After touring a potential studio space in Chamblee, landscape designer Alex Smith asked his father for advice. “You can do it,” said his dad, who owned a custom millwork company in Macon. “But it’s going to be a heck of a lot of work.”
The house was falling down and inhabited by hobos. The grounds were covered in kudzu. Still, Smith was intrigued. Cost kept him from pulling the trigger, but when the price dropped five years later, Smith signed the contract, wrote the check and rolled up his sleeves.
“Most people would’ve torn it down, and we did everything but,” says Smith, who worked with in-house architect Todd Pullen to keep the original lines of the house intact. What was once a 1,500-square-foot house on an acre-and-a-half of native vines is now a 2,500-square-foot, five-room studio with a heated greenhouse and cold frame (or protected plant bed), and thriving vegetable garden. Employees enter through the seasonal wildflower meadow that Smith plans to fill with sunflowers in celebration of his 15th year in business this fall.
“We also grow blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and an enormous amount of strawberries in the spring,” Smith says. “I have three little girls who love to pick them.”
Family finds its way into other parts of his Smith’s studio, too, such as the set of black-and-white photographs taken by his brother, Adam Smith, which line the landscape architect’s upstairs office. “He went to Ole Miss and did a study on blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta—a lot of old blues guys and juke joints,” Smith says. “He also did a beautiful color shot of live oaks on a plantation I work with in South Georgia. It hangs over my drafting table.”
A framed collection of arrowheads honors Smith’s father, who died before the building was bought. “I have fond memories of hunting for arrowheads with my dad,” Smith says. “We’d find them when someone would plow a field and turn up the earth.”
Integrating the outside and inside, in fact, is what Smith does best. “There’s an old saying about making the house and garden one,” he says. “Clients can experience who we are, how we design and our attention to detail through our studio. This property has become a living portfolio of our work.”