Shane Meder understands the challenges of downsizing, because he just did it. “I was done with my big-house living and ready for a new way to live,” the interior designer says. Going from his “tricked-out” home—complete with in-house theater and gym—to a Buckhead condo, Meder had to pare down decades of acquired furnishings.
Now he helps clients adjust to empty-nester status or just a smaller domicile. “I tell people that it was a different chapter when you lived in a five-bedroom house, and now it’s time for a new chapter in life,” Meder says. People are often happier with fewer things and a cozier space, he adds. “Most people enjoy actually watching TV together in the one family room instead of everyone spread out all over a three-story house.”
The designer’s advice for living with less:
1. Start with the small stuff. “Begin with a collection, like your collection of candlesticks, and just pick a few favorites, then box everything else up,” Meder advises. All the wedding china doesn’t need to be displayed, and almost everyone puts out too many picture frames. “Your daughter is now thirty-five, so do you really need eight photos of her when she was in kindergarten on the piano?”
2. Throw out old decorating ideas. “When you say, ‘I can’t put those lamps in the bedroom because those are my living room lamps,’ you’ve become your mother.”
3. Get outside help. When dividing up furnishings among grown children, sometimes it’s helpful to hire an outsider to be a mediator. Similarly, there are companies that hold estate sales or arrange for donation of unwanted items.
4. Streamline holiday decorating. Go through seasonal decorations and keep only the handmade or truly distinctive items. Give away all the department store Santas, balls, and garlands.
5. Enjoy knowing your donations will be used by someone else. One client donated furnishings to a women’s shelter and ended up getting involved with it. “Sometimes, giving away things leads to a larger purpose,” Meder says. blacksheepinteriors.com
This article originally appeared in our November 2010 issue.
Liza Bryan likes to create interiors where fine antiques and carefully selected furnishings are the centerpieces, so imagine the designer’s disappointment upon hearing a new client say, “I don’t like furniture, and I don’t like antiques.”
Fortunately, the client added, “But I do like art.” So began Bryan’s sweet collaboration with a Buckhead couple whose astute acquisitions include works by renowned artists such as Todd Murphy, Benny Andrews, the Moulthrop family, and even Picasso—yes, that Picasso.
Bryan and her clients developed a mutually beneficial relationship, where each educated the other about their passions. Bryan realized right away what the focal points would be. “When you’re designing a room, you can only have a few stars, and the art is the star for this house,” she says. “There are so many givens with the art that, to a certain extent, the rest falls into place.”
Architecture also played an important role. The townhouse’s architectural elements complemented the less-is-more decorating philosophy, with walls unadorned by molding, a subtle coffered ceiling, arched doorways, and an elegant custom iron banister by Charles Calhoun. Atlanta architect Peter Block created this quiet neighborhood, known as the Enclave on Peachtree, to resemble homes on the streets of Paris. The European feel appealed to Bryan’s clients and fit the contemporary look they desired.
Bryan sought ways to add warmth to the more streamlined aesthetic. “Modern design can be so predictable,” she says. “We knew we didn’t want a lot of color, but we wanted to add visual interest in other ways.” The living room sofa and chairs are mostly neutral to fit the cool gray color palette, for instance, but the designer chose a textured linen, then added pillows with a graphic Manuel Canovas print.
In the dining room, far right, Bryan selected a tea paper for the ceiling and a sisal rug for the floor, both adding depth to the clean-lined space. A colorful ceramic bowl by Jack Moulthrop has a familiar shape but puts a different twist on the Moulthrop heritage. It and a Benny Andrews painting that hangs here are two of the homeowners’ favorite pieces. Bryan selected a classic round table and upholstered chairs to allow the art—and the sculptural chandelier—to shine.
1The Homeowners John and Wendi Wells, with their two teenage children, Brant and Audrey. John’s dedication to green practices crossed over from his job with eco-minded Interface, the Atlanta-based carpet company, to the family’s new custom home.
Green House Solar panels on the roof, geothermal heating and air conditioning, and rainwater harvesting systems reduce utility costs. In the kitchen, floors and island countertop are each made of reclaimed wood. Formaldehyde-free cabinets and a salvaged light fixture also give this classic kitchen a sustainable sensibility. But if the materials are cutting-edge, the design is Old World. Cabinetry resembles furniture. Vintage touches such as subway tile, marble countertops, and a wood-plank ceiling give the new house a historic look.
Back Story The wood used for the island top is from an old oak tree that was knocked down in Oakland Cemetery by the tornado of 2008 (when many of the windows in the Westin Peachtree Plaza were also damaged). An adjacent butcher-block prep table was made from wood salvaged from the White Provision factory. Wendi loves the island’s beat-up, lived-in quality. “I wanted the island to look like an old French bakery table with an antique piece of furniture pushed up next to it,” she says. “We laugh that it’s full of ghosts and haints.”
