Erika and Joel Snayd of Rethink Design Studio turn a downtown historic home into a modern masterpiece.
In the world of home renovations, sometimes a complete overhaul is the only answer. But if the house in question is a 133-year-old townhome in Savannah’s prized historic district, then just a few tweaks will do. After all, a house that has survived this long is doing something right.
Rising over Columbia Square, the Italianate mansion (three stories, five bedrooms, seven bathrooms in all) is arguably one of the city’s most photographed homes. Built in 1885 by renowned Savannah resident William Kehoe, founder of the original Kehoe Iron Works on East Broughton Street, the house is a showcase for locally made iron balconies and banisters.
The stately residence underwent a major renovation in 2015, garnering a 2016 Preservation Award from the Historic Savannah Foundation. Shortly thereafter, Arby Lipman, a professional wildlife photographer, purchased the house, and while he recognized that a building with a history as deep and unique as this one should be preserved at all costs, he also wanted the interior design to evolve in order to better suit his needs. He enlisted the help of Savannah-based design firm Rethink Design Studio, owned and operated by husband-and-wife duo Joel and Erika Snayd, because he knew they would introduce a modern, minimalist aesthetic to create a more livable, comfortable home.
“We love Scandinavian design,” says Joel. “It has a simplistic sensibility, but also brings in warmth from different materials like wood and unlacquered brass. It’s all about design in its purest form.”
The Snayds began the redesign process by assessing the house in its current state—the walls were already white, which is their preference, so they kept them as is; the wood floors were already painted a high gloss ebony, which they appreciated for the bold statement it made, so they left those alone, too.
Instead, the Snayds chose to refocus the living space toward the back of the house, which meant flipping the formal parlor with the dining room. They anchored the space with a large, round table—custom designed by them and fabricated by Savannah College of Art and Design professor Aaron Heisler, owner of Pique Studio. The faceted brass base supports a mammoth piece of honed white marble with a unique tapered edge. “This marble slab is so heavy that it will never be moved,” says Erika with a laugh.
The duo also designed custom étagères to flank the dining room’s cased opening, working with Forsyth Metal Works to incorporate brass and blackened steel, and layering in wood for warmth. For the living room, now situated in the center of the house, the Snayds chose a low, dark gray L-shaped sectional from Danish furniture designer Bolia. The modern piece is juxtaposed with original wood valences hanging over each window, as well as the floor-to-ceiling Eastlake mirror facing the front of the house. These new contrasts ease the house’s existing formality, making every space more comfortable and casual in the process.
“All of the furniture we installed was scaled down and literally lowered to maximize views from inside the house,” Erika says. “The house’s corner location means it has windows on all sides.” The designers were also intentional about how they spent their budget: They splurged on the dining room’s large cream-colored handwoven wool rug by Merida, but saved on the living room’s wide, machine-made Loloi rug to support the high-traffic area. Similarly, the matching brass and porcelain Apparatus light fixtures in the dining and living room were investment pieces while the wide white Stilnovo light fixture in the sitting room was more affordable. After all, Joel says, “It’s all about highs and lows.”
In the back of the home, the Snayds re-imagined the formal sitting room into a laid-back space that connects it with the kitchen. The kitchen’s pass-through window was transformed into a bar by extending the white quartz counter tops and adding handcrafted iron legs—the perfect place for sleek, leather-wrapped bar stools.
The kitchen had been overhauled during the 2015 renovation, so the only changes the Snayds made to the room included swapping out the cabinet hardware for oil-rubbed bronze pulls and adding a black metal faucet over the farmhouse sink. On the third floor, they made a grand addition to the master bath: a custom floating vanity in walnut wood, featuring a double sink, brass faucets and a cambria counter top.
Yet perhaps the most impressive bathroom is on the parlor level. Working with a small, triangular space, the Snayds upped the eccentricity factor, covering the walls in a kaleidoscopic grass cloth, and painting the trim a dark navy gloss by Farrow & Ball. For the sink, they refinished a floating oak vanity in a lightly tinted oil and then “fumed it” with ammonia, a technique that brings out the wood’s natural grain, creating a weathered, gray patina. A marble sink was added for a polished pop. “We wanted this space to have a real wow factor,” Erika says. “And the homeowner is not scared at all of color or pattern, so we just went for it.”
Upstairs, they reconfigured the layout of the master suite so that the bedroom is now accessed through a boutique-like closet, formerly the sitting room, with custom built-in wardrobes, dressers and drawers built by Savannah Millworks, accented with smoked glass cabinet doors leather inlays and brass hardware. In the adjoining bedroom, a four poster bed faces a custom walnut armoire with a leather façade sourced from Edelman Leather.
“What was unique about this project was being able to work with a homeowner that gave us so much creative leeway and freedom,” Joel says. “We were able to create a space that was a bit more modern, but one that still has a real warmth.”
Homeowner: Arby Lipman
Year built: 1884
Year purchased: 2016
Square footage: 5,988, including carriage house
Accommodations: 5 bedrooms, 5 full bathrooms, 2 powder rooms
Architect: Dawson Architects – LS3P Associates LTD
Interior designer: Erika and Joel Snayd of Rethink Design Studio
Contractor: Snipes Properties LLC dba SHC
Paint: Farrow & Ball, Hague Blue No. 30; powder room by JD Painting
Wallpaper: Bradley Hughes (powder room), Studio Four NYC (master suite entry), Phillip Jefferies (guest bedroom), all installed by David Blackwell
Furniture design/fabrication: Rethink Design Studio and Pique Studio
Marblework and countertops: Creative Stone
Metalwork: Forsyth Metal Works
Vanities: Rethink Design Studio and Southern Woods Design & Cabinets
Cabinetry and millwork: Rethink Design Studio and Savannah Millworks
Leather: Edelman Leather
Glass: J&L Glass
Electrician: Ocean Electrical Contracting Inc.
Plumber: Gene Barnett
Furniture: Gus Modern, Bolia, Muuto, and House Doctor, from Asher + Rye; O&G Studio, Oly Studio, Made Goods, Chelsea Textiles, Hickory Chair, Elijah Leed, Tacchini, and Uhuru Designs, from Rethink Design Studio, Katy Skelton, Blu Dot, Restoration Hardware
Lighting: Anglepoise from Asher + Rye; Apparatus Studio, Arteriors, Robert Abbey, and Stilnovo, from Rethink Design Studio; Allied Maker, Triple Seven, Cedar and Moss, Circa Lighting
Plumbing fixtures: Waterworks from Savannah Hardscapes (powder room), Waterstone (kitchen), Rejuvenation (master bath)
Accessories: O&G Studio, Revolution Design Home, Dharma Door, Son of a Sailor, Elizabeth Benotti, Mbare, Farmhouse Pottery, Nicolas Newcomb, Nomadic Trading Co., Coyuchi, and House of Cindy, from Asher + Rye; Hasan’s Rugs, Pigeon and Poodle, Made Goods, Design Materials Inc., Avo, and Merida Studio, from Rethink Design Studio; custom curtain panel by Maureen Eason Designs with Rebecca Atwood fabric
Art: Arby Lipman and personal collection