An Atlanta family crafts a rundown ranger station in Highlands into a creative, cozy cottage

With the living room upstairs and bedrooms downstairs, this upside-down house is perfect for entertaining

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Mountain Makeover
Homeowners Laird Memory and Matt Bunting made this spacious porch a centerpiece of the remodel. A medley of furniture, both vintage and new, got a coat of mustard paint for continuity.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Highlands, North Carolina, is well-known among Atlantans for its rustic mountain houses, but it was a modest office building that caught Laird Memory’s eye as a potential second home. “It had been for sale a long time and was in a great spot close to town,” she says of the low-slung former ranger station and law office. “But the interiors were super ugly.” The fake wood paneling and brown carpet, however, didn’t deter Laird and her husband, Matt Bunting, from transforming the building into their dream mountain getaway.

Mountain Makeover
“I’m obsessed with chalet railings,” says Laird, who designed the wooden staircase banister with rounded cutouts, constructed by her contractor, Mason Neil of Highlands-based MountainKraft Builders. She crafted the quilted flag out of wool blankets.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Mountain Makeover
An Ikea kitchen featuring birch Shaker-style cabinets got an easy upgrade, custom painted in Benjamin Moore “Victorian Garden.” Brass fixtures and accessories add warmth to the clean subway tile.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Mountain Makeover
Sofas and chairs feature midcentury lines, but Laird adds inviting layers with rugs found on eBay and pillows she made herself. A trio of modern globe lights accentuates the 15-foot-high ceilings.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Once the couple met with Atlanta architect David Colgan, they all decided to add a second floor and create an “upside-down house,” placing main rooms like the living room and kitchen on the higher level with bedrooms tucked down below. It creates an ideal scenario for entertaining, giving the home’s social spaces the best views. The living area features large windows, a vaulted ceiling, and a spacious porch overlooking peaceful Harris Lake.

Mountain Makeover
As economical art that pays tribute to nature, vintage Audubon prints were enlarged and framed in the dining area.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Mountain Makeover
Laird enlarged and framed vintage postcards of the area, adding to the throwback charm.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Inside, the vibe is both relaxed and vibrant. “I’ve always loved the balance of modern and traditional,” says Laird, who designed the interiors. After years at Turner Broadcasting, she now channels her creativity into art and decorating projects and filled the house with a creative mix of vintage, thrift-store, and modern wares—the latter exemplified by large-scale, domed light fixtures hanging from the 15-foot ceilings. Her favorite color pops up everywhere. “I love red,” she says. “It just makes me happy. To me, it’s a neutral.” She paid homage to Highlands with vintage postcards, enlarged and framed on the walls.

Mountain Makeover
Laird framed cheeky bird prints by artist Charlie Harper in the master bedroom and paired them with vintage side chests. The wooden bed is from Target but has qualities—and the look—of a more expensive panel bed, says Laird.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Mountain Makeover
A guest bedroom features a navy-and-white color scheme and industrial-style headboards. Kantha quilts bring in lively pattern.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Mountain Makeover
The master bath is warmed up by travertine tiles and a tree-stump table. Black doors and window mullions appear throughout the house.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

The family, which includes Raleigh (11) and Augie (12), calls Buckhead home but enjoys spending time off wandering the trails and exploring the quaint town. “I hear a lot of people say they want to move to the mountains or a small town, but in Highlands, you have both,” Matt says. “Sometimes it feels like we see our Atlanta friends more in Highlands than in Atlanta.”

Mountain Makeover

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Mountain Makeover
The plain facade of the former ranger station (below right) now epitomizes cottage chic, with its dark paint and bright red door. Choosing a commercial building for a remodel has advantages, notes Matt. “It was built by the parks department decades ago,” he says, “so it was built to last a long time.”

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Resources
Architect David Colgan, Merrill, Pastor, & Colgan Architects, merrillpastor.com
Living room Light fixtures: Restoration Hardware, restorationhardware.com. Sofa: Article, article.com. Chairs: Ikea, ikea.com.
Kitchen Cabinetry: Ikea
Master bedroom Bed: Target, target.com

This article appears in our Winter 2018 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.

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