Good Bones

A new Savannah couple brings their midcentury home back to its roots. Written by Savannah magazine. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson.

Living room. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson.

This house is so fun! What drew you to it, and to Savannah?

We literally moved to Savannah because of this house. We had recently moved back to Atlanta after two years away, and in that time our neighborhood had exploded with apartment buildings. It was infuriatingly crowded. I grew up near the ocean and had been looking for a way to get back to the coast for most of my adult life. Charleston was originally the target, and we even made some appointments to look at homes there. Then one night my husband Tony was looking at listings and yelled “Baby, come see this house!”—that was this house. We looked at it again the next morning, called the listing agent, and thought about it for the rest of the day before deciding we had to have it. We were under contract by the end of that weekend. Just to reiterate—we were so drawn to this house that my husband signed a contract for a house he hadn’t seen in person, in a city he had never been to.  We made it here a week later, stayed at The Mansion with our dogs, saw the house, and loved it. Both the house and the city felt like home. We weren’t nervous at all, just excited.

Have you always liked midcentury architecture?

Yes! In the spring of 2016 we bought a lot in Atlanta in the Old Fourth Ward, just a few blocks from both the Beltline and Ponce City Market. We were going to build the perfect home in the perfect location, but we ultimately ended up with a much more interesting house in a city we’re better suited to as a couple. When I walked into this house for the first time, I knew it was special. It had so much potential.

How did you choose to engage with your home’s aesthetic as you went about choosing decor elements? 

I’ve always loved midcentury style, so some of the pieces I chose would have gone in any house we lived in—the Knoll Womb chair, for one. Luckily, it’s easy to find vintage furniture online, like our Adrian Pearsall dining table, and the popularity of midcentury style has made fleshing out the rest of the house easy—for instance, the dining chairs are West Elm, and our walnut armchairs are from Joybird, another great company that makes affordable and sturdy midcentury wood and upholstered furniture. The one thing I didn’t realize until I’d been here a few weeks was how badly I needed brass wall art and small sculptures. Etsy, eBay and Picker Joe’s provided most of my vintage finds. I combined those with trinkets we’ve picked up on our travels and a few family heirlooms. All that said, we’ve only been here nine months, so it’s still a work in progress. I feel like it takes years for a home to be complete.

Downstairs bathroom. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson.

What are some key changes you made to the house?

Taking out the wall between the kitchen and the main living area was an absolute must. Now we get morning and afternoon light through the entire house, so it’s never dark or dreary, and the colors and shadows change throughout the day. It’s a beautiful transition. We also removed white paint from the exposed brick in the living room, which allowed me to shift the color palette to accommodate softer tones.

The ground level bathroom was a full bath, but since it’s near the pool and hot tub, we agreed it would be much more useful as a powder room with space for our guests to change and hang their clothes. I chose clé tile in black and white for the floor and accent wall so when I need a fresh look I can just paint the opposite walls a different color. We keep towels, robes and extra swimsuits down there so everyone can have a good time. My other favorite change is the front windows. They were textured fogged glass and you couldn’t see through them. We were floored by the difference when we switched them out. Bringing in the view of the street and exposing the house’s exterior architectural elements—like the Savannah grey brick—drastically improved the space.

What were some funny or memorable moments of the renovation process?

I’m not sure anyone who’s renovated a house could refer to a moment of the renovation process as funny, but you can certainly find humor in the absurdity of choosing to live through one. We didn’t even mind the month or so we slept in the built-in twin beds in what is now Tony’s office. I tried to make it less stressful for us and the workers by playing a classic rock Pandora station and bringing in pastries from Gottlieb’s Bakery.

Dining room. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson.
Office. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson.

Wallpaper is having such a moment, and you went bold with it in your dining room, powder room and office. How did you make your selections?

All three of the wallpapers I chose are Cole and Son.  If money had been no object, the dining room would have been done in de Gournay—I always wanted a chinoiserie-themed dining room. The palm fronds were an affordable compromise and a nice tie-in to midcentury style. I spent a week working the Junior League thrift sale last summer and found a gorgeous Shibata Japanese porcelain vase from the 60’s. I became obsessed and scoured eBay and Etsy for others—now I have a bookcase full of them. De Gournay also makes this amazing monkey wallpaper I saw in a design magazine, and I reference that with the Cole and Son paper in my office. It’s such a tiny room, so I wanted a paper that would add depth—then I clad the wall facing the windows in mirror, and voila: endless monkey forest. I chose large black slate for the kitchen floor and extended it to the adjacent powder room for a cleaner look. I needed a paper that wouldn’t clash with that floor. The real reason though, behind the tight geometric pattern, was that I knew the bathroom door would always be open. The paper brings a little splendor to an otherwise utilitarian space.

Plate collection. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson.

