During its 116-year life, Avondale Esates’s Miley Bright Farmhouse has been many things: a gentleman’s city retreat, working farm and dairy, dilapidated boarding house, private home, and most recently, bed and breakfast.
Built as a country getaway and farm for Judge John S. Candler (brother of Coca-Cola founder Asa Griggs Candler) in 1900, the 4,068-square-foot house later became the boyhood home of Waffle House cofounder Tom Forkner. By 1926, Avondale Estates was taking shape. The Forkners kept 25 acres of the lot and sold the remaining 425 to the fledgling city.
After the Forkner family moved out, the property was purchased and converted into a 14- to 16-room boarding house that allowed people to pay by the week for accommodations. It was what current owner Diana Simon refers to as a “boarding house/bordello/crackhouse.” After a kitchen fire, the property was allowed to fall into severe disrepair.
Diana, who owns Miley Bright with her husband, Joe, says the house was boarded up and condemned when they bought it in 1997. “The exterior porches had been enclosed and turned into bedrooms. The place was just a rabbit warren of hallways and dark passages—really creepy. All six fireplaces had been filled with concrete and closed over. The doors had been clad in metal with deadbolts. It was terrible.”
Although their previous renovation experience had been limited to one 1920s Poncey-Highland bungalow, the couple saw potential. Perhaps more importantly, they had supportive friends with experience in plumbing, electrical work, tiling, and carpentry. The massive project turned into a full-time job for Joe, who left his corporate job to complete it. Thanks to the advanced level of deterioration and all the additional walls that had been erected during the home’s boarding house days, demolition alone took several years.
The entire project—which included new electrical, plumbing, siding, paint, and roofing—was not complete until 2002. While Diana says they “restored it back to its original footprint and did everything we could to keep its original character,” the Simons opted not to register the sprawling farmhouse as a historic building due to the restrictions that designation imposes on restoration projects.
Still, the heart-pine floors are all original—save for the kitchen, which has salvaged floors. The six original fireplaces were saved, despite the concrete, and topped with mantels made from timber milled on the property. Joe learned the lost art of plaster restoration to maintain the original walls. Several of the four bathrooms have vintage features such as an antique claw-foot tub and hand-painted sinks and tiles (Diana was inspired by the bold color palette of the Biltmore House). Because of Miley Bright’s age, the sconces that hang throughout the home were once plumbed for carbide gas and have since been wired. “Electricity was novel and high-tech back then,” says Diana.
In the backyard, a farm garden pays homage to the property’s history, growing blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, figs, persimmons, and more for use in the 24- by 15-foot chef’s kitchen. A walkway leads back to an old well and a rose bush that grows where an outhouse once stood. Out past a covered veranda, the front garden features a magnificent magnolia tree and a wide array of flowers that attract butterflies and birds during much of the year.
The intent of the restoration was not to build a bed and breakfast. “It was just a labor of love—probably not of common sense but certainly of love,” says Diana. When the job was complete, the couple realized that the six-bedroom farmhouse was “too much house for two people.” They spontaneously put the in-law suite up on bedandbreakfast.com and had their first booking from a guest in Cardiff, Wales, the next day. “We just kind of fell into it,” says Diana. “With the recession, we added more rooms.”
The bed and breakfast, which grosses about $71,000 a year, has hosted guests from Japan, Shanghai, the U.K., Estonia, and around the world. “You have to like meeting lots of folks, but we have enjoyed extending our Southern hospitality to people,” says Diana.