For more than 20 years, Southern Living has built Idea Houses on lakes, beaches and in quaint towns across the South. This year, our favorite Southern magazine returns to Senoia, GA for a historic renovation project.
It took nearly a year for Southern Living and the Idea House team to transform a weathered and worn 1830s farmhouse into the splendid 2012 Idea House. Paige Sumblin Schnell and her team at Tracery Interiors were invited to design the interiors. With offices in Rosemary Beach and Mountain Brook, Alabama, the boutique design firm is nationally recognized for creating emotionally evocative spaces with a timeless, imminently livable look. Tracery’s work is regularly featured in Southern Living, House Beautiful, Better Homes & Gardens, Vanity Fair, Food & Wine and Coastal Living. Exclusive Ballard Designs can be seen throughout the house, including our new Southern Living Tabletop Collection, destined to become instant heirlooms wherever gracious entertaining is on the menu.
Q&A with the designers
It took nearly a year for Southern Living to transform a weathered 1830s Sequoia, Georgia farmhouse into this year’s inspiring Idea House. Exclusive Ballard Designs can be seen throughout the house, including our new Southern Living Tabletop Collection. Read our exclusive, in-depth conversation with Paige Sumblin Shnell, the designer behind the splendid interiors to find out more about the project.
Ballard Designs: First, tell us about the house itself.
Paige Schnell: The original part of the house was pre-Civil War from the 1830s. When you walk through the front door, the right wall of the front hall and everything to the left was the original house. Sometime after 1900, what is now the living room, dining room, kitchen and third bedroom were added.
BD: What condition was the house in when you started the interior design?
PS: When I saw it for the first time, the Southern Living crew was in the process of moving it to its current site. It was in shambles and unlivable, but still had beautiful wood and character. The house is actually older than the town of Senoia itself.
During the renovation process, we had several people stop by and say that their grandparents had lived in the house at one time or another. One told us her grandmother had been born in the upstairs bedroom.
BD: How did you approach such a huge design challenge?
PS: The original structure was a traditional Southern farmhouse. We wanted to keep a hint of that history by keeping it the classic farmhouse white inside and out. We weren’t trying to do a historical preservation; we were trying to create a modern farmhouse for today.
BD: Where did you start – a room, a specific section?
PS: We started by looking at the entire house, what our sponsors were contributing and what kind of budget we had. We created the whole house at once and each room started to come together.
BD: Walk us through the house and explain how you tackled each space.
PS: The entry hall is a large space. It’s almost like its own room and we treated it that way. The entire left side of the house, including the entry, has the original wood walls and floors. We wanted to preserve all of that, of course. So we painted all of the walls and ceilings white, and used old found objects in those spaces to create the mood for the entire house – the vintage bamboo coat rack, a collection of paint-by-numbers art up the stairs – not fine art by any means, but that’s what makes it accessible and fun.
BD: You have three distinct spaces – the living room, kitchen and dining area – all open to one another.
PS: When we went over the plans for the house, we looked at that space as a whole and as separate spaces. In the living room, we wanted the focus to be around the fireplace. We had to figure out how to do that beautifully given that you would be facing the back of the sofa from the front door, so we added a table behind it. Overall, we wanted to create a casual living room with really comfortable seating. It’s more formal than the keeping room, but not so formal that you don’t want to be there.
BD: Tell us about the pieces you chose.
PS: The Braided Jute Rug from Ballard really holds the room down. We think it’s important to use rugs in a space that combines the living, kitchen and dining areas. The right rug grounds the room and defines it as a separate space. The Braided Jute Rug adds a lot of natural texture, and when you’re doing an all-neutral space like this one, we think texture is the key to making it warm.
Then we started picking fabrics and seating, including the pair of chairs from Ballard. They’re swivel gliders and they do everything we wanted in that seating group. They look great covered in Linen Flax from Suzanne Kasler.
BD: The chandelier looks like it was always here.
PS: One thing we like to do in every living room is to use a chandelier because it gives you a central focus. In a big space like this one, you could set the room up 10 different ways, so the Laurenza 8 Light Chandelier creates a center to work around.
BD: Overall, the colors are neutral, but the room still has a warm, inviting feel.
PS: Because this really was an old farmhouse, it needed to look lived in over time. So we did the Terrific Table from Ballard with the burlap skirt and the Wood Plank Storage Benches with burlap seats on the other side of the room. Burlap is very much of a farm, but we’re using it here in a fresh way – the quality is nice and creates a great transition between the old and the new.
We just loved the idea of using the burlap, the jute, the linen, the white – all mixed together for the texture necessary to bring the room together.
BD: With all the white cabinets and black granite counter tops, the kitchen is very classic.
PS: We wanted the cabinets to be the same color as the walls, so the kitchen would be there without being too loud. If one living area had too much color, there wouldn’t be balance. We started with the white cabinets and walls, and then added the black counters for contrast. The open shelving next to the refrigerator is great for displaying all the new dinner and serveware from Southern Living.
My favorite pieces in that collection are the marble cake stands. The gray and white finish was perfect for this house. I like all the different heights and the big glass cake dome. You can use the stands for so many things – not just cakes, but appetizers.
BD: You picked the Rutland Counter Stools from Ballard to slip beneath the counter.
PS: We took all the neutrals, whites and blacks and added the Southern Living Dinnerware as the layers of color in between. An all-white kitchen would disappear, so the black counters, stools and color accents really worked well.
BD: In the dining area, you mixed several different types of seating.
PS: With all the windows, the dining room feels like an old closed-in part of the porch. Since there is so much light in there, the challenge was to create a comfy room without it feeling stark. So we mixed the settee at the back of the table, the two head chairs and the two other chairs from Ballard. Even though there are three different types of seating in a small room, it flows well together.
BD: You used another jute rug here.
PS: We try to tie a few things in from room to room. The linen on the head chairs in the dining room is the same linen we used on the two Ballard chairs in the living room. The jute rug is the same in both rooms. It’s not screaming, “We match!” but it does tie the two spaces together.
BD: The white panels encircling the room give it a cozy, soft look.
PS: Those are Suzanne Kasler’s Linen Blanc panels from Ballard. We wanted to add softness around the room and they give you the ability to close off the room from passing traffic. So it’s a little bit functional and beautiful at the same time. The panels also add a lot of layers. With an all-neutral palