The ‘Un-White’ House

Designer Sara Steinfeld and architect Staffan Svenson create a contemporary masterpiece in garden hills where a traditional bungalow once stood.

Before hiring someone to design his Garden Hills residence, Larry Goldstone did his homework. Having seen ads for a couple of Atlanta architects in a favorite magazine, he hired them both to do a little homework of their own. “Before I bought this piece of property, I needed to know if what I wanted to do was feasible,” says Goldstone, who, after living in a traditional home in Country French style, was ready for a change.

Goldstone described to both firms the kind of contemporary style he was seeking and asked each to come up with a sketch. “One did exactly what I’d asked, but Staffan took it to the next level,” he says, recalling how Dencity’s Staffan Svenson showed up for their first meeting with not only a sketch but a scale model, too. “He was really motivated—and we just clicked! He’d just started his own company, and even though he didn’t have a long track record, he’d done some great work.”

At that point, Dencity had designed very few contemporary houses. “I realized this was a big opportunity, so I took a bit of a risk and did a lot of work in terms of creating a model,” Svenson says. It paid off, and the project moved forward.

“Larry had a simple program,” the architect says. “He wanted a view from every room, and he wanted it to be open, with lots of glass. And he wanted it to have a quiet backyard. But he didn’t want a sculptural, stark thing; it needed to be warmer and softer.”

To build the project—with such massive amounts of glass—they needed just the right contractor. And in the process of interviewing contractors, Goldstone found his interior designer, Sara Steinfeld. “She was a reference for one [contractor] I was considering,” Goldstone explains. “She invited me to her house to look at the contractor’s work, and I saw that she had a real eye for detail—plus she’d just been through the building experience herself.”

“Designers and architects can sometimes be wary of one another, but I thought she and Staffan would work well together. Plus, as a bachelor, I needed a woman’s point of view.”

Goldstone had good instincts; Svenson and Steinfeld made a perfect team. “When you’re dealing with something that’s modern, the whole inside/outside relationship needs to be seamless,” says the architect. “Sara and I worked very closely together, even on the outside materials, because so much of what’s going on inside is perceived from the outside, too.”

The two design pros had plenty of guidance from their client, always a plus in getting the end result right. “Larry was very specific about what he wanted. He had pages and pages of things he had researched,” recalls Svenson. “And he said, ‘Whatever you do, there can’t be any white!’ ”

“So it became the un-white house!” says Steinfeld. “It was a challenge for me, because I like white—and a lot of contemporary design is white. Think about the High Museum, and about any kind of contemporary art gallery—it’s usually going to be white. He wanted the house to be contemporary, yet warm and comfortable. He’s a very casual guy.”

As a result, the palette throughout is based on natural colors, which Svenson and Steinfeld selected together. “I’m usually brought in after the architect is off the project,” says the designer. “So this was a treat for me because we worked on the design elements together. For example, the stucco on the front of the house became the wall color on the interior, and then I chose the leather [for the front closet doors] based on the stucco color. The process was really so integrated.”

Before selecting a single piece of furniture for the new contemporary house, Steinfeld took stock of what was in her client’s old traditional one. “I inventoried his house and said, ‘Larry, we can’t take any of this with us!’ And that would totally freak him out!” she laughs. “Eventually, though, on the day he moved in, he saw that a lot of the pieces he thought he would keep didn’t really fit in the house.”

Still, a few favorite pieces made the transition beautifully, and the sprinkling of antiques among contemporary furnishings adds yet another layer of warmth. “I learned to trust her opinions, and I let Staffan do his own thing,” says Goldstone.

Svenson and Steinfeld aren’t about to take all of the credit, however. Having a client who knew what he wanted—and took such an active role in the process—made a huge difference, they agree. They know, too, that it was a successful project, not only because the client loves it. The three of them also became good friends.

This contemporary residence is one of a kind in a neighborhood filled with cottage-style homes. The angled roof lines—a departure from the horizontal roofs typically used for contemporary projects—are a tribute to the surrounding houses. An open stairway in the foyer leading to the second floor creates a strong linear feeling, emphasized by the cypress wood that forms a partial wall. Sculpture, Kimo Minton, “Unlikely Messengers,” Tew Galleries, (404) 869-0511.

Architecture Staffan Svenson, Dencity, (404) 226-6926,

Interior Design Sara S. Steinfeld, Allied ASID, (404) 213-7415

Contractor Tom Blalock, Blalock Construction, (404) 881-0288

Landscape Architect Paige Shaw, (404) 892-3348