Family Fixer-Upper

Two Savannah transplants pull off an impressive renovation in time for Christmas dinner

When Taylor Gerlinger learned he would be stationed at Savannah’s Hunter Army Airfield, his mother, Eleanor Halff, jumped at the chance to help him find a new home in the Lowcountry. Owner of E.H. & Company, a San Antonio-based remodeling firm, Halff was looking for a project while Gerlinger was looking for a home to share with his fiancée, Nicole Carpenter, an actress from Atlanta.

Each party found what they were after on the corner of Abercorn Street in Ardsley Park. Set back from the road under shady oak trees, the house charmed them with its history. Owned by just one family, the home’s interior sat largely untouched since its construction in 1937 — a family time capsule of sorts.

Photography by Jeremiah Hull

Although this meant the house was full of picture molding and beautiful built-ins, the interior felt cramped; the existing floor plan consisted of a series of small, separated rooms with limited space to entertain visiting family and friends. So Halff set about giving the couple the house of their dreams, reconfiguring the floor plan and planning an extensive, two-story addition complete with a gracious kitchen and dining room on the ground floor and additional bedrooms above.

There was just one catch: the house needed to be ready for Christmas, fewer than six months away. So, with Carpenter acting as the on-site project manager, Halff as decorator and Tracey Tollison, of Tollison and Co., as contractor, the team got to work.

The homeowner’s friend created a custom, large-scale painting for the dining room.

Avid cooks, Carpenter and Gerlinger began planning the kitchen first. “We were looking to get away from the typical white kitchen,” says Carpenter of the room’s rich color palette, which took cues from the island’s Carrara marble countertop. Its rich brown and gray-blue veining are picked up in the stained walnut and blue-painted cabinets, outfitted with sleek nickel hardware.

”Looking to get away from a typical white kitchen,“ Halff, Gerlinger
and Carpenter incorporated warm tones and textures.

White brick and shiplap walls add texture and seamlessly connect the airy kitchen to the adjacent dining room. Here, black wishbone dining chairs anchored by a gorgeous burl wood table — a gift to the couple from Halff ’s client who “wanted Taylor and Nicole to make memories” around it just as his family had — are accented by a massive abstract painting, a commission by one of Gerlinger’s childhood friends.

The contemporary interior of the addition is contrasted by the adjoining living room with its smooth, plaster walls, original picture molding, bookcases and fireplace surround — Gerlinger’s favorite part of the house. “These details remind me of the family who lived here,” he says of the bookcases and fireplace, which Halff further emphasized by trimming with additional molding around the existing woodwork and stone.

A mixture of shiplap and brick walls add texture
in the dining room.

Antique pieces from Round Top Antiques Show blend seamlessly with catalog items from West Elm and Serena & Lily. “I think it’s the mix that makes it interesting,” says Halff. The space seamlessly combines new and old, a reflection of Gerlinger’s modern style and Carpenter’s preference for traditional pieces.

The living room features original picture molding dating back to 1937.

In need of a home office, Halff shrunk the original dining room, adding French doors and covering its walls in a handsome, felted Phillip Jeffries wallpaper. The extra space was given to the foyer,
in which Halff carved out a niche (the perfect place for keys) and redesigned the powder room under the stairs.

That powder room, by the way, despite the beauty of the entertaining spaces, is Halff ’s favorite design moment in the house. A vibrant Hermès wallpaper in shades of green and orange covers the walls and offers a playful contrast to the black sink and layered glass sconces.

Upstairs, a spacious master bedroom, decorated in relaxing neutral tones, leads into the jaw-dropping ensuite. Formerly a tiny, dated space, the bathroom now feels luxurious with veiny, white marble covering the countertop, floor, walk-in shower, freestanding soaking tub and chic double vanity.

A guest room features statement wallpaper from St. Frank Textiles.

Even with all the updates and improvements, Halff emphasizes their commitment to the original details of the home. At Gerlinger’s request, one bathroom retained its original bathtub and black-and-white tiled floor, and, while columns were added on the ground level to create balance, the original front porch footprint was maintained, its decorative corbels now supporting the garage portico.

This guest bathroom includes a large, walk-in shower, while another retains its original 1930s tub and tile.

Details decided and craftsmen working seamlessly on top of each other, the project came together without a hitch. “It felt like an HGTV show,” says the designer of the whirlwind, six-month renovation. The project wrapped just two days before Christmas with extended family rallying around Gerlinger and Carpenter to help the couple unpack boxes and even decorate a tree. “We had a full Christmas dinner at the dining room table,” Halff says.

Just after the construction dust had settled, Ben Gerlinger, Taylor’s brother, discovered he was being transferred to Hunter Army Airfield, too. To Halff ’s delight, the house next door was on the market and in need of some love. When asked if she’s ready for this next challenge (it’s now in progress), she laughs, saying she’s delighted after how well things went with Taylor. “As a mom, it’s been the most rewarding project ever.”

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