Having spent two years in California, Atlanta interior designer Virginia Cheek wanted to give her 1950’s Atlanta bungalow the indoor/outdoor feel she fell in love with on the west coast. With a mostly neutral palette, Virginia draws on classic pieces mixed together in a contemporary way to create a comfortable, airy home for her, her husband, and her growing family.
Ballard Designs: Virginia, thank you for having us. From the moment we stepped in your home, it’s so bright and airy and open. You’ve done a great job of making your little bungalow feel larger than it is. What decor choices do you think contributed to this feel?
Virginia Cheek: Thank you! I believe the airy effect is due to a combination of white walls, plenty of natural sunlight, and edited decorating. The floor-to-ceiling windows and natural sunlight being key. The ceilings are only 8’ high, but because we painted the walls, trim, and ceiling the same color (Benjamin Moore’s ‘China White’), I think some of the rooms feel larger than they really are.
BD: Most of the fabrics in your living room and dining room are solid, neutrals. Talk to us about why you chose neutral fabrics.
VC: My living room furniture is very special to me. My grandmother brought it all back from the Paris Flea Market years ago, and it has been recovered several times. I reupholstered the sofa and club chairs about 6 years ago, and I chose neutrals and solids because I knew they would be traveling with us through multiple homes. We’ve had the furniture in 4 different homes now, including one in Los Angeles, and it has miraculously worked in every space. Now that we’re in one place for awhile however, I’m tempted to reupholster again and incorporate some pattern 😉
BD: There’s definitely no shortage of personality in the room, even though so many pieces are neutral. What’s your favorite way to bring a sense of personality or character to a home?
VC: In a neutral room, the key to making it special is high texture and high contrast. Mixing materials like wood, iron, natural fibers, and incorporating the color black can give a neutral room that much-needed edge.
BD: I love the way you’ve hidden your TV in this dark gray built in. I didn’t even realize it was in there! How did you dream up this piece and how is it constructed?
VC: I searched for months for an antique cabinet but I finally surrendered to the fact that I wasn’t going to find one shallow enough for the space, so I had this one built in our carport. I designed it from a few different French and English cabinets I found in antique stores. I drew up a shop drawing, gave the carpenter the dimensions and details, and it turned out beautifully! It also provides great storage.
BD: We talked a little bit about this on the podcast, but you’ve mixed lots of wood tones together in here. How do you do it with intention and keep it from feeling like a mish mash?
VC: That’s a good question. A great-looking wood finish works with almost anything. In my own home, I like to keep it fresh and more modern, so I avoided too much mahogany or red wood tones. I mixed some richer wood finishes with a black walnut and bleached oak. I think the secret is having them complement each other but not be too similar, if that makes sense.
BD: You told me a little bit about updating your kitchen and making it flow more with the decor choices in the rest of your home. What did it look like when you moved in and what small projects made the biggest difference?
VC: I never planned a complete overhaul of the kitchen, but over the course of 2 years, I did make some updates. I started by replacing the backsplash with beadboard for a brighter feel, and replaced the chrome faucet fixture with an oil rubbed bronze finish to emphasize that farmhouse look. We installed some roman shades and an antique lantern for a bit of patina. And I lacquered the cabinets – the same as the original paint color – but the improvement was dramatic. I hadn’t realized how much the previous paint had yellowed until fresh paint was applied.
BD: Storage is usually a challenge in an old house, but you have a super uncluttered, clean sense of style. How do you solve storage and organization problems in your house and keep things feeling open and airy too?
VC: While I love a cozy, layered look, a cleaner approach is just more functional for us, especially since we are a growing family with 1500 square feet to work with! I chose to be very intentional with accessories and made a point to select them carefully. This is typically what I recommend for clients as well. When it comes to accessorizing, I prefer an edited approach – choosing the ‘right’ objects and placing them in an intentional way. Quality over quantity. In terms of closet storage, we have the same challenges as any owner of a 1950s home, so we went vertical and invested in some good stepstools 😉
BD: You have beautiful casement windows in several of the bedrooms and classic, double hung wooden windows in the front room. I love how you unified them by painting the front windows black. Did you feel like that was a risk?
