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Lisa Mowry


Rhoda Vickers Gives Her Marietta Home a Makeover

Rhoda Vickers knows firsthand how much everyone appreciates a hard-luck story with a happy ending. The longtime Atlantan, a graduate of Sprayberry High School, worked here for thirty years as an executive assistant. In 2005 she remarried and moved to Birmingham, where she retired from the corporate world and started blogging about home decorating. Her posts took an unexpected dramatic turn when her day-trading husband squandered all of her and other clients’ money, fled the country, and was eventually convicted of fraud. “It was a horrible thing to go through, but then it forced me to make a fresh start,” she says now. In 2011 the fifty-something Rhoda divorced, moved back into her parents’ Marietta home—the same one she’d grown up in—and turned her blog, Southern Hospitality, into a full-time profession.

None of this is a secret, because Rhoda shares all at southernhospitalityblog.com, which is mostly a haven for remodeling tales, DIY projects, and her own decorating adventures. But Rhoda’s personal story has helped her mobilize a devoted following. Every month, 230,000 visitors explore her site, which has 15,000 subscribers and a dozen or so weekly sponsors—including Lowe’s, for whom Rhoda is a “brand ambassador.”

A few months after returning to Marietta, Rhoda scraped together enough to buy a 1979 split-level foreclosure in Kennesaw for $70,000. With its old carpet, roach-infested kitchen cabinets, and “hideous” wallpaper, the house gave her plenty of repair challenges to blog about. Nonetheless, Rhoda felt it had potential for a cottagey look, and she loved the screened-in porch.

With the help of her eighty-five-year-old father, Albert Vickers, Rhoda tackled one room at a time—the two of them tearing out old cabinets and assembling new Ikea models, applying backsplash tile, mounting board-and-batten molding in the dining room, and painting bathroom cabinets, to list just a few projects. The Vickers have always been a DIY family, Rhoda notes. And they’re not finished yet, with a screened-porch makeover and several key basement upgrades on the drawing board.

The self-taught renovator’s most popular blog posts are recipes and tutorials, such as instructions for adding frames to mirrors or for applying an antique-black finish to dated furniture—both techniques she’s tested in her own home. Budget ideas like hanging beadboard wallpaper are popular too.

“There’s really an overload of decorating information on the Internet these days,” says Rhoda. “I’m fortunate to have gotten started on the whole blogging thing before it took off. My readers have been cheering me on during this journey.”

This article originally appeared in our May 2013 issue.



Angela Blehm gets to lead a double life. Most of the time, she’s a physician’s wife who homeschools her children, ages five, seven, and nine, out of a ranch house in Gainesville. But once a week or so, Angela morphs into a bohemian artist and heads to her Old Fourth Ward studio/loft, surrounded by exposed brick and funky furnishings.

“I tried painting at home with a sitter watching the kids, but I could still hear them and was always stopping to help them with something,” says Angela. “It breaks up the flow.”

She and her husband, Clayton, bought the loft partly as an investment (a cheap foreclosure deal) and also for intown date nights and family trips. As part of the homeschooling experience, Angela often takes her kids to museums and other enriching city sites. Mostly, though, the loft is a creative outlet for Angela, a place for the University of Houston fine arts graduate to rediscover her inner artist.

The 1,000-square-foot space was originally one open room, with industrial features like exposed brick and concrete floors. “I thought we were going to go dark and moody as the look at first,” says Angela, but some existing white appliances inspired her to think lighter and more feminine. The brick wall was painted white, and the Blehms upgraded the minimalist kitchen by adding plank walls, enclosing the refrigerator, and installing sculptural sconces.

To make the space more livable, they added three walls, creating four distinct rooms: a small kids area furnished with built-in yellow bunk beds and children’s art, a living room/kitchen, a master bedroom with the one bathroom, and a light-filled art studio. Angela cut rug tiles on the diagonal to make geometric runners linking the spaces, and she created the custom oversized pendants that are suspended from the eighteen-foot-high ceilings. Angela’s brother constructed the fixtures’ cylindrical frames with metal from their late father’s sheet metal factory. The canvas shades can be removed and washed.

Furnishings are a mix of flea market finds, family pieces, and Angela’s own paintings, as well as artwork by her children. One favorite vignette is a vintage three-drawer chest topped with a plaster female torso Angela found at Scott Antique Market. She surrounded the sculpture gallery-style with an assortment of her college art projects and sentimental items, such as a photo of her father.

