Hospitality runs deep in J. Ben Bourgeois’s family. His mother, a gracious hostess in her own right, never went to bed after returning from a dinner party without first sitting down at her favorite desk to write a thank-you note. Ben, who grew up in Druid Hills, leveraged her genteel instruction into a career as an event producer. Now based in Los Angeles, he directs Hollywood-scale parties around the world, from the Louvre museum to his own destination venue, Casa Fiesta, in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. So when he and his husband, Andrew Rhoda, recently renovated the Bourgeois farm, you can bet his mom’s mahogany secretary kept its pride of place.
Ben’s parents built the cottage, known as Sugarbend Farm, some 30 years ago among the rolling pastures of Morgan County. Located on Lake Oconee, it has offered respite from city life to three generations. In a picturesque red barn, Ben’s father attempted raising horses, cows, guinea fowl, pot-bellied pigs, even peacocks. “My dad considered himself a gentleman farmer, but it was a constant folly,” says Ben with a laugh. “Nothing was really successful.”
Eventually, maintaining the property became too demanding for Ben’s elderly parents, and he and Andrew took over. “My family is very sentimental,” says Ben. “At first we wondered if we’d really want to go down there without Mom and Dad to welcome us.” But many relatives, including Ben’s parents, still live nearby, so the location remained the most convenient place for families and friends to gather. “We decided to keep it alive,” says Ben.
The couple completely redecorated the house but kept “a little of the flavor” of the past. “When my family first arrived, they were excited to see that it was different enough so that they weren’t expecting to see Mom and Dad standing on the front porch,” says Ben. “Yet it seemed like there were fond memories there.” The clan picked up right where they’d left off, watching football games and playing cards—using a jumbo-sized deck so that Ben’s father, who is now legally blind, could participate.
Bradley Odom, owner of the Westside home furnishings store Dixon Rye, and his design assistant Brent Jacques were responsible for the clever transformation. Constructed in the 1990s when English Country style reached the peak of its popularity, the house was formerly layered with British antiques and chintz. Bradley—whose grandfather was an upholsterer and who sells his own furniture line—freshened up some of the heirloom pieces, especially occasional chairs, with updated fabrics. A favorite Persian rug remained near the fireplace to inspire the home’s red and blue accents. Schumacher drapery and upholstery in Miles Redd prints pay subtle homage to the bygone chintz.
A massive central space, with a 19-foot beamed ceiling, naturally accommodates large-scale elements that help give the room its new contemporary flavor. Belgian antiques include a barn door–style mirror (which slides over to reveal a flatscreen TV), a scrolled blond wooden buffet, and a pair of oversized pyramidal pendants. A 10-foot-tall French cabinet with glass doors conceals a sink and mini-fridge in addition to sky blue shelves full of glass and copper barware. The 14-foot-long pine plank dining table is outfitted with a dozen cane and leather side chairs and a pair of graceful upholstered host chairs created by Bradley.
“We joke about the hashtag #masterfulmixing,” says the designer. “We are always juxtaposing pieces that are modern with the antique and industrial. We keep asking ourselves: What’s metal? What’s wood? What’s hard? What’s soft?” Case in point: A silver service on the buffet contrasts with concrete planters on the dining table. Across the room, a weathered wooden “Moses bowl” sits atop a simple iron and glass coffee table, and a Victorian hat rack stands behind a pair of streamlined linen sofas.
When the project was finished, Ben and Andrew organized a “Gone with the Wind weekend” for friends who’d never visited the South. “We travel a lot, so we cast our net far and wide around the world,” says Ben. “One of our biggest assets is our collection of friends.” The convivial hosts put out hay bales, roasted a whole hog, and hired a country band, topping off the evening with Ben’s favorite dessert—red velvet cake—served around the firepit. “They flew in from L.A. and just hopped in an Uber,” says Andrew. “Ben’s got a reputation. If he builds it, they will come.”
Interior design: Bradley Odom and Brent Jacques, Dixon Rye, dixonrye.com
Landscaping: Southern Trilogy
This article originally appeared in our Fall 2017 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.