A Savannah couple builds a forever home with historical charm and modern conveniences.
On East Macon Street near Madison Square, a five-story, red-brick Romantic Revival building once housed the city’s first YMCA, where many a Savannah boy learned to swim. Designed and built by esteemed architect Henrik Wallin in 1908, it anchored one corner of a square already graced with significant structures such as the Green-Meldrim and Sorrel-Weed houses. Unlike those historic treasures, however, the YMCA did not survive the city’s mid-century urban renewal wrecking ball, and it was demolished in 1970.
One of the boys who splashed in that YMCA pool never imagined he would grow up to build a house on the same spot where he enjoyed hours of play as a child. But he wound up doing exactly that, with a modern infill that fits seamlessly into the historic fabric of the neighborhood.
He and his wife, both Savannah natives, recently celebrated their golden anniversary, and as empty-nesters, their return to the heart of the city enables an active lifestyle. She’s an avid walker, and he gets around town on his bike, explains Amber Marie Then of Amber Marie Interiors, who helped the couple outfit their home. “When presented with the opportunity to have a new build in historic Savannah, they knew it was time to design their final, forever home.”
With interior and exterior architecture by Homeline Architecture, that home is one for the ages, replete with exquisite tilework and moldings, leaded glass doors and gas lamps. “The couple collaborated with local craftsmen and fabricators, and a European style informed their overall design sensibility,” says Then.
Upon entering the home, visitors are welcomed into a stylish parlor where two blue velvet settees face each other in front of a white limestone fireplace, fostering comfort and conversation. In the corner by the full-height window sits an antique secretary where the homeowner takes advantage of the natural light to indulge in the lost art of letter writing.
This open space easily transitions into the formal dining room, which holds the couple’s traditional cherry dining room set that spaciously seats eight.
“The space exudes a formal elegance, but easily adapts to accommodate casual gatherings,” says Then.
The 4,000-square-foot home’s cozy kitchen is designed for intimate gatherings, replete with an adjacent keeping room where guests can convene on the loveseat and keep their hosts company at the same time. The high-end modern appliances and custom cabinetry meld effortlessly with the keeping room, as natural light from one of the home’s four terraces is framed by Roman shades in both spaces. At kitchen center is a white marble-topped island with an inset sink and comfy seating upholstered with fabric that matches the wallpaper.
A butler’s pantry, framed by walnut pocket doors, serves as the transition from the kitchen to the formal dining room. A full-height marble backsplash and hammered nickel sink complement the pantry’s counter, creating the perfect place to mix cocktails to carry to the adjacent parlor or assemble dinner plates for the dining room.
Homeline Architecture’s alterations to the original plans offered by the developer were extensive on the home’s third floor in particular. Rather than have several small spaces, including a closet and an office, the homeowners decided to dedicate the entire floor to the master bedroom, bathroom and boudoir.
The boudoir, almost as big as the master bedroom itself, features custom cabinetry, mirrored doors, bench seats for comfort and functionality, a brass ladder rail with walnut ladder and sheer sashes on on the French doors. Café shutters create privacy while allowing light to flood the room.
“This space naturally evolved, as the client and I were on the same page from the beginning of the design, resulting in the space you see today,” Then says. “This room works hard!”
The yin to the boudoir’s yang is the garden-level media room, a place to relax with a cocktail and catch a game on the house’s only television.
The stained alder cabinetry, bar with a beveled mirror backsplash, the felted wool and sisal woven rug and sectional sofa make the room fun and functional, a place where comfort reigns supreme.
Amid all of the masculine touches in the media room, there is one nod to femininity: a special nook where the wife can practice songs she’s learning for her church choir on her grandmother’s piano.
Throughout the East Macon home, the tilework is a particular point of pride for Then, who grew up in the floor covering industry. In the master shower, Then used a stock marble trim to create a base cap and picture rail and worked with the general contractor and tile installer to carry the marble across the ceiling and through the door jamb.
For the second bedroom’s bathroom, Then said the homeowners fell in love with one of her all-time favorite tiles from Garden State Tile, a ceramic tile with a feminine, floral motif that blends gray and taupe in a manner reminiscent of hand-drawn sketches.
“I wanted to create a focal point with the tile much like a piece of hanging art,” she says. “We paid careful attention to flawlessly integrate the beveled subway tile to the picture rail and create the tub surround.”
Because the homeowners planned ahead, they worked with Then to incorporate amenities that would allow them to “age in place” — or, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it, “live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.”
Even though the couple remains active, healthy and vital, they installed an elevator that runs to all four floors, something that may seem convenient now but could become necessary later. With hand-painted hemp mural panels and base and crown molding, the elevator extends beyond the purely utilitarian into a work of art.
Furthermore, the en suite shower in the master bath sports a curbless entry for easy wheelchair access, if necessary. Shower doors are wider than standard, and a bench and handheld shower attachment allow the user to sit and bathe without relying on assistance. Even the finishes were well-considered: instead of knobs on the kitchen cabinets, Then employed pulls, which are easier for someone with arthritis to grasp.
“No one likes to think about this, but it’s something even younger people should consider,” advises Then.
It was equally important to the homeowners to use as many as possible pieces from their prior home in their new one, especially those with sentimental value. In addition to the piano and secretary, the parlor’s coffee table was repurposed once it was repaired (after having been broken by their children years before). And several rugs the couple purchased over the years from Savannah staple Culver’s were used throughout the house as well.
“It’s important for people to know you don’t have to start fresh. When you buy quality, you can keep it forever,” Then notes. “Find a way to incorporate it, to update it, give it a facelift and keep the sentimental value.”
It’s also important to remember, says Then, that no matter how beautiful a house, it’s a home, which makes her business personal. “As a design firm, we like to start at beginning and go all the way to the end to achieve the homeowner’s goal. If we can get in as early as possible, we can help tweak things before construction,” she explains. “The majority of our business is blueprints to drapes on windows, everything from design concept to putting dishes in cabinets. We’re with clients for two plus years, so they become family.”
Year built: 2018
Year purchased: 2018
Square footage: 4,300
Number of bedrooms and bathrooms: 3 bedrooms, 3 full bathrooms, 2 half bathrooms
Architects/planners: Homeline Architecture
Interior designer: Amber Marie Then, Amber Marie Interiors
Contractor/builder: Sandcastle Constructors Inc.
Tile/flooring Installation: Chris Sweeting, Sharpe & Skilled Contractors LLC
Tile/flooring materials: Garden State Tile
Wallpaper: Farrow & Ball and Thibaut; installed by Craig Holcombe
Kitchen, bath, and boudoir design: Amber Marie Then, Amber Marie Interiors
Kitchen Cabinetry: Coastal Millworks
Boudoir Cabinetry: AWD of Savannah
Lighting Design: Amber Marie Then, Amber Marie Interiors
Lighting Fixtures: Kara Loban, Circa Lighting, WAC and Currey and Co.
Electrician: Pace Lighting
Audio/visual: Randy Kern
Carpenter: Sandcastle Constructors LLC
Appliances: Livingood’s Appliances
Furniture: Hickory Chair, Bernhardt, Jere’s Antiques and heirloom pieces.
Accessories: Merida, Anthropologie, Bungalow 5, West Elm, Ware Street Estate Sales, heirloom pieces and owners’ existing collection.
Art: Homeowners’ private collection
Custom ladder and rail: Forsyth Metalworks
*all resources supplied by homeowners