Test Drive A few weeks after moving into the new house, Wendi and John hosted Thanksgiving for twenty-five people. “The tables where people ate were spread out all over the house, but we were able to put all the food and plates—the entire meal—on the island,” recalls Wendi. The kitchen’s three dishwashers (a full-size one and two dishwasher drawers) earned their keep that day too.
2 The Homeowners Howard and Ellen Feinsand commute between Manhattan, Indianapolis, and Atlanta.
The Challenge Although only 200 square feet (just eight feet wide), this galley-style kitchen in their Colony House condo has to live large. “The Feinsands needed the room to function in three different ways,” says kitchen designer Robin Pittman of Design Galleria. “It serves as a kitchen, laundry room, and a bar–serving area, so we had to use every inch.”
Triple Duty A pantry at the end of the kitchen has frosted glass doors so the room doesn’t seem too closed in. Open metal shelves against a glass backsplash keep the look modern and streamlined. The other side of the room contains a second sink (where Ellen repots her orchids) and hides a washer-dryer below. Counter space can be used to fold clean laundry one day, then serve as an entertaining station the next.
Shiny Things The cappuccino-colored cabinets have a shiny lacquer finish—a good fit for this high-rise home that overlooks the sparkle of Atlanta skyscrapers—but the floors are limestone tiles with a matte surface. Similarly, the metal fixtures and glass backsplash are reflective, but honed granite countertops provide contrast. “Everyone loves the colors in here, and particularly the glass tiles,” says Ellen. Design Galleria kitchen specialists and interior designer Bill Stewart worked together to coordinate the carefully balanced room.
Test Drive The Feinsands have entertained as many as a hundred guests in their condo. “We’ve had two particularly memorable parties using this kitchen,” says Ellen. “A dinner party in honor of artist Todd Murphy to celebrate the installation of a major piece by him in our living room, and a surprise party for all of Howard’s friends to celebrate his birthday.”
3 The Homeowners The ultimate hyphenate couple: Cinda, an interior designer–TV personality–owner of Cinda B, a quilted accessories line; and Mark, an artist-businessman-entrepreneur. They bought a 1920s Italianate house in Buckhead a few years ago and gave it their own artsy update.
Save and Splurge The Boomershines saved money on remodeling their kitchen by keeping existing cabinetry, although they rearranged the components to position the sink under a window. To spruce up the old cabinets, every surface now wears Lucite hardware and a couple coats of gray oil paint in a glossy finish. With the cabinetry savings, they splurged on Calcutta marble countertops. A cork floor brings more interesting texture into the room. Cinda loves the mix of high-low elements, which include budget-savers such as four Ikea pendants. “One wouldn’t have been interesting. It’s the repetition that works,” says Cinda.
Walls of Another Stripe “Home is my laboratory to experiment with ideas that clients wouldn’t normally let me do,” says Cinda. Case in point: using leftover paint from adjoining rooms to create stripes on the upper walls, which is both an affordable wall treatment and a conversation piece. Mark patiently did the application himself. “A good level and painters tape are your best friends for a job like that,” says Cinda.
Time Together “We take turns as far as who does the cooking, depending on who’s the busiest at any given time,” says Cinda. But both of them pitch in for the annual “Fig Extravaganza.” In July, when the Boomershines’ backyard fig tree is bursting with fruit, the two experiment with every sort of concoction that can be made with figs—such as fig-prosciutto pizza. “We try new things every day until we’re totally sick of figs,” she says.
This article originally appeared in our November 2010 issue.
Kristine and Joe Hope’s summer house is not at the lake, it’s in their backyard. Architects Rick Spitzmiller and Robert Norris designed the freestanding structure after giving the Hopes’ house an exterior face-lift. “It’s all about the destination, a way to pull people into the garden,” explains Spitzmiller. “Ninety-nine percent of people might build a screened porch off the back of their house instead, but they would be missing something. It’s not quite the same.”
“When we bought our house twenty-six years ago, it was just about the ugliest house on the street, but the prettiest lot,” Kristine recalls. Their cozy backyard retreat was modeled after eighteenth-century “follies,” whimsical structures popular in French and English gardens. The architects originally proposed it as a pool house, but the Hopes nixed the pool and opted for a water feature instead—a narrow channel called a rill that leads to a gurgling fountain. Set on an axis with the main house, the summer house lures visitors through the Hopes’ one-acre-plus property.
The charming, understated facade—with its bell-cast eaves, double doors, and fieldstone accents—looks as if it were plucked from an English garden. By contrast, the interior is deceptively large, with a semi-octagonal wall that projects into the woods and offers an impressive view. Stone floors provide durability, vaulted ceilings enhance the sense of spaciousness, and screens keep out bugs. Although only 500 square feet, the little house is an ideal place to host a luncheon, watch a football game with the Hopes’ college-age children, or build a fire in the massive stone fireplace.
Joe often spends the day gardening, then starts a fire for evening ambience, reports his wife. “Even though it’s called a summer house, we definitely use it year-round,” says Kristine. “It is on the highest part of our property, up in the trees. It feels like you’re in the mountains.”
Fifteen years ago, when Jeff Jones bought a 1930s Midtown house that had been destroyed by fire, the residential designer vowed to rebuild an even better one. “You always hate to lose an old house, but sometimes it’s an opportunity to redesign and do it right,” he says. Jones drew inspiration from a classically designed cottage in Inman Park, with symmetrical windows and a wide center hall providing an axis for the floor plan. After studying historic plans and experimenting with scale, he designed and built this deceivingly simple house with cedar shingles, four narrow columns, and a brick courtyard garden in front.
Although the updated, shotgun-inspired house won a local urban design award, Jones is almost more proud of a nearby resident’s comment. “He said this new house fits in the neighborhood better than a lot of the older houses,” recalls Jones. “So many of the older houses have been changed so that they’ve lost their charm.”
This inviting residence soon caught the eye of Joe McGinnis, who used to slow down whenever he was driving by so he could get a close look at his favorite house. When McGinnis spotted a “For Sale” sign in 2000, he slammed on the brakes and went right to Jones, even though the house was already under contract. Fortunately for McGinnis, the first buyer dropped out, so he purchased the home and moved in with his partner, Alan Frazier.
McGinnis was immediately as smitten with the character-rich interior as he had been with the exterior. In the living room, twin salvaged brick fireplaces pass through to the kitchen and dining room, a reference to the days when homes relied on fire for cooking and heating. Weathered shutters serve as doors for kitchen cabinets. And the pine floors came from a timber company in the Northeast. Jones was taken aback when the boards arrived covered in black soot. “Fortunately, all it took was a light sanding to give them a good patina,” Jones says.
Wanting more of a live/work/play setting, McGinnis designed and built a carriage house studio for the backyard, where he could run his brand marketing business, Voyage Communications. With its similar facade of shingles, columns, and a water feature out front, the smaller version pays homage to the main structure. “We really respected Jeff’s vision and wanted to do right by his example,” says McGinnis, who even ran his plans by Jones for approval. “The challenge was not to overdesign it, but to honor the original vision of simplicity and balance.”
McGinnis and Frazier’s furniture reflects their creative spirit as well. Midcentury items, flea market finds, and newer pieces are carefully mixed with antiques and contemporary art. The living room, for example, started with a button-tufted blue wool chair with swanky, retro-style lines. Other furnishings range from leather Barcelona stools and Saarinen tulip tables to an oversized Italian urn and an antique wooden chest. “It’s not an identifiable look,” McGinnis explains. “It’s more of a collection.”
With its wall-sized 7Up sign, the home office is always a conversation piece. “I knew I wanted the sign when I first saw it at Kudzu Antiques,” says McGinnis. At first the dealer didn’t want to sell, but after months of persuading, McGinnis “wore him down” and brought home the iconic Peter Max advertisement. Midcentury desk furniture also channels the sixties, a heyday of the advertising industry. “I was thinking Bewitched when I decorated the office,” says McGinnis. “I wanted a nod to Darrin’s office.” After all, it’s his business to recognize a memorable brand.
This article originally appeared in our July 2010 issue.
For five years, at the end of every long cycling trip, Ken McDaniel would turn to his wife Connie and ask, “Wouldn’t it be great to jump in a pool right now?” Connie didn’t take his suggestion very seriously, but one day, after a particularly grueling ride, she finally had to agree. That’s all the encouragement Ken needed to start investigating a backyard redo.
“We’d thought about a second home at the beach or in the mountains,” says Ken. “But we really love Atlanta, so we figured, let’s just build an oasis here and we can enjoy it forever.”
Working with Home ReBuilders and Artistic Pools, Ken and Connie, both financial executives, laid out the wish list for their Morningside backyard: a covered outdoor kitchen with room for lounging and dining, a pool for both exercise and relaxation, plus easy-to-maintain hardscapes that tie the two areas together.