In the living room, the focal point is one of Angela’s paintings, which she named Judy because the image, inspired by a 1950s magazine ad, reminded Angela of how her husband’s aunt Judy would’ve looked at the time. Also in this area are two French-style chairs that were originally dark wood and chenille, but Angela painted the frames light blue, upholstered the seats in blue twill, and splatter-painted them with bleach for a polka-dot effect. (Polka dots are a common motif in her work.) A vinyl office chair became a canvas for the kids after she painted it white and allowed them to write on it with Sharpies.
Earthy tiles in the bathroom are spalike, although plumbing fixtures are an unexpected hot pink. “You don’t see pink faucets in a bathroom very often,” she admits, “but I like a touch of whimsy.”

Although Angela treasures her solitary days, when she can lose herself for hours painting while the sun moves along the loft courtyard, family time in the city is just as important. “We love that now all of us have the opportunity to experience urban living,” she says.

This article originally appeared in our February 2013 issue.

HGTV Green Home Shines

Natural beauty and environmentally conscious architecture have been the hallmarks of Serenbe in Palmetto, Georgia, since its inception, making the neighborhood an obvious choice for this year’s HGTV Green Home. This is the fifth year the network has constructed and given away a fully furnished, eco-friendly showhouse (the winner, chosen earlier, is to be announced this month).

For lead Atlanta architect Steve Kemp, context is everything. So he chose a modern farmhouse concept, inspired by the agrarian setting. “Our homes should respond to the site, immediate neighborhood, region, and culture,” Kemp says. “I love modern architecture, but there needs to be a connection.”

After studying the basic shapes and materials of historic Southern farmhouses for inspiration, Kemp and his team gave their version modern twists with glass walls, metal roofing, and an open floor plan. Although only 2,300 square feet, the three-story house includes a carport and garage in addition to three bedrooms, with courtyards and decking to accentuate the wooded setting. Natural stone, solar panels, and concrete countertops are obvious sustainable choices, but other furnishings and carpet selections are less apparently green.

Visitors can tour the house Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., through June 24. Proceeds from the $20 admission benefit the Serenbe Institute, a nonprofit community organization, and the Chattahoochee Hills Charter School. hgtv.com/greenhome

This article originally appeared in our June 2012 issue.

Modern Family

“All my furniture needs to be charcoal gray,” says Carrie Penley—not necessarily because she loves the color, but to hide paint smears from her artist husband, Steve Penley, who walks around the house in freshly smudged clothes that look like a Jackson Pollock canvas.

The neutral palette also serves an aesthetic purpose. Steve’s paintings are the focal point of every room. With Carrie’s background as an interior designer and Steve’s exuberant art (who else but Steve Penley would cover an entire family room wall with a painting that depicts George Washington crossing the Delaware?), this creative couple wanted a high-style house that is also family-friendly. In fact, Lyall, Abbey, and Parker, the Penley children, have their framed art throughout the house, as does Carrie.

The Carrollton home is a metaphor for Steve’s career: country club and bohemia meeting halfway. When Macon-born Steve was a student at the University of Georgia, he didn’t fit in completely with either his fraternity brothers or his fellow art majors, who thought he wasn’t countercultural enough. “I was snubbed for being too traditional . . . no dreadlocks,” he recalls. After briefly living the life of a starving artist in New York (“I spent more time in subways and selling women’s shoes than I did painting”), he returned to Georgia. A UGA friend opening a Midtown restaurant asked Steve to fill the walls, so he painted historical icons—such as Einstein and George Washington—in an abstract style. Bob Steed, a King & Spalding attorney who dined there, admired the paintings and commissioned a portrait of his wife, and soon Steve’s work was all over Buckhead. Today he is one of Georgia’s most popular artists. His works are in the private collections of dozens of luminaries, including Mitt Romney, Vince Dooley, Ron Gant, and Ferrol Sams.

In the Penley home, Steve’s paintings of Benjamin Franklin, John F. Kennedy, and a Coca-Cola bottle mix well with eclectic furnishings Carrie has collected. In her previous career working for noted Atlanta design experts Dan Carithers, Dotty Travis, and Judy Bentley, Carrie developed a style she calls New Traditional. “I’m actually trying to work some more modern pieces in our house these days,” she says. “I like cleaner lines, but then mixing that with something like Chinese antiques.”

Steve also blends old and new. “So many people in Atlanta are traditional, but they can relate to a painting of mine even though it’s modern,” notes Steve. “It’s sort of like what R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe once said about their music: ‘It’s the acceptable edge of the unacceptable.’”

This article originally appeared in our May 2012 issue.

Warm Palette Bathroom Remodel

The 1990s brought us “Seinfeld,” the World Wide Web, and triumph for the Atlanta Braves, but it wasn’t a stellar decade for builder-designed bathrooms. Flimsy cabinets and cheap brass fixtures, with nary a natural material, defined bathrooms in new houses spreading all over the metro area.

