited a talent of drawing from his father, and the work he performed for his father, whether it be roofing, framing or “just about everything” taught him an important lesson — what he didn’t want to do.
Back when North Natchez offered a trade school, Duncan’s mother, Brenda Letcher, encouraged him to take drafting and designing with instructor Danny Parsons.
“I had a natural gift of drawing,” Duncan said.
As a sophomore, Duncan entered a contest at Hinds Community College and won a scholarship to college. Although he couldn’t accept the scholarship because he wasn’t a senior, the contest gave him the confidence to move forward.
“It’s really what lit the flame,” Duncan said.
From then on, Duncan decided he would attend college and become a drafter. Duncan went on to study building design and architectural engineering at the University of Southern Mississippi.
While a brush with physical labor pushed him to be college bound, Duncan said those early experiences with a hammer and nails gave him an edge.
“It helped me a lot in terms of understanding how a home is put together,” Duncan said.
Duncan said a number of people are interested in the Natchez collection, and he’s working to release two more Natchez inspired designs for more upscale clients based off of Monmouth Plantation and Dunleith.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the homes (in Natchez), and creating a design became the natural thing to do,” Duncan said.
“(The designs) are more or less paying homage to my hometown, if you will, by recreating some of the nostalgic homes … Having (the designs) available to the public is a by product of that process.”