The original yard had a typical wooden deck and grass lawn, with two lonely Cryptomeria shrubs on the side. The new pool breaks up the expanse with its asymmetrical stair-step shape, three waterfalls cascading off a side wall, and a shallow lounging area in the pool itself. This ten-by-ten-foot section is only a few inches deep and is an ideal spot for lounge chairs (there’s even a hole for inserting an umbrella). Another fun feature is the fire pit, rather than the traditional hot tub, alongside the pool. The fire pit becomes the gathering place in cooler months, when the McDaniels bring chairs down on the lawn around the hearth. In summer months, the flames provide ambience at night.
The covered porch with vaulted ceiling and the adjacent pergola provide cozy quarters for cooking and relaxing al fresco. The textures of bluestone tiles, stacked stone, stainless steel, and painted wood against the house’s brick walls create an organic vibe, almost like an outdoor loft.
Home ReBuilders owner Bill Bartlett has recently seen more outdoor remodeling jobs like this one. “These types of projects that connect our interior and outdoor activities have been very popular the last five years,” he says. “In Atlanta we can enjoy outdoor living eight to nine months out of the year, so entertaining outside will become even more popular.”
Kitchens are easily the most expensive room to remodel in a home, but that didn’t intimidate Kate Mattison and Matt Mewis. Small budgets often lead to more creative solutions, assert the optimistic expectant parents. “I’ve always been handy,” says Mewis, a graphic designer by day. “But more importantly, I’ve never been afraid to try something—especially when Kate challenges me to make it happen.”
The nine-by-nine-foot, black-and-white kitchen in their 1920s Grant Park townhouse needed a complete redo. They wanted a more open space with old-house character but modern flair. “We definitely wanted it to be environmentally friendly also,” notes Mattison, who is an interior designer.
Good idea #1 Use discarded bowling lanes as countertops. At $5 per square foot, that’s a strike. Mewis had seen this material converted into a dining table on a home show, so he went to Craigslist and typed in “bowling lanes.” Voila—a local hardware store was selling wood salvaged from an old alley. The maple planks were worn and discolored in spots, but that gave them an interesting patina, says Mattison. To adapt them for use in the kitchen, Mewis cut the boards down to size, sanded them with a friend’s equipment, then resealed the wood with natural tung oil.
Good idea #2 Buy used cabinets from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. The couple are fortunate to live near this local salvage resource, and they check often for donated treasures with bargain price tags. (It’s also where they found miniature subway tiles for the backsplash.) Their cabinets once hung in the original skyboxes at Philips Arena. Mewis trimmed them down, restained them a lighter color, and added sleek hardware from the Home Depot. The price of the used cabinets? Less than $60.
Good idea #3 Eliminate upper cabinets to free up space. Mewis ripped out the dated cabinets and installed floating shelves instead, using adjustable wall brackets for support. The open floor plan also means that stylish details stand out, such as the painted accent squares on the walls, a graphic calendar, and a pair of translucent pendant lights made from vintage Mason jars by an enterprising friend. Installing stainless steel utensil, wine, and pot racks from Ikea saved both money and storage space.
When Michelle Bradley was an interior designer and couldn’t find—or afford—the right piece of furniture for a project, she’d often design something herself. In 2003 she took the leap to become a full-time furniture designer by opening Bradley Hughes on Miami Circle, starting mostly with custom upholstery. One day a craftsman who worked with concrete walked in, and an edgier look was born. Bradley started designing iron tables with concrete tops, as well as sink basins and fireplace surrounds.
“We’ve definitely helped make concrete stylish,” says Bradley. “When we started, there weren’t many designs with clean lines that used unusual materials.”
The company soon evolved to include all sorts of metal tables—at first with a dark finish only, then in gold, silver, and a variety of colors—plus acid-washed mirrors, hand-printed wallpaper, and pillows. Everything is made by regional artisans, which appeals to local companies—such as Spanx and Chick-fil-A—that want to support fellow Georgians when decorating their corporate headquarters.
The designs are just modern enough to thrive next to antiques in Buckhead living rooms or to mix with contemporary furnishings in Downtown lofts. “People say our designs are fresh,” says Bradley. “Things that nobody else has.”
That might explain why, even in a down economic market, the company has been nearly doubling its sales each month. Bradley just opened an additional showroom at the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center (which, like her original Miami Circle location, is wholesale only), while also offering some favorite pieces at retail establishments such as the Mercantile and Pieces. Retail prices might run $220 for linen pillows by fabric designer Phillip Barlow or $1,800 and up for a side table with an iron base and four-inch-thick concrete top.
Bradley’s favorite line to design is lighting, such as the signature Lucille fixture with curves that enamored set designers for the Sex and the City movie, or her Ralphie light, a drum pendant that resembles lace made out of metal.
Bradley, who is the sole owner of the company (“Hughes” references painter Donna Hughes, whose work is sold at the showrooms), is hoping to expand to other spaces around the country. Creatively, she’s working on a new line of high-gloss lacquered furniture.
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