Modern Heirloom

James Wheeler transforms a pied-à-terre in Midtown with his classic-meets-fresh perspective

When a successful periodontist swapped out his four-bedroom home for a cozy Atlanta pied-à-terre, it was a seemingly perfect match for the bachelor’s on-the-go lifestyle. Its Midtown location allows him to easily walk to his practice during the week while also affording him the opportunity to jet away to his second home in Key West when the weekend approaches. Yet while the setting was ideal, the interiors left much to be desired.

“Picture ‘builder beige’ from top to bottom,” says interior designer James Wheeler, who was called upon to modernize the dated dwelling. But before he could tackle the travertine floors and bland finishes, the inefficient layout needed to be addressed. “The original architecture didn’t lend itself to the most use of space, if you will. There were odd faux walls and wasteful angles,” explains Wheeler. So with storage and functionality top of mind, he took the condo down to the studs to make way for a more thoughtful floor plan that maximized every square inch of living space—a must for the downsizing homeowner.

With a blank canvas in place, it was time for the real fun to begin. “I consider him a dream client because he gave me a broad overview of what he was seeking and then left the interpretation to me,” says Wheeler. “He has this love of midcentury and modern design, but he also has an equal love for antiques that reflect his Southern heritage.”

Tasked with unifying these contrasting styles, Wheeler kept the walls a pure white to provide a crisp, neutral base for the client’s treasured heritage antiques, while warm woods like walnut in the kitchen offer a sense of cohesion. The homeowner’s midcentury pieces also quietly blend into the design scheme. For instance, a classic leather Eames lounge chair in the living room sits adjacent to an antique wooden table that has been passed down through generations and serves as an impromptu bar during frequent gatherings. An heirloom silver ice bucket on its bottom shelf is also always at the ready.

For quieter moments, the homeowner retreats to the dark and cozy media room. Here, Wheeler took inspiration from his client’s plaid wool suit by enveloping the room in a textural wallcovering almost identical in look and feel, giving the space major midcentury appeal. Wheeler was careful, however, to balance the decidedly masculine feel with an antique drop-leaf table.

“I enjoyed the challenge of combining different periods,” says Wheeler. “Everything from a structural standpoint in the home may be new and modern, but we’ve woven in a lot of character, as nearly every piece tells a story. And that’s ultimately what a home should be—a reflection of our lives and history.”

INTERIOR DESIGN James Wheeler, J. Wheeler Designs, (404) 907-8605;