Nina and David Altschiller land at last in a former fire station downtown. By Anna Jones. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson.
For David and Nina Altschiller, the radical act of marriage is defined not only by 25 years of memories and possessions, but by how many times they have moved these possessions—24 times, to be exact. While the address may change, the contents remain more or less the same, with each place carefully selected to ensure that their cherished collection of antiques, pottery and art will live happily alongside them and their dogs. (There are always dogs.)
“David has collected a lot of stuff over the years and we’ve collected a lot of stuff together,” Nina says. “Houses get chosen depending on whether our favorite print will fit in the kitchen, or whether the bibliotheques will fit on a wall. It all has to fit.”
The couple’s treasure trove of museum-worthy art and furniture fits, barely and beautifully, in their current home on Barnard Street, just east of Forsyth Park. Originally built as a fire station in the 1950s, the building served as an auto body shop before being converted to a private home by the previous owner in the early 1990s. What emerged is a rare jewel: an utterly unique property in downtown Savannah with a sizable back and side yard, a lap pool, and a three-car garage. For these reasons and more, Nina and David have decided that this one’s for keeps.
David, owner of a New York-based advertising agency, and Nina, a former marketing executive in the publishing world, work in tandem on each house they own, with David serving as the collector-in-chief and Nina as the organizer and decorator. When they purchased the Barnard Street property in 2016, Nina spearheaded an interior renovation aimed at revamping the home to suit their needs, including painting the concrete floors a custom not-quite-navy lacquer, closing in the kitchen’s loft-like layout, and adding an open-air veranda overlooking the pool.
With their big careers mostly behind them—Nina is retired, David is “semi-retired,” she says—Nina now volunteers for Planned Parenthood, serving on the board of the local chapter and on the regional affiliate board in Atlanta, which oversees the Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia chapters. Her charity work in Savannah is an intellectual marriage of sorts, lending her marketing and business acumen to a nonprofit organization near and dear to her heart.
“In New York an IUD is $50; in Savannah and all over the South the cost is $900 because we get none of the federal funding to help offset the cost,” Nina explains. “Our goal is for people to understand what planned parenthood is—and that is to plan parenthood, which means birth control.”
When Nina hosted a Planned Parenthood event this past April in her home, 135 people gathered comfortably in the 28-foot-by-40-foot main room, with separate seating zones delineating a TV room, dining room, library, sitting room and bar. Here, a pair of oversized navy blue velvet couches is framed by two 19th century American Gothic bibliotheques David bought at auction in New York one winter for a fraction of their value. The snow may have kept many antique hunters at home that day, but not David, who has always thanked the bad weather for his good fortune.
Between the bibliotheques hangs an original lithograph by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, a marker of David’s passion for art nouveau furniture and art, seen elsewhere in the circular foyer’s tall blue ceramic case clock, the mammoth Louis Majorelle mahogany armoire in their bedroom, and the kitchen’s authentic Paris Metro station clock.
While Nina treasures these pieces as well, she has a few of her own favorites—namely, the six-foot by six-foot print of the Sutro Baths in San Francisco dating to the late 1800s. The piece takes up an entire wall, depicting the swimmers in muted colors of turquoise, mint, mustard and parchment—not coincidentally, the same hues Nina favors in her interior decor palette for every house they’ve owned, including this one.
“The colors in this piece have driven me ever since David and I got married,” she says. “The inside of the kitchen cabinets, the paint on the walls and ceiling—all from the Sutro Baths.”
The entry hall ceiling renders the rich turquoise of the print’s pool water in a high gloss, a nod to the traditional haint-blue porch ceilings of the Lowcountry, but deeper and more vibrant. A backsplash of handmade San Miguel tile incorporates emerald and jade tones, while copper sinks add a layer of warmth to tie it all together.
Throughout the nearly 4,700-square-foot home, the Altschillers’ venerable collection of artwork is displayed in a subtle but knowing sequence, seeming to lead you from room to room. Most of these works were acquired at auction, a feat made easier by similarities in the couple’s tastes.
In a home as elegantly collected as this one, it comes as no surprise that Nina purchased almost nothing new when they moved, drawing instead from the vast array of furniture, art and objects the pair already owned to infuse their new Savannah home with 25 years of shared history. “When you like something, you sort of lean toward it,” Nina says. It’s the type of bond that makes two people (and all of their things) seem as though they have been together all along.
Homeowners: Nina and David Altschiller
Year purchased: 2016
Year built: 1886
Square footage: 3,800
Accommodations: 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms
Time to complete renovation: 14 months
Architect: Matthew Deacon, Alchemy Restoration
Contractor: Capers Martin, Martin + Zittrouer Construction
Flooring: Garden State Tile, for guest bathroom
Paint: Benjamin Moore, Fine Paints of Europe
Doors: Guerry Lumber
Audio/Visual: Ben Brewton
Landscaper: Jim Helgren, Oasis Irrigation & Lighting, for irrigation and sod
Plumbing fixtures: Sandpiper Supply, Houzz.com
Appliances: AJ Madison