Historic references and cosmopolitan accents come together in one of Buckhead’s most character-rich residences
For Atlanta homeowners Jared Paul and Kelley Harris, a bit of serendipity led them to their current residence in Buckhead where they’ve lived for the past four years. “We literally found this house by mistake on Zillow,” says Paul with a laugh. But leading up to this discovery was, by any means, no laughing matter.
The couple had grown dispirited after already having made an offer on another house only to have contract negotiations stall.“We were looking for a project, something closer to our respective jobs,” says Harris, when Paul accidentally swiped his iPad screen while looking at other residences. His finger landed on the place they now call home. Although they weren’t even searching anywhere near the neighborhood, says Harris, “We were looking for a house that had some age to it but had not been updated or renovated, and this one checked all the boxes in the photo. It looked like time had stopped.”
Paul and Harris recall that others who viewed the house while it was on the market didn’t quite know what to make of it. The structure is nestled into the landscape on the highest perch of the steep woodland lot, is imbued with references to Colonial Williamsburg both inside and out and was lacking storage. “There were no real closets, and there was no laundry where you could get to the washer and dryer without leaving the house,” says Paul. The space was only accessible by going outside and descending to a basement.
The rest of the home’s structured flow and organization also left some potential buyers puzzled. “It’s not an open floor plan by any stretch of the imagination,” adds Paul. In someone else’s hands, the understated residence—clocking in at about 2,000 square feet—could have been considered a teardown because of its desirable Buckhead location.
But these two interior design aficionados—Harris is the principal of Harris Interiors, and Paul is the owner of the Paul+ showroom at ADAC—knew they unearthed a jewel of a house built with time-honored techniques, including square nailheads, hand-planed hardwood floors and one room still featuring its original green milk paint walls. This was not a cartoonish imitation of a historic home, but rather an amalgamation of ideas executed with the highest level of craftsmanship, and the two quickly realized that they could marry the home’s historic references with present-day living in a way that could work for their mix of traditional and contemporary furnishings and art. “We made the house look like us, but not look like a UFO landed inside it,” says Paul. And so began the quest for authenticity, which drove each and every decision.
Designed by architect Thomas G. Little for his own family, the 1949 structure channels many of the hallmarks of Colonial Williamsburg where Little had previously been a lead architect before becoming a preservation architect for the State of Georgia. Little and his wife, Charlotte, had a keen eye for details, most of which remain today. Sadly, the two were killed in the tragic Orly plane crash in Paris that killed 106 Atlanta arts patrons in 1962.
For Paul and Harris, the end goal was how to live in the house without feeling like a museum period piece or stage set. Surprisingly, the two found the house extremely versatile without having to expand the home’s footprint. The 8-foot-4 ceilings initially gave them pause (they were coming from a residence with 10-plus-foot ceilings), but they soon grew to love the intimate nature of the spaces.
A trip to various projects that Little had worked on at Colonial Williamsburg helped inform some of their future design decision-making, which turned into a 2.5-year renovation. “We actually found solutions at Williamsburg for some of the things we were struggling with,” adds Harris.
The biggest transformation was annexing a guest room to create an expansive main bath, closet and laundry. When it came to moving walls, the two consulted with architect Rodolfo Castro to advise on maintaining the home’s structural integrity. Today, the bones of the house—including the living room’s green milk paint walls—have become the perfect backdrop for the couple’s mélange of contemporary furnishings and artwork, as well as more traditional Southern antiques. The milk paint wall color also inspired the palette throughout the rest of the house, including the main bath that’s completely enveloped in penny tiles in a similar hue.
In another fortuitous moment, the home’s aging slate roof was in dire need of repair. (Sixty years is not a long lifespan for slate, but Paul and Harris learned that the Littles had sourced antique slate tiles for the house when it was built, so they were actually considerably older than previously imagined.) Fearing a replacement would be cost prohibitive, the two looked at a cedar shake substitute, but then a local source presented them with just enough slate for their project—it had come from a teardown and the owner had been holding on to the pieces for about a decade. “The roof worked out beautifully,” says Paul. The best part? “It was the same Vermont slate,” he adds.
In a more recent nod to bridging the past with the present, Paul and Harris commissioned Colonial Williamsburg’s blacksmith to hand forge all of the shutter dogs that flank the home’s exterior windows. The process took 18 months, with each one made over the hot flames of an open firepit, but that painstaking attention to detail is something that the original owners, the Littles, would no doubt approve of.
Editor’s Note: To see Kelley Harris’ and Jared Paul’s previous residences published in AH&L, visit atlantahomesmag.com/article_tags/harris_paul