Interior Adventure

Atlanta interior designer Tish Mills Kirk and architectural designer Joel Kelly fashion a refined yet restrained new abode in Buckhead

Work, play, they’re all the same, says Tish Mills Kirk, when she’s collaborating with her favorite people. At least this much was true with a particularly rewarding Buckhead project the designer likens to “a two-and-a-half-year playdate.” 

Mills Kirk first met the client 13 years ago during a showhouse—a relationship that sparked one project, then another, and another, until one day the client announced something unexpected: She wanted to build from scratch.

“She said there were things about the house she could never solve due to its age and wanted to start fresh,” explains the designer, who recently rebranded her business from Harmonious Living by Tish Mills to Tish Interior Design. “[Their previous home] had a fair amount of color—mostly jewel tones; she and her husband were ready for a much quieter space.” 

Knowing Mills Kirk so well made it easy to have the utmost trust as they discussed how their dream home would look. “Visually, we just got an idea of the middle of the house, the things that mattered most to them. We ended up essentially writing the program—room sizes, objectives, functionality, what they need, what they don’t, how they live. The next question was, ‘Who do we use?’” 

Mills Kirk set up numerous meetings, sitting in on them per client request. “I knew within five minutes that Joel [Kelly] was who she’d choose,” says Mills Kirk of the Atlanta architectural designer. “The client’s chemistry was so good with him; he has really good restraint and beautiful edit, and she’s the most restrained and edited client that I’ve ever had.”

While builder Tony Reaves spent a year with realtors sussing out a site, Kelly honed in on the interior zones of the house—“knuckles,” as he dubbed them, that could ultimately be rearranged, like a sliding puzzle, to make the most of any chosen view. 

Upon procuring the perfect property—perched high above Buckhead amid lush trees and wooded trails—the design team erected a residence suitable for the neighborhood: all painted brick and English influences, with landscape design by Eric King to match. Inside, the look is much more modern. Clean-lined, Zen-like and bright, it’s a palette of predominantly white, taupe and gray, with cool-toned metals and driftwood-colored floors.

Mills Kirk also merged her client’s seemingly incompatible requests for strong symmetry and high contrast, solving the conundrum with asymmetrical seating groups, odd accent pieces and a mix of textures. Kelly and Mills Kirk harmonized with Reaves on interior architectural elements such as coved ceilings, precise wall paneling, engineered floating shelves and display alcoves that look as though they were carved directly into the plaster walls. 

“The house looks really effortless, but there’s actually so much technical detail in it,” Mills Kirk explains. Case in point: a 25-foot-wide, scalloped fireplace wall—which won the duo an ASID Design Excellence award in 2017—whose carved limestone and white oak panels aligned flawlessly. This detail is repeated on
backsplash tile and cabinetry in the kitchen, blending cooking and living spaces for a seamless feel. 

“She is a truly amazing cook,” Mills Kirk adds of the client, who wanted just two barstools at the island, preferring to use it as a buffet rather than a bar. Instead, the couple prefers the breakfast room, where a grid of steel windows envelops them in natural light. “We wanted [the architecture] to suggest that the breakfast room was once part of the porch. That’s why steel windows frame three sides and the barnwood ceiling continues outside.”

The designer and clients continue to have meetings in this space—because they’re already gearing up for their next big home build. Just a bit of fun among friends.

INTERIOR DESIGN Tish Mills Kirk, Tish Interiors (404) 814-3838; ARCHITECTURAL DESIGNER Joel Kelly, Joel Kelly Design (404) 221-0422; LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Eric King, King Landscaping