For more than 20 years, Southern Living has built Idea Houses on lakes, beaches and in quaint towns across the South. This year, our favorite Southern magazine returns to Senoia, GA for a historic renovation project.
It took nearly a year for Southern Living and the Idea House team to transform a weathered and worn 1830s farmhouse into the splendid 2012 Idea House. Paige Sumblin Schnell and her team at Tracery Interiors were invited to design the interiors. With offices in Rosemary Beach and Mountain Brook, Alabama, the boutique design firm is nationally recognized for creating emotionally evocative spaces with a timeless, imminently livable look. Tracery’s work is regularly featured in Southern Living, House Beautiful, Better Homes & Gardens, Vanity Fair, Food & Wine and Coastal Living.
Ballard Designs: First, tell us about the house itself.
Paige Schnell: The original part of the house was pre-Civil War from the 1830s. When you walk through the front door, the right wall of the front hall and everything to the left was the original house. Sometime after 1900, what is now the living room, dining room, kitchen and third bedroom were added.
BD: What condition was the house in when you started the interior design?
PS: When I saw it for the first time, the Southern Living crew was in the process of moving it to its current site. It was in shambles and unlivable, but still had beautiful wood and character. The house is actually older than the town of Senoia itself.
During the renovation process, we had several people stop by and say that their grandparents had lived in the house at one time or another. One told us her grandmother had been born in the upstairs bedroom.
BD: How did you approach such a huge design challenge?
PS: The original structure was a traditional Southern farmhouse. We wanted to keep a hint of that history by keeping it the classic farmhouse white inside and out. We weren’t trying to do a historical preservation; we were trying to create a modern farmhouse for today.
BD: Where did you start – a room, a specific section?
PS: We started by looking at the entire house, what our sponsors were contributing and what kind of budget we had. We created the whole house at once and each room started to come together.
BD: Walk us through the house and explain how you tackled each space.
PS: The entry hall is a large space. It’s almost like its own room and we treated it that way. The entire left side of the house, including the entry, has the original wood walls and floors. We wanted to preserve all of that, of course. So we painted all of the walls and ceilings white, and used old found objects in those spaces to create the mood for the entire house – the vintage bamboo coat rack, a collection of paint-by-numbers art up the stairs – not fine art by any means, but that’s what makes it accessible and fun.
BD: You have three distinct spaces – the living room, kitchen and dining area – all open to one another.
PS: When we went over the plans for the house, we looked at that space as a whole and as separate spaces. In the living room, we wanted the focus to be around the fireplace. We had to figure out how to do that beautifully given that you would be facing the back of the sofa from the front door, so we added a table behind it. Overall, we wanted to create a casual living room with really comfortable seating. It’s more formal than the keeping room, but not so formal that you don’t want to be there.
BD: Tell us about the pieces you chose.
PS: The Braided Jute Rug from Ballard really holds the room down. We think it’s important to use rugs in a space that combines the living, kitchen and dining areas. The right rug grounds the room and defines it as a separate space. The Braided Jute Rug adds a lot of natural texture, and when you’re doing an all-neutral space like this one, we think texture is the key to making it warm.
Then we started picking fabrics and seating, including the pair of chairs from Ballard. They’re swivel gliders and they do everything we wanted in that seating group. They look great covered in Linen Flax from Suzanne Kasler.
BD: The chandelier looks like it was always here.
PS: One thing we like to do in every living room is to use a chandelier because it gives you a central focus. In a big space like this one, you could set the room up 10 different ways, so the Laurenza 8 Light Chandelier creates a center to work around.
BD: Overall, the colors are neutral, but the room still has a warm, inviting feel.
PS: Because this really was an old farmhouse, it needed to look lived in over time. So we did the Terrific Table from Ballard with the burlap skirt and the Wood Plank Storage Benches with burlap seats on the other side of the room. Burlap is very much of a farm, but we’re using it here in a fresh way – the quality is nice and creates a great transition between the old and the new.
We just loved the idea of using the burlap, the jute, the linen, the white – all mixed together for the texture necessary to bring the room together.
BD: With all the white cabinets and black granite counter tops, the kitchen is very classic.
PS: We wanted the cabinets to be the same color as the walls, so the kitchen would be there without being too loud. If one living area had too much color, there wouldn’t be balance. We started with the white cabinets and walls, and then added the black counters for contrast. The open shelving next to the refrigerator is great for displaying dinner and serveware.
BD: Despite all that white, you picked black metal stools to slip beneath the counter.
PS: We took all the neutrals, whites and blacks and added the layers with accessories and dinnerware. An all-white kitchen would disappear, so the black counters, stools and color accents really worked well.
BD: In the dining area, you mixed several different types of seating.
PS: With all the windows, the dining room feels like an old closed-in part of the porch. Since there is so much light in there, the challenge was to create a comfy room without it feeling stark. So we mixed the settee at the back of the table, the two head chairs and the two other chairs from Ballard. Even though there are three different types of seating in a small room, it flows well together.