To update their late-1990s master bath in Sandy Springs, Mark and Maria Lazzaro brought in residential designer Brian Patterson and requested textures more complementary to the rich woods they had in the adjacent master bedroom. “The original bathroom was just a sea of white, and since their bedroom has several mahogany case pieces, the overall palette of the two rooms was disjointed,” says Patterson. To warm up the bathroom, he designed two mahogany vanities, which look like his-and-her chests with drawers rather than doors, for a more furniturelike appearance. The designer also added a mahogany “apron” of wood around the tub.

Patterson worked around the existing footprint of the room to keep costs down, yet upgrades make it seem like a brand-new space. Botticino marble contributes sophisticated texture in a wide variety of sizes on the floors, walls, and vanity countertops. Patterson also painted all surfaces cream. “This simplicity in paint colors allowed the stone hues to be showcased,” he says, “rather than the previous all-white doors and white trims.” Other details—a beveled-glass window above the tub, rubbed-bronze fixtures, a frameless shower door, and a handy storage wall—make the room more inviting as well.

“I love the fact that it has clean lines but an elegant look,” says Maria. “Our bathroom now feels like a spa at a resort.”

This article originally appeared in our March 2012 issue.

Hines Ward Builds His Dream House

Most NFL wide receivers don’t devote downtime to reading Architectural Digest in a hotel room, but Hines Ward has always surprised people. Yes, this local sports star played a big role in two Super Bowl wins for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he waltzed and did the cha-cha well enough to win Dancing with the Stars this past summer. If the football lockout hadn’t gotten resolved, maybe he could have appeared on Bravo’s new Million Dollar Decorators.
“I watch HGTV all the time,” says Ward. “I appreciate what designers do, because they have an eye for the final product, bringing everything together.”
Ward’s custom home in north Atlanta combined his wish list—often inspired by projects he’d seen in home and garden magazines or during his travels—with practical ideas from a talented team of architect, designer, builder, and real estate broker. “I like modern, but we wanted to build something that will last for a long time,” says Ward, who grew up in Atlanta and wanted to respect the city’s architectural tradition. The athlete also envisioned a spacious home, with plenty of room for memorabilia and entertaining—but more intimate than other supersized celebrity homes he’d seen. Privacy was a big priority.
Anthony Lacy, a real estate broker and confidante to Ward, remembers getting the call in 2006 that his friend was ready to move. “He told me, ‘I want to build my final house, my dream house,’” says Lacy. After finding the right location, Lacy searched for the right professionals, selecting architect David Grace to work with Ward’s interior designer Ann Davis. Many interviews later, Lacy discovered local builder Dick Clegg, who would have the task of interpreting everyone’s ideas with a critical eye. “I’m the hub of the wheel, the person in the middle of all these creative people,” says Clegg.
The fact that their client would be gone eight months of the year could have been problematic for the Atlanta-based crew, especially since Ward wanted to be involved in all decisions. However, the team kept in touch with real-time, on-site video and lengthy conference calls. The football star contributed some winning ideas of his own: chocolate-colored woodwork that reinforces the masculine decor, a master suite featuring a tall upholstered headboard and raised platform for the bed, a poker room for hanging out with his buddies (“I decided to bring a little Vegas home to me,” says Ward), and tile floors on the lower level so his seven-year-old son Jaden and other children could run indoors with muddy feet. Glamorous fabrics, large-scale art, and swanky lighting feel like a luxurious resort, and that’s entirely the point. “I wanted my house to be like a W Hotel,” says Ward.
But there’s a softer side to the house, too. Ward’s mother lives on the property in her own apartment. The football star’s family history and devotion to his mother are part of what endears him to fans. Born in Seoul, Korea, to a Korean mother and African American father, Hines moved to Atlanta with his family when he was a year old. His parents divorced soon after that, and his mother sometimes worked three jobs at once to support them. While at Forest Park High School, Ward was an all-American football player (the two-sport athlete was also drafted by MLB’s Florida Marlins). He earned a spot between the hedges at the University of Georgia in the mid-1990s, playing various positions and eventually earning All-SEC honors his senior year.
Drafted in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1998, Ward went on to become the team’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. The only receiver in Steeler history to top 1,000 receiving yards for four consecutive seasons, he was named to the Steelers’ 75th Season All-Time Team. Ward was selected MVP at Super Bowl XL, becoming the first Korean American with that distinction. His nonprofit organization, the Helping Hands Foundation, aids underprivileged American youth and, overseas, biracial children who have suffered discrimination, especially in Korea.
“Family is the most important thing to Hines at the end of the day,” says Lacy of the man President Barack Obama has called “the happiest man in football.” “Throughout the whole process with the house, he’s always figuring out a way to have his mom and son nearby.”
On why the ATL will always be home “There’s a mix of everything here. It’s good for families, great for singles, too,” says Ward.
Favorite place to take Mom out for a meal “We head to Buford Highway and go to one of the Korean restaurants,” he says. “I also like Twist . . . really, anything Asian. I would say I’ve probably tried every sushi restaurant in town.”
But he’s no food snob “To be honest,” says Ward, “I can go to Chops one day and Red Lobster the next.”
What he misses Going to more—actually, any—University of Georgia football games. “They’re always playing during my football season, so I can’t get there,” he says, adding, “I’m always going to be a big Bulldog fan.” Also, going to a Braves game or other local sports. This hometown boy draws attention, making it hard to have a regular day at the ballpark. Would he ever use a disguise to go out in public? He replies quickly, “No, I’ve got to be me.”
Architect David Grace, A Classical Studio, acsfra.com, 770-248-2800
Interior Designer Ann Davis, Design by Time, dbtfinedesigns.com, 678-508-3778
Real Estate Broker Anthony Lacy, Lacy and Associates, lacyandassoc.com, 404-995-7054
Builder Dick Clegg (project manager: Brian Sisterson), Housing Trends, housingtrendsinc.com, 770-449-1888
This article originally appeared in our August 2011 issue.

