Inside the Athens cottage that inspired R.E.M.’s “Life and How to Live It”

This colorful home has a history, including being the inspiration for an R.E.M. song

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Historic Athens home
Kim and John Turner, a counselor (and founder of the nonprofit Strong Girls) and UGA economics professor, respectively, enlisted Cloth & Kind and Athens Building Company to rehab their Athens Victorian, which boasts an unusual R.E.M. history. They expanded it for their two daughters, Sloane and Carolina.

Photograph by Christina Wedge

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Its offbeat past. Kim and John Turner weren’t aware of the local lore of this house in historic Cobbham when they bought it in 2002. It wasn’t until Kim saw someone snapping a photo that she learned it had inspired the R.E.M. song “Life and How to Live It,” based on a man who had outfitted the one-time duplex to suit his split personalities and penned a disturbing tome, Life: How to Live. The late musician Vic Chesnutt once lived in the house; many others jammed there.

Historic Athens home
Previously relegated to the back of the house, the kitchen now opens up to the living room. Pendants are by Visual Comfort, and the soapstone and quartz countertops are from Vintage Stone Company in Elberton.

Photograph by Rustic White

Historic Athens home
The original plaster wall revealing layers of faded color was sealed in the master bedroom; its colors inspired Tami to use Farrow & Ball’s vibrant “Arsenic” on the trim. Scallop tile on the fireplace surround is from Traditions in Tile.

Photograph by Christina Wedge

Historic Athens home
Farrow & Ball “Sudbury Yellow” gives the living room an earthy warmth; when uncovering old layers of the house, the builders discovered a similar hue underneath. “At certain times of day, it glows,” says interior designer Tami Ramsay. The sectional from Lee Industries is one of the only brand-new pieces in the house, and the colorful window treatments—just enough for privacy—were made with Athens-based Hable Construction Textiles. The R.E.M. record featuring the song said to be inspired by the house hangs on the wall.

Photograph by Christina Wedge

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The color combinations. A recent renovation injected new life into the house. “This is probably the most colorful project we’ve ever done,” says Athens interior designer Tami Ramsay—a big declaration given that Cloth & Kind, her company with Ann Arbor–based Krista Nye Nicholas, is known for daring hues and pattern pairing. Of the Turners, she says: “They’re not afraid of color. They were totally game.” Teals, warm yellows, and vibrant reds interact playfully. “You can’t help but walk in and feel happy,” says Tami.

Historic Athens home
The original front door with colorful stained glass sets the home’s charming, funky tone. Long divided into a duplex, the house was reunited by the previous owner. “We still get two power bills though,” says homeowner John Turner—one for each side.

Photograph by Rustic White

Historic Athens home
Mismatched chairs from Athens Antique & Vintage and Chairish create an easy mix in the dining room. A simple linen drape is spiffed up with jute trim from the Fringe Market, an Eatonton-based company that is one of the last American manufacturers of fine trim. Ceramics from Athens-based R. Wood are on display. In Victorian fashion, paint (Farrow & Ball “Vardo”) stretches from the picture rail across the ceiling.

Photograph by Christina Wedge

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The antiques and vintage finds. The total refresh didn’t include swapping out old furniture for new. The Turners had a large collection of art and antiques passed down in their families. Tami supplemented with vintage and period furnishings here and there but says, “anything we brought in, we wanted to feel like it had already been here.”

Historic Athens home

Photograph by Christina Wedge

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The historic details. From faded layers of plaster in the bedroom to original doors and cladded walls, the bones of this house are much as they were when it was built in the early 20th century. The renovation built out the attic space for the girls’ bedrooms, but the antique newel post gives the new stairway the illusion of age.

Historic Athens home

Photograph by Rustic White

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The local, small-town love. “Athens is a microcosm of creativity,” says Tami. Between the Hable Construction textiles, the Webber Coleman Woodworking details, and an art collection featuring local artists from Lamar Dodd to R. Wood, the house is a veritable tribute to Athens artisans.

Resources
Interior designer Tami Ramsay, Cloth & Kind, clothandkind.com
Builder Athens Building Company, athensbuilding.com
Cabinetry Webber Coleman Woodworks, webbercolemanwoodworks.com

This article appears in our Spring 2019 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.

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