James Farmer says it made his day when the cable TV technician asked, “Has this house been in your family for years?” The abode in question was actually brand new but carefully designed to look vintage. In characteristic fashion, the perpetual storyteller recalls, “When I heard that, I wanted to give him a big ol’ hug.”
This affable, 30-something designer who still lives in his native Perry, Georgia, is fast becoming the nation’s next lifestyle guru. His seven bestselling books—starting with A Time to Plant and leading up to the latest, A Time to Celebrate—chronicle the Auburn grad’s passion for gardening, cooking, interior design, and entertaining. Think Martha Stewart—but with a drawl and a plaid shirt.
All of his books, blog posts, and TV appearances reflect James’s love of venerable Southern traditions and family history. “I’m an old soul,” he admits. And from the beginning, he wanted to create a house that paid homage to the past.
James has fond memories of walking to a post office near his family farm with his great-grandmother Jeanie, who—perhaps not incidentally—inspired James’s love of cooking, decorating, and gardening. That modest structure (pictured above in a vintage watercolor by his cousin) inspired his new home, which James named Farmdale. “I just felt that’s what I wanted my house to look like,” he says. Architectural features such as a clipped hip roof and shed porches pay respect to the rural outpost. Building materials also have a provenance: bricks from an old church in Macon, wood floors from a cotton mill in Alabama, and pecky cypress from Bainbridge, Georgia. “There’s a connection to Middle Georgia everywhere in the house,” says James.
Quite literally, James selected his architect while he was still in middle school, during a visit to the 1996 Olympics. On a tour of Southern Living’s Centennial Idea House, he thought: Someday I want to work with whoever designed this house. Almost 20 years later, James enlisted that same architect, Robert Norris of Spitzmiller & Norris, as his comrade in authenticity.
Norris loved that James appreciated the work of A. Hays Town, a Louisiana architect who was fond of exposed brick and other classic Southern touches. Norris also accepted James’s challenge to make the interior more contemporary. “He wanted to use traditional elements and family pieces but still keep a youthful look,” says Norris.
For example, there’s no foyer inside the double front glass doors. Instead the doors open to a spacious sun porch filled with dining furniture, as if to get the party started right away. “That element of surprise is fun,” James explains. “And we used brick floors as an outdoor feature that was brought inside, almost like the room used to be a porch.”
Furnishings reflect James’s love of the past. (“I’m always braking for antiques stores,” he says. “I love to own things that were cherished.”) Yet he mixes in updated items, such as club chairs upholstered in a faux-antelope print and matching velvet Chesterfield sofas made by new ADAC showroom Taylor Burke Home.
“The materials and scale of this house are just so right,” says Norris. “It’s not trying to be something it’s not. It’s as genuine as James himself.”
Interior design James Farmer, jamesfarmer.com. Architect Robert Norris, spitzmillerandnorris.com. Some accessories and furnishings: James Farmer Inc. (retail store), 936 Carroll Street, Perry, 478-988-9494. Dining room lantern: Low Country Originals, lowcountryoriginals.net. Living room sofas: Taylor-Burke Home, ADAC, taylorburkehome.com.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.