Clement J. Ford: The Gentleman Architect

Clement J. Ford was a native born Atlanta architect who continued the tradition of classical architecture that became Atlanta’s hallmark early in the twentieth century.  Those who knew Clem Ford considered him “a gentleman from start to finish,” and his work helped keep the classical flame alive in Atlanta for four decades while many of his peers shifted away from residential architecture and embraced modernism.  While his work may not have been as grand as some, Clem Ford played a significant role as Buckhead continued to develop into the area that we now know.

3555 Knollwood

Born in 1907 Clem Ford studied architecture at Georgia Tech and continued his education at Columbia University as had many other notable Atlanta architects such as Neel Reid and Philip Shutze. Ford remained in New York and worked for nationally known architects William Lawrence Bottomley and Dwight James Baum before returning to Atlanta.

Clem Ford

In 1938 he was awarded the Edward Langley Scholarship to travel and study public housing in Europe.  Ford was the first Southerner to ever earn this award.  He returned to Atlanta and worked for Burge and Stevens, which was designing the nation’s first public housing project, Techwood Homes.  Ford joined the Navy during WWII and served as a “sea bee,” building airstrips in the Pacific theatre.

Black Residence Mantel

No other Atlanta architect seems as connected with a piece of property as Clem Ford is to 240 West Andrews Drive. Ford lived there for approximately fifty years, raising his family, building his home, and running his business.  When the Fords purchased the property, it had a small summerhouse that was built in the 1930s and another small frame structure that served as his studio. Ford designed and had the “big house” built in 1952.  Clem’s office would move over time to the summerhouse and then to the basement of the main house.  The house still stands today but has been altered by the two bay windows and other additions.

240 West Andrews Summerhouse

Clem Ford always operated a small practice and focused on traditional, residential design. With few employees and low overhead, Ford could accept only the commissions he enjoyed and were his passion.  While Ford never created and became a partner in a larger firm, he fit the Atlanta architect mold in almost every other way. His education at Tech and Columbia, his military service in World War Two, his Episcopal faith, and his membership in numerous social clubs made him the perfect keeper of the Atlanta’s gentleman architect tradition.

3049 Andrews Drive

Well-known local landscape architect Edward Daugherty became acquainted with Ford in the late 1960s, and the two designers collaborated on numerous projects beginning with the renovation of the Grant Mansion into the Cherokee Town Club. When asked why a client would choose Ford over one of his competitors, who for many years would have been Buck Crook or Jimmy Means, Daugherty stated “if you wanted a home, Clem was your choice.   If you wanted a show place, you chose someone else.”

2915 Normandy

Ford did not typically have the grand lots and large commissions that many of his predecessors enjoyed, and many of Ford’s commissions were one-story homes built on lots that had been subdivided from earlier grand estates. As with Ford himself, his houses have a relaxed elegance and a human scale that is both comfortable and appealing. Clem Ford was ahead of his time in recognizing the lifestyle changes of the post-servant era and adopted his traditional taste to modern living, focusing attention on the kitchen and other less formal areas.

3164 Andrews Drive

Clem Ford exemplified the gentleman architect in the tradition of the men that preceded him, and he kept the classical flame alive in Atlanta in the dark days after World War II until the style’s rebirth in the 1980s. He created casually elegant homes throughout Atlanta for nearly four decades and remains a hero to those who love Atlanta’s classic residential architecture.

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5 responses to “Clement J. Ford: The Gentleman Architect

  1. Clem Ford designed two homes for my parents….the last one we lived in for over 60 years….It was not a house it was a home full of memories…I say use a good architect or pay in mistakes what you could have paid for an architect

      • My parents first Clem Ford house was 1915 West Wesley Rd. They used an old brick from a bank downtown and the family the Dobes that bought it painted it white. I was born in this house was they only lived there for three years before deciding they wanted us to walk to school and didn’t like a two -story home. it was built in 1948 . Their next house was 999 West Wesley rd.Our family lived there for over 60 years. I believe my father had the sewage system laid out in front of several houses beside us. I think the home next door…1015 west wesley was also a Clem Ford home…Our house was so well built that nothing had to change underneath when the roof was finally replaced with slate after 61 years. I have the set of plans because we used the plan when we built our home here in Perry Ga

  2. My husband and I currently live in the summerhouse designed by Clem Ford. I knew Mr. Ford designed this house, and even lived here for a time, but I did not realize he also used it as his office. We have enjoyed living here so much, and we truly appreciate the beautiful, comfortable architecture of this home. Looking at the early photo of the summerhouse is truly incredible – it feels as though we are living in a piece of history. Apart from the newer kitchen appliances, practically nothing has changed in this home since he designed it. The fireplaces, wood trim, stairwell, and bookshelves are still as beautiful as ever, and the views to the backyard as simply stunning. It is so interesting (and exciting!) to see an old photo of our current home. I will save this photo forever, and every time I look at it I will be reminded of the home my husband and I shared when we got engaged, and during our first few months of marriage. Very special, and thank you for this article!

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