VC: I actually think painting the window mullions black was a necessity rather than a risk. If they were white like the rest of the walls, the room would feel a bit sterile. The black adds warmth and contrast.
BD: I love the way you’ve hung your shower curtain all the way at the ceiling. It makes the bathroom feel so big! What other tricks did you use to turn your hall bathroom into a pretty space guests use when they come over?
VC: Like the kitchen, I wanted to avoid a complete renovation, so we made a series of small updates instead. The upside to that was we were able to keep the vintage black and white floor tiles I loved so much when we bought the house. Simple adjustments like reglazing the tub, replacing the fan, and a new vanity mirror and sconces made a world of difference. I also discovered an Atlanta-based company – D’Sapone – who did an excellent job cleaning our tile grout.
BD: Talk to us about the guest room. What do you think every guest bedroom needs?
VC: In an ideal world, it’s fun to experiment in decorating the guest room because it’s not a room you live in every day. However in the real world, guest rooms can sometimes fall on the backburner as last priority. So even if you have to wait on the decorating part, I would focus on the essentials – a comfortable mattress, some type of window treatment for privacy, a place to drop a suitcase, like a bench at the end of the bed, a mirror, and a dresser (or closet) to store clothes, should do the trick. Those essentials paired with a few amenities like fresh flowers or a candle by the bedside should make for a very satisfied guest!
BD: Let’s talk about curb appeal, because I know you recently relandscaped your yard. Tell us all about it!
VC: Yes, we finally pulled the trigger on our front yard! Because this is probably not our ‘forever’ home, I wanted to keep it simple, classic, and easy to maintain. After a consultation with a landscape architect friend, I settled on boxwoods, a boxwood hedge, Lady Banks Climbing Rose for above our carport and limelight hydrangeas. I grouped some planters at the entry with conical boxwoods and seasonal flowers I can change out for color. I may add some creeping fig down the road. Now I truly enjoy pulling in and out of our driveway every morning.
BD: You do lots of client work around Atlanta, but how was it different designing for yourself versus someone else? Is it harder?
VC: I get that question a lot – for me, it’s more challenging to come up with the initial design plan in my own home. As designers, we’re exposed to so many styles and we see them done well, so it can be tough to choose. In this house, I relied on the architecture for direction. I kept things relatively classic … ‘clean traditional’, and I’m so happy with it. But at the same time, I could see us moving into a new house down the line and going a bit funkier. See? I love it all 😉 So I have to be careful not to jump around too much. I believe the most effective strategy [for clients and for myself] is to choose a path at the beginning and stick to the original idea.
BD: Does your husband Andrew give you free reign, or do you make decorating decisions together?
VC: I know from clients that this is rare, but I basically get free reign … I’m lucky!
BD: Most of the rooms in your house are pretty neutral, but not Ella’s room! How did you go about decorating your nursery?
VC: Well I certainly committed to the color pink here, didn’t I? I thought it would be fun to do a little experimenting with the nursery, so I chose a color palette and layered several patterns at different scales. I liked the idea of maintaining a neutral, edited feeling in the public spaces but mixing it up in some of the secondary spaces like the bedrooms.
BD: We know you’ve done a lot of nesting since you’re expecting your first child, so you’ve probably crossed off nearly everything on your list. But do you have any other projects on the horizon or things you plan to tackle or change in the future?
VC: I would love to do the backyard and turn the carport into a playroom. I love connecting indoor spaces to the outdoors, especially in Atlanta because we have so many nice months out of the year. And I think I have landscaping fever. The more you learn about it the more you want to try!
Thank you so much Virginia for letting us share your home! Be sure to listen to her podcast this week where we talk about compromising, budgets, style, carpet options, and much more. To see more of Virginia’s interior design work, follow her on Instagram or check our her website.