James Farmer III

If that arbiter of Southern style, Garden & Gun magazine, had a Georgia poster boy (besides Sid Mashburn), it would be James Farmer III—a twenty-nine-year-old prepster who refurbishes historic Southern gardens and blogs about farm-to-table cuisine. Take, for example, his advice about iced tea. He uses one Earl Grey tea bag to four standard ones in order to catch the black tea’s hint of bergamot orange. He sweetens the brew with simple syrup made from sugar and limes or Meyer lemons. In fall he adds a rosemary stalk for seasonal, “pinelike” flavor.
It’s that kind of simple but sophisticated style that has won over clients, talk show hosts, and blog followers around the South, prompting a book deal with prestigious Gibbs Smith publishers. Farmer’s debut, A Time to Plant, arrives this month. It explores “garden living,” with chapters on planting, cooking, and entertaining.
How did Farmer become such a lifestyle multitasker? “I can’t remember not being in the kitchen with Mimi, my grandmother, as a child,” says Farmer, who grew up in Kathleen, near Macon. “I’m sure I was in the way at times, but I would be the best sous chef a kid could be, and I loved bringing in vegetables from the garden—whatever was ‘coming in.’” Tabletop decorating and flower arranging became specialties, too—using antique vessels to hold flowers, herbs, vines, or anything else that inspired his relaxed approach.
Weekends in Atlanta were also a big part of his childhood. “We country mice would love to come to town,” Farmer says, with fond memories of Pano’s & Paul’s, the Buckhead Diner (still one of his favorites), and visiting his muse, the Atlanta Botanical Garden. After earning a landscape design degree at Auburn, Farmer honed his skills for private clients from Sea Island to Cashiers, but his interest in all aspects of Southern culture led to broader aspirations.
“James Farmer is an old soul with a hip, original voice—a Southern gentleman for the new millennium,” says Sheila Benson, whose Miami Circle store, Foxglove Antiques, will host his first book signing.

This article originally appeared in our August 2011 issue.

Virginia-Highland Abode

As a family physician, David Scurlock advises patients and leads medical missions to Latin America, but he also knows when it’s time to call in the specialists. For his Virginia-Highland abode, he needed an experienced trio of interior designer (Darden Straus), architect (Audrey Godiers), and contractor (Allen Layson) to transform a dated-looking bungalow into a comfortable, airy home that acknowledges its Craftsman roots.
A wide front porch defines the iconic bungalow look and is what attracted Scurlock to the 1920s house. “The front porch is long, wide, and facing north, with a side porte cochere,” he says. “It seemed like the perfect place for a Southern porch party.”
Designer Straus recalls that the front door was already painted aubergine—“that was a nice eye-catcher,” she says—so she used the unusual color as a starting point. To create an outdoor living room, Straus purchased inexpensive furniture from Pier 1 and covered the cushions in a masculine fabric that includes purple. She also commissioned long custom planters that accomplish a variety of goals: eliminating the need for railings, providing privacy for the seating area, and incorporating natural elements. Weatherproof curtains and lamps make the area even cozier.
Inside, a two-story addition off the back created more entertaining opportunities with a new kitchen and keeping room opening to a backyard pool oasis, as well as a tucked-in home office upstairs. Existing attic space became a comfortable master suite with a vaulted-ceiling bedroom and chic master bath.
The kitchen references Craftsman spirit—earthy colors, flat-panel doors, and an emphasis on natural wood—but feels lighter and more open than a strict historic interpretation. “The kitchen was designed to be very simple: red maple cabinetry that’s minimal and flush with appliances,” says Scurlock. Adjacent to the kitchen, Scurlock’s “men’s den,” as he calls it, offers a laid-back place to gather, read, or watch television.
Interior Design Darden Straus, 404-510-1247, dardenstraus.com
Architect Audrey Godier, 404-259-2478, godiersarchitecture.com
Contractor Constructive Innovations, Allen Layson, 404-245-2856
Landscape Lush Life, 404-841-9661, lushlifehomegarden.com
This article originally appeared in our July 2011 issue.

