Grandeur & Grace

A years-long renovation gives this spectacular historical homestead a new lease on life

Once majestic, the years had not been kind to Tarva, a nearly 3,000-acre 19th-century farm with a lakelike pond and thick forests filled with fragrant pine, Eastern cedar and centuries-old live oaks. One of several such homesteads in Albany, the area is a world-renowned bobwhite quail habitat. 

A lifeline came in 2017, when a visionary party bought the property and tapped landscape designer Carson McElheney and interior designer Susan Lapelle to preserve the land and restore the frame house that stood there. “It’s a magnificent heirloom property,” says McElheney. “They wanted to bring it back to its former glory.”

Rebuilding the crumbling brick columns on the front gate went a long way in that effort. McElheney also relocated many of the existing camellias and cleaned up the 200-year-old oak trees, carefully removing the invasive thicket of vines that threatened to strangle them.

In addition, he created a new rear patio made of reclaimed brick pavers. Surrounded by sculptural boxwood and flowering hydrangea, it’s a lovely setting for a reclaimed-oak dining table that easily sits 10. “This is one of the key areas of the property,” he says. “The clients love to entertain.”

Lapelle updated the interiors in much the same fashion, honoring the property’s storied history while updating it with modern conveniences. 

Although it had suffered water damage in spots, she persuaded her clients to keep and restore the hand-painted floral mural in the home’s unique cross-corridor, which is designed to funnel cooling breezes through the interior. “It’s beautiful and authentic to the property,” she explains. 

Lapelle had no such compunction about ripping out the 1970s-era shag carpeting and restoring the hardwood floors underneath it. That alone created a more suitable backdrop for a mix of antiques, heirlooms and new upholstered pieces. 

In the living room, an antique mahogany bookcase and other antiques coexist beautifully with new lounge chairs covered in a light blue linen velvet that’s both elegant and easy to clean—a must for a house that’s often filled with field sports enthusiasts. “There are no decorating gimmicks or tricks,” says Lapelle.

That’s also the case in the breakfast area, where a new pecky cypress-clad ceiling plays off white shiplap walls—an up-to-date look that doesn’t seem out of sync with the architecture. “It looks clean, casual and not too fussy,” she says. Updated with shiplap walls, handsome cabinetry and white marble counters, the bathrooms are equally timeless.

It’s easy to see why the new owners enjoy it so much, hosting both intimate gatherings and large bashes there. According to Lapelle, who has attended several such soirees, being there is all about eating, having fun and playing cards. “They want you to come in and enjoy,” she says. “Southerners are house-proud and very gracious.”

INTERIOR DESIGN Susan Lapelle, Lapelle Interiors, (404) 290-3357 LANDSCAPE DESIGN Carson McElheney, Carson McElheney Landscape Architecture & Design, (404) 467-1690;

Editors’ Note: Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles was devastated to learn about landscape designer Carson McElheney’s untimely passing in September. Mr. McElheney earned Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles “Under 40” award, and many of his residential projects and team collaborations have graced the pages of the magazine through the years. McElheney was a rare talent whose dedication to his profession, passion for the land and adoration by his clients was standard practice. His talents will be greatly missed by the Southeastern design community and our thoughts reside with his family at this time.