BD: You used another jute rug here.
PS: We try to tie a few things in from room to room. The linen on the head chairs in the dining room is the same linen we used on the two Ballard chairs in the living room. The jute rug is the same in both rooms. It’s not screaming, “We match!” but it does tie the two spaces together.
BD: The white panels encircling the room give it a cozy, soft look.
PS: Those are Suzanne Kasler’s Linen Blanc panels from Ballard. We wanted to add softness around the room and they give you the ability to close off the room from passing traffic. So it’s a little bit functional and beautiful at the same time. The panels also add a lot of layers. With an all-neutral palette like we used here, you have to have a lot of layers or it will end up looking stark.
BD: The light fixture is big and dramatic.
PS: We wanted to bring a little bit of the black from the kitchen into the dining area and we thought the Large Calisse Pendant did that really well. It’s large and over-scaled, plus the black finish against all that white really stands out. We had to have some strong pieces because it’s a room without art. Most dining rooms have a great piece of art or a mirror. This one didn’t, so we needed to add them to create the space.
BD: The keeping room is tucked back behind the kitchen.
PS: We wanted a small, intimate place to go and hang out after dinner. The keeping room is more private than the living room and off the back porch. We used the Durham Small End Tables and the Belgard Cabinet to introduce wood into the room to complement the oversized gingham wall paint treatment.
BD: Tell us about the wall treatment. Everyone went crazy over it.
PS: When you walk through the doorway from the kitchen into the keeping room, you’re entering the brand new part of the house built just this year. That’s the transition from the old wood walls you see in the rest of the house to the new sheetrock. We used white on all the old wood so you could see it and help preserve it. For the sheetrock, we wanted to keep the specialness but make it different, so we came up with the gingham. By painting it, rather than using wall paper, we were able to scale the pattern perfectly for the room.
BD: The “X” detail of the buffet against the oversized check is really striking.
PS: The geometric look of that piece mixed with the geometry of gingham all flows together. And the color of the wood looks so good with the linen colored paint on the walls.
BD: The keeping room opens onto a great porch.
PS: We wanted the porch to be an extension of the dining room – a place to go for a drink before dinner and to relax afterward. We tried to keep some of the dining room colors there, but make it a relaxing conversation area. We thought the chairs from Ballard were really beautiful and brought that texture we got from the jute rug to the outside. The oversized lanterns are just gorgeous and we love that little bit of shiny mixed in. There’s just enough color in the fabrics to keep it from being monochromatic.
BD: Let’s talk about the master bedroom – it’s really spacious. How do you keep such a large space cozy?
PS: We started with the bed size and placement and size first. We felt that the tufted bed from Ballard really anchored the room. It’s beautiful and one of the most asked-about pieces in the house. The charcoal gray linen on it looks really strong against the white walls. And the white linen panels from Ballard you saw in the dining room reappear here. You don’t remember they are the same, but picking up a few pieces from room to room creates a consistent flow throughout the house.
To the left of the bed, we used another Terrific Table from Ballard and selected Ballard’s Malabar Gray fabric by the yard and had the skirt made with box pleats for a really tailored look. It also brought a little extra pattern to the room. The stripes on the bed and the ikat pattern on the skirt all flow well together.
BD: There is a fun casualness to the room. The bed could go more formal depending on how it’s dressed.
PS: The bedding is not formal, so it makes it a little more playful. And by using two different end tables, rather than matching each side of the bed, the look is more casual and less formal.
BD: You used the Seagrass Rug here, and this one has a black border instead of a fringe.
PS: We liked the little bit of fabric on the edge and also that it was flat versus a thick tufted rug like you normally see in a bedroom. We loved being able to mix in the gray Louis XVI Armoire from Ballard with the gray linens on the bed, the gray in the ikat table skirt and the gray on the chairs. The bench at the foot of the bed is covered in the same white linen as the drapes for contrast. It adds storage and gives you a place to sit while you’re getting dressed.
We had all these levels of gray and white and it really all works together. They also make the strong toffee accent color stand out.
BD: You picked the Eldridge Pendant to hang in the center of the room.
PS: This whole house was a play of elegance mixed with classic, the old and new, and you can really see that in this room. There’s the old wall, an antique chest and side table, the vintage antlers, mixed with these really elegant new pieces like the bed. So we picked out this very clean, straight-lined fixture. If we had done a dressier chandelier, it would have changed the whole effect.
BD: How did you tie in the master bath with the bedroom?
PS: We pulled the two rooms together with layers of white and gray. The master bath has his and her sinks with a window in between. We used the same white linen drapes you see in the bedroom. Below it, we chose the Castered Tufted Storage Ottoman from Ballard and covered it in the same Malabar Gray fabric you see on the table in the master.
BD: The mix of old and new feels just right.
PS: This is the 2012 Southern Living Idea House, but it started as a farmhouse from the 1830s, so we wanted to keep it casually elegant. I think the master suite is the ultimate expression of that idea.