In 1930 Dr. Paul M. Gross was a relatively new chemistry professor at Duke when he and
his wife, Gladys, moved from Trinity Park to Hope Valley. Their new house, in the English
Cottage style, was designed by George Watts Carr as one of the original “seed” houses
commissioned by Hope Valley’s developers, the Mebane & Sharpe Company. In ordering a
house with a distinctly English feel, Mebane and Sharpe hoped to exploit the latest fashion in
home design and set the tone for future construction in the subdivision.
While most of the original Hope Valley houses were built in the Tudor Revival style, the
developers also built a couple of homes in the closely related English Cottage style. The Gross
House is one of them. Both the Tudor and Cottage styles look to English vernacular buildings
for inspiration. But where Tudor designs draw upon medieval precedence, English Cottage style
houses are influenced by the work of contemporary English architects such as Edwin Lutyens, C.
F. A. Voysey and M. H. Ballie-Scott. These men sought to weave traditional forms into a new
English Cottage style houses in America possess the essential line and massing of the
British originals. Unlike their Tudor Revival cousins, Cottage style houses have no half-
timbering, herringbone brickwork, or perpendicular gothic arches. Instead of abundant detail,
decoration is kept to a minimum and materials are used in a straight-forward manner. Simple I-
plan and gable-and-wing plan designs are typical. In keeping with cottage proportions, English
Cottage style houses are often one-and-one half or one-and-three quarter stories in height. Siding
materials include undecorated brick laid in ordinary bonds, wide clapboards mitered at the
corners, and shingles. Strong roof lines are often the dominant feature of Cottage style houses.
Originally, the Gross House was a modest three bedroom home arranged in a gable-and
-wing design. The brick lower and clapboard upper siding combination is typical of the English
Cottage style. On the front of the house, the separation between the two floors is accentuated by
the pent or visor roof. A new wing recently added to the north side of the house also displays
strong Cottage style design elements with a hint of the Elizabethan in its massing and proportion.
The addition is so sensitively joined to the house that its original plan is still plainly visible.
In viewing the interior of the house attention should be paid to the function and
arrangement of the original rooms. The plan of the Perlzweig House is very similar. The front
entry leads into a stair hall. The interior decoration is in a simple American Colonial style. The
doors are of the six- panel colonial type which was relatively new in the late twenties. The stair
rail is supported by a delicately turned newel and spindles. Off the hall to the right is a spacious
living room filling the width of the wing. It was recently expanded by enlarging the house to the
rear. At the south end of the room is an ornamental fireplace with a Georgian mantelpiece.
Beyond, to the left of the mantel is a porch, once screened, but now enclosed. To the right of the
mantel is a study with its own small fireplace.
As in most old Hope Valley homes, the original kitchen space was too small to
accommodate modern living. The current owners, Anne and Tom Niemann, have replaced it
with a new kitchen boasting green granite counter tops and cherry cabinets decorated with
Chinese Chippendale fretwork at the corners.
At the top of the stairs in the original part of the house was once a closet or trunk room
with a window. This room has now been opened up providing extra light and space. The master
bedroom is unusual in its asymmetrical ceiling. Towards the east, the ceiling is slanted because
the house presents a one-and-three-quarter story facade to the street in keeping with its cottage
style. Beyond the master bedroom, in the attic over the study below, is a finished room whose
original purpose is not immediately clear. Could it have been intended to serve as a drawing
room? A sitting area? A sewing room? In the front gable are two smaller bedrooms. In each,
the short walls are joined to the ceiling by delightful curved plaster work accommodating the
pitch of the gable roof.
When the Niemanns acquired the property, it consisted of an important, but relatively tiny
house in one of the most desirable locations in Durham. In market terms, the generous lot was
seriously “under-housed.” Where others might have glommed an unsympathetic addition on the
front of the house or, even worse, demolished it to start over, the Niemanns appreciated what
they had and set about to preserve it. They significantly enlarged the house in a way that did no
violence to the original house. The new wing contains living space for their children including
two large bedrooms and a separate stair. On the ground level is a large screened -in porch
overlooking the spacious lawn. To design the addition, the Niemanns selected local architect
Jane McGarry. L. E. Meyers was their contractor. Together the Niemanns, their architect and
their contractor, deserve much credit for their careful stewardship of this important Durham