Hidden Potential

A Buckhead couple feels right at home again in their historic manse thanks to a design overhaul by a trio of Atlanta talents

After spending nearly two decades in their 1930s Buckhead manse, a civic-minded couple was ready to shake things up. They considered moving in hopes of finding a home with a larger yard, but when their two-year long search repeatedly came up short, the couple shifted their focus to transforming their historic Georgian home into their forever home.

They began slowly, starting with a simple update to the library. “Really, the whole renovation started with just adding a pair of French doors,” says interior designer Liza Bryan, who the couple enlisted after viewing her work on a neighboring Neel Reid estate. “The library had a small, single window that wasn’t providing much of a view or connection to the outdoors.” So they turned to the couple’s longtime go-to architect Ward Seymour (who came out of retirement as a favor) to oversee the addition of French doors complete with a Juliet balcony that now bathes the library in natural light.  

Pleased with the transformation, it wasn’t long before the couple started considering other ways of freshening up their home. Thankfully, Bryan was already one step ahead. “When we first met and I walked through the house, I saw a lot of very pretty things but they were just not in the right place or creating any impact,” she recalls. So after brightening up the walls (they were previously a range of historic colors, but deemed too “muddy”) and widening cased room openings for a better sense of flow, Bryan began what she playfully refers to as “musical chairs”—moving the couple’s extensive collection of art and antiques around from room to room until just the right spot was found. For example, an oversize mural fashioned from a Gracie wallpaper that was once out-of-sight now takes pride of place in the dining room, while a 1923 still life entitled “Tea and Strawberries” was hung in the master bedroom so that the couple can now wake up to their favorite painting every morning. Bryan also transformed seldom-used rooms into more approachable spaces, the most notable being the sunroom. Doors leading to the living room were removed for a more welcoming touch, and a table-and-chairs arrangement now makes it a multipurpose space—an impromptu office for answering emails to a sunny spot for brunch.

 While Bryan continued to finesse the interiors, the homeowners set their sights on their backyard, or lack thereof. Consisting of a small patio and no lawn, the steep, overgrown site left much to be desired by the outdoor-loving couple with a passion for gardening. So they turned to landscape architect John Howard and architect William B. Litchfield for a solution.

Undeterred by the land’s deep ravine, Howard “lifted the property” he says with a series of retaining walls that allowed for the creation of cascading green spaces that lead to a newly built folly on axis with the library. “I wanted the structure to be a stimulating feature of the garden design, and really everything in the backyard evolved from that,” notes Howard.

With the folly set to be the centerpiece, Litchfield spared no detail, a hallmark of the classically trained architect. “In researching folly structures from Virginia to the Carolinas to Georgia, and even as far over as Louisiana, this octagonal image kept coming up,” he says. Litchfield used the striking shape as the foundation of the folly design, but while follies are historically meant purely for decorative purposes, this particular structure was planned as a multifunctional space. So while it offers the couple a serene spot to enjoy a glass of wine amid the trees, it also doubles as the wife’s art studio.

On warm days, she can open the folly’s series of grand 10-foot iron doors for fresh air or switch on the heated flooring during cooler months. These modern conveniences are seamlessly integrated amid more period-authentic flourishes by Litchfield, including plaster walls and reclaimed limestone floors. Overhead, exposed wood framing follows the shape of the octagonal copper roof to make it seem as if the plaster had fallen down over time. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked on something where the detail is as exquisite as this,” notes Bryan, who complemented Litchfield’s pitch-perfect design with beautiful accents such as an antique painting easel.

Litchfield also brought his design-narrative approach to the garage addition. “I love for every project to have a storyline, so for the garage, I came up with the concept that it could have been the old stable where they kept horses at one time,” he explains. Stable doors on either side, with the center door opening to the backyard, now provide extra space for food, tables and even a dance floor when the couple hosts larger groups of guests.

And with the gardens thoughtfully designed to “look good in every season,” says Howard, entertaining in the backyard can be a year-round affair. As winter approaches, fragrant daphne will bring the gardens to life, while viburnum and hydrangea are set to bloom in the springtime.

“It all came together like a symphony,” says Litchfield, reflecting on the home’s three-year transformation. “I’m thrilled they ended up seeing the potential in their home and even more so that they put together a great team to show them what could be.”

Bryan agrees. “They use every inch of the home now,” she says. “They’re able to truly love a place that they almost thought about selling. I’m so glad they gave it a second chance.”


INTERIOR DESIGN Liza Bryan, Liza Bryan Interiors, Inc. (404) 848-0588; lizabryaninteriors.com ARCHITECT William Litchfield, William B. Litchfield Residential Designs Inc. (404) 467-4600; litchfielddesigns.com LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT John Howard, Howard Design Studio, LLC. (404) 876-7051; howarddesignstudio.com CONTRACTOR Tom Clemmons, CBR, Inc. (404) 522-9123