Collectors’ Call

An Atlanta couple with a passion for antiquities downsizes to a townhouse, and enlists their longtime designer, Bill Murphy, to craft rooms that will stand the test of time

If the mark of great decorating is that it can survive both the vagaries of time and a move between residences, consider Atlanta- and Naples, Florida-based designer Bill Murphy’s work for two longtime clients a resounding success. Referred to the couple years ago by none other than the late Atlanta design legend T. Gordon Little, Murphy, along with his late design partner, James Essary, decorated the couple’s previous home so adroitly that when the clients downsized to a Peachtree Road townhouse two years ago—and moved their home’s contents with them—the furnishings needed very little in the way of updating. 

“Decorating should be timeless. It’s not faddish,” notes Murphy, who keeps Essary’s spirit alive in both his work and his conversation. “It’s like buying investment clothing. Buy great pieces of upholstery that you’ll only need to re-cover occasionally.” 

Tasked with giving the couple’s new residence “the look of a New York townhouse,” Murphy did so by choosing sophisticated, subtle paint colors in shades of greige, taupe and putty, which were used not only on walls but ceilings and trim work too. “When a room is all one color, it opens it up and makes it look larger” explains Murphy, who treated walls to a paint color’s full strength and ceiling and trim to half strength. Also in the spirit of Manhattan, baseboards were given coats of snappy black paint. Altogether, the colors offer the eyes a soothing journey from room to room, but they also play another important role: as a neutral backdrop to showcase the homeowners’ many collections, including antique dog paintings and, more notably, Asian antiquities, which populate most rooms in the home. 

Blue-and-white porcelains from the early Ming to Yuan dynasties are congregated in the dining and breakfast rooms, while in the living room, centuries-old terracotta horses and earthenware fill the floor-to-ceiling shelves. And, even some of the home’s interior selections pay homage to the couple’s affection for the Chinese style, including a subtle chinoiserie-print wallpaper in the dining room and a pagoda-patterned upholstery and pillow fabric in the family room. 

It is Murphy’s expertise at channeling his clients’ diverse interests and possessions into a cohesive, attractive whole that keeps his clients coming back for more. “He knows what we like and has been able to pull the collections and furniture together into a unified piece,” says one of the homeowners, who adds that working with Murphy over the years “has been a pure pleasure.” For a designer, that just might be the highest compliment of all.

INTERIOR DESIGN Bill Murphy; (404) 788- 6105; DESIGN ASSISTANT Linda Able Brantley LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT William T. Smith, William T. Smith & Assoc., Inc. (404) 255-6786; BUILDER George Lanham, George Lanham Remodeling, LLC.