Inside Pam Sessions and Don Donnelly’s Garden Hills home

The Hedgewood developers and new urbanist pioneers move to the city
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Pam Sessions Don Donnelly
Pam and Don painted their house black so that the surrounding plants would contrast with the dark exterior. “We love black and white,” says Pam. “Our next-door office is white.”

Photograph by Jeff Herr

Pam Sessions Don Donnelly
When Pam and Don were newlyweds, they squandered the $600 they’d saved for a sofa on their first painting. They have remained avid collectors of works such as the Brigham painting, left. Upon buying this house, they reacquired a few major pieces they’d sold during the recession when the friend who’d bought them relocated.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

The last house, where Pam Sessions and Don Donnelly raised their two children, sat on a 21-acre farm in Forsyth County. When suburban sprawl began encroaching upon their rural environs in the early 2000s, the husband-and-wife builders fought fire with fire, turning much of their lot and nearby property into the groundbreaking, award-winning new urbanist community known as Vickery Village. Soon after, they transformed downtown Woodstock into an upscale live-work-play district and went on to build dozens of smaller neighborhoods and more than 4,000 homes across metro Atlanta.

In 2014, with the kids away at college, the couple reinvented their domestic life once again by moving back into the city. High school sweethearts, Pam and Don grew up in Dunwoody and have always been closely connected to Atlanta—with Pam, for example, serving on the boards of both the Alliance Theatre and Southface. “We knew we wanted to get in town, but picking a place was a lot harder than we realized,” says Pam.

Pam Sessions Don Donnelly
The home has been a laboratory for Hedgewood’s design business. Pam had many details fabricated. In the kitchen, she hid rows of drawers behind cabinet doors to provide the utility of pullouts without the visual clutter of horizontal lines, then she lacquered all the cabinetry in a rich teal.

Photograph by Jeff Herr

First they moved their company, Hedgewood Homes, into a 1930s-era house on a quiet side street off Buckhead’s Pharr Road. It wasn’t long before they decided to move their residence next door. “It’s the perfect commute,” says Pam.

Ironically the street, home to both cottage industries and a handful of private residences, is basically an organically developed microcosm of the sort of multiuse communities that their firm pioneered.

Technically located within the boundaries of historic Garden Hills, Pam and Don’s street fell under architectural restrictions that prevented them from substantially altering their home’s original footprint. But as experienced builders, the two knew how to live large in small places. They installed space-saving pocket doors and removed walls to extend sight lines. “The house was a rabbit warren of small rooms,” says Pam. Now, from the central dining area, you can see to the living room fireplace on one side, and down a hall leading to the newly added master wing on the other. In the den, a built-in banquette provides efficient seating for holiday gatherings. They also turned the home’s low ceilings into an asset, covering them in whitewashed pecky cypress.

Pam Sessions Don Donnelly
Photograph by Jeff Herr

“We use all of this house. That’s what I was striving for,” says Pam. “I can’t say that about our 5,000-square-foot house in Forsyth. Everything about this house feels right-sized. It just fits.”

Touches of whimsy show up throughout the house. The bright teal seen on the kitchen cabinetry is repeated on a velvet sofa with brass nailhead trim in the living room. “I just find the color infectious,” says Pam. A black-and-white-checked front stoop was inspired by the couple’s travels in England. “Coming out of the recession and being an empty nester, I felt like being happy,” says Pam. “I just decided to go for it.”

This article originally appeared in our Winter 2015 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.

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