Grand Tradition

Combining fine antiques with Southern hospitality, Jim Essary creates a traditional home that is just as welcoming as it is winsome.

To immerse yourself in Regency design, you could read the quintessential book on the subject. Or you could take a tour of Jim Essary’s Buckhead home, where stunning period pieces can be found at every turn.

Make no mistake, this residence is anything but museum-like. Rather, it’s a study in comfort and fine design, proving that the two are perfectly compatible. While admitting to a fondness for English Regency antiques, “I don’t think anyone wants a room that looks like the 18th century,” says the designer. “Everyone wants to be comfortable. And they want their guests to feel comfortable, too.”

That philosophy is evident from the moment you step through Essary’s front door. To the immediate left is the living room, where one conversation area centers around a Regency-style coffee table, and another cozies up to the fireplace—and there’s still room on the far wall for a partner’s desk and a pair of, naturally, Regency chairs. Underscoring all three groupings is a sisal rug that’s as fashionable as it is functional. Because the upholstered chairs are set on casters, they glide easily across the floor to wherever they’re needed in the room; even the desk chairs, for that matter, are lightweight enough to be moved easily.

“If I have a big group of people, we can just circle around this coffee table,” says Essary. “I can put hors d’œuvres on the table, get a little fire going—and get up to nine people in here.”

The sisal rug plays right into another one of Essary’s design philosophies, too. “If you’re inclined to move, don’t put a lot of money into your rugs,” he advises. “You can shift your furniture from one room to another, but rugs never seem to fit [in the new house]. If you’re going to put ‘X’ number of dollars into a room, put it where it shows more; the floor can be simple and plain, but then you can buy some beautiful objects and some beautiful lamps that light them up.”

That viewpoint is evident in this space, where the neutral scheme was inspired by draperies made of a Pierre Frey neoclassical fabric. The room’s understated palette not only allows specific objects to shine but also their patterns and textures. From a pair of custom-crafted mirrored chests at one end of the room to a pair of artworks by 20th-century German Expressionist Otto Neumann at the other, from exquisite chinoiserie cachepots to hand-carved brackets, each object is impeccably illuminated to its best advantage.

That approach translates well in the dining room, too, where a similar neutral scheme allows the tablesettings—and the guests themselves—to provide the color.
“I have two [round] dining tables that seat eight each; I think it works better than one long table for a room of this size,” Essary explains. “And it doesn’t put someone at the head of the table, like the king and queen, making everybody else feel inferior. This way, everyone’s equal.”

From every vantage point guests are guaranteed a marvelous view, whether it’s a string quartet set up just beyond the French doors or more of the designer’s prized Regency pieces. At one end of the room, a rosewood cabinet is filled with palaceware, one of the rarest of Chinese porcelains, made between 1790 and 1800.

“But it’s the sideboard in this room that’s my real pride and joy,” says Essary. “It’s English Regency, and it’s a very rare design. Regency, of course, was influenced by Greek and Roman excavations, and you see a lot of neoclassical detailing in this piece. The feet are lion’s paws, but they’re very different from most others you see, and the back legs are turned.”

If the sideboard is Essary’s personal favorite, the recamier in the master bedroom is a close second. “It’s an English Regency piece that came through Paris to the United States,” Essary says. “It was probably in a residence in Paris for a while. It’s really beautiful, with the grace of the real Grecian couch.”

The curvaceous shape of the recamier is a perfect counterpoint, too, for a more straightforward linen press—now outfitted to hold clothing as well as electronic equipment. Ever the scholar of the Regency era, Essary says that “the style is actually a transition between Georgian and Regency. The interior—the drawers and everything—is lined in cedar, which makes me think that it could be Scandinavian. They didn’t make linen presses in the Regency period that I’ve ever seen. So it’s really a Georgian design that was done in the Regency period.”

Due in large part to the antiques and exquisite collectibles found here and throughout this residence, there’s a grandeur that could have easily had a laissez-faire attitude. Instead, there’s a warm and welcoming feeling, a reflection of the designer—a true Southern gentleman himself.

Jim Essary, Essary & Murphy Inc., (404) 609-9091,