Talk to me about the plate collection at the right of the fireplace.

The pale blue plate with the starbursts is a true midcentury gem, bought at least a decade ago at a flea market in Atlanta. The plate depicting my mother as a young woman came from Japan, circa 1967.

While we were in Connecticut at Tony’s parents’ house, I found one his father had brought back from Rio with a photo of him and two friends, and the collection was born. When we bought the house the brick wall was the perfect space to showcase them, so I found more. The black plastic ones with inlay are Couroc of Monterey. I’m always on the lookout, and someday the whole wall will be filled.

Between the backyard and the built-in planters, this house really brings the outdoors in. Did that feel like a challenge, or an opportunity?

The patio and pool were a major selling point for us—I try to spend as much time as possible outside. With the patio essentially being a part of the main living area, I kept it simple and clean. The planters blend in with the architecture, so the bright flowers really pop. The furniture is simple and comfortable, and it doesn’t detract from the natural beauty of the yard.

Bar. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson.

The bar space downstairs seems tailor-made for entertaining. How would you describe your entertaining style? What kind of environment or vibe do you like to create for your guests?

When we bought the house, the bar area and book shelves were empty space. Building a bar there seemed like the obvious choice. As for the hole in the brick, it was originally an indoor grill. I stuffed all the routers and audio equipment in there behind a door and added some book shelves. The ugliest corner of the home suddenly became one of the most attractive and most useful.

I thought we’d be here at least a year before we made friends, and of course you have to have friends in order to entertain.  Luckily the previous owners (who designed and built the outdoor area) had put it to good use, so almost everyone we met during the first few months we were in Savannah had already been to our house. We started going to Atlantic the minute we got here. One day I started talking to Jennifer Restivo, who owns the restaurant with her husband Jason. When she found out about the house she dragged Jason over, and now were all great friends. The Restivos have introduced us to so many other people, and we’ve found Savannah to be such a welcoming place. Jennifer and I are even co-chairing the Historic Savannah Foundation Gala this year! When we have people over I usually plan and execute a main course based on a theme, and everyone brings a side or appetizer. We stay pretty casual —sometimes we eat at the table, and other times we just mill around. No matter what, there’s always loud music playing.

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson.

Your home features strong geometric motifs—fleur de lis, clovers, and more. Did they become something you actively sought to add?

The large clover leaf grate in the wall of the main room is an original part of the house. I love it! It’s like a piece of art, and it’s a great place to hide speakers. The cabinets in the built-in bookshelves and the intake grates were all shutter style and white, but when I found the clover patterned sheet metal at Home Depot, I bought all of it from both Savannah locations and had our contractors build new vents and cabinet doors throughout the house. It’s softer and more cohesive, and blends nicely with the exposed brick.

Initially I wasn’t sure about the fleur de lis on the stair rails, but Tony and I met at Tulane in New Orleans, so they seem appropriate.

What makes this house a home?

This house is everything we need and want—nothing more, nothing less. It’s art and accent pieces from our pasts combined with new furnishings that suited the space. I designed and shopped with both form and function in mind, because I wanted every part of the house to be lived in. We’re not fussy—the dogs sleep on all of the furniture and you’re allowed to drink red wine on the white couch. We loved it here right away, even before the furniture was delivered, when all we had was two twin beds, three bar stools, and the pool … it was August in Savannah, so the pool was a must.

Details

Owners: Anthony and Daymia D’Alto
Year built: 1960
Year purchased: 2017
Square footage: 3,600
Number of bedrooms and bathrooms: 3 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, 2 half bathrooms
Time to complete renovation/remodel: 4 months
Interior designer: Daymia D’Alto of D’Alto
Design & Interiors Contractor/builder: American Craftsman Renovations
Tile/flooring: clé tile from Garden State Tile, original terrazzo floors
Paint/Wallpaper: Benjamin Moore and Cole & Son, installed by Edwina Scarboro
Carpet/area rugs: Culver Rug Co
Windows/mirrors: J&L Glass, Inc.
Kitchen design: Savannah Kitchen & Bath
Bath design: Sandpiper Supply, Emrich
Kitchen and Bath Lighting design: Sandpiper Supply, Jonathan Adler, vintage
Hardscape design: Beth Vantosh, Mark Friedman, Ken Richards
Audio/Visual: Samsung, Sonos
Plumber: PlumbPro
Landscaper: GoodTime Gardening
Custom outdoor and landscape lighting: NiteLites of Savannah
HVAC: Coastal Heating and Air
Furniture: Design Within Reach, Room and Board, West Elm, CB2, Joybird and vintage
Appliances: KitchenAid
Greenery: Fancy Plants, Herb Creek
Accessories: Picker Joe’s, Emily McCarthy, Etsy and The Collective (Atlanta)
Art: owners’ private collection and work, Laney Contemporary

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