Hot Shop: Nandina

Nowhere in the city will you find a greater architectural range than in Inman Park—where homes vary from grand Victorian mansions to mid-rise condos. The contrast doesn’t faze Nandina Home & Design, a home furnishings store and interior design studio that opened in the neighborhood last year. Mix-and-don’t-match is the best formula for every genre, according to store owner and designer John Ishmael.

“Atlanta is very design savvy these days,” Ishmael says. “Our clients are looking for a cleaner aesthetic that combines traditional elements with a modern twist.” Case in point: a living room Ishmael recently worked on in an Inman Park bungalow, where he mixed a charcoal, silk-velvet-blend sofa with an antique industrial factory cart–turned–coffee table, then added the homeowners’ folk art collection for a bit of whimsy to offset the heavier pieces.

Nandina—named after the low-maintenance evergreen shrub—also stresses livable style. The store’s “real life, real style” motto affirms that “kids, dogs, parties, and life do happen, and no one needs to skimp on glamorous living because of them.”

Ishmael adds, “We can design and furnish a whole house, make a single window treatment, or sell just a candle.” Furnishings on the floor include a mirrored nightstand for $865, a shag rug at $189, and a set of Foo dog table lamps around $660. Designers are available to handle both space-planning and installation.

Evening events like the monthly Wine and Design series, on topics such as accessorizing or art collecting, bring neighbors together and promote local artists. 6170 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs, 404-521-9303, nandinahome.com

This article originally appeared in our June 2011 issue and was updated in 2017 to reflect Nandina’s new address.

Double Take: Virginia-Highland Nursery

The days of fussy nurseries—with elaborate Peter Rabbit murals and poufed pastel valances—may be numbered. Today’s new parents often prefer more streamlined design schemes. “It’s partly a younger generation thing that nurseries are untraditional these days,” says interior designer Sherry Hart.
Such was the case for her clients Mande and Joe Gasser. Hart had helped the Gassers decorate their Virginia-Highland townhouse’s guest bedroom four years ago, and recently she worked with them to turn the room into a nursery.
“It made sense to Mande and Joe to keep the existing colors, so it wouldn’t be hard to change it back to a guest room when they might be ready for resale,” says Hart. The Gassers knew they were having a boy (son Jake was born in January, during snow week!), but they wanted to keep the look gender neutral.
Hart repurposed many of the room’s original elements. Some aged barn doors she’d found years ago at a Cheshire Bridge Road antique shop remained as a focal point. The doors had served as a headboard for the guest bed, but, Hart says, “they also make a great backdrop for the crib—which, by the way, is usually on the largest wall and can look kind of lonely all by itself.”
The yellow ceiling was also left intact, since it provides a sunny accent for the space. A light fixture made from an old basket adds to the casual ambience. The Gassers splurged on a crib, but otherwise Hart furnished the room with inexpensive, unexpected items to give it personality. Her finds included a papier-mâché gazelle head from Anthropologie, an abacus from CB2, a chalkboard she bought for one dollar at a yard sale, lighting from Target, shelves from Ikea, and a mobile from West Elm that was originally sold as holiday decor. Custom curtains were made from drop cloths picked up at Home Depot.
While many of the finds were serendipitous, Hart did have a general plan. The color palette of grays and yellows mixed with graphic patterns creates a modern look. An abstract animal print Hart used for pillows (and a shower curtain in an adjacent bathroom) adds color without being too sweet.
In fact, two items of clothing hanging in the room emphasize that this is no Mother Goose nursery: a onesie with “Camzilla” (and Cam Newton’s number) on it and a mini AC/DC T-shirt.
This article originally appeared in our April 2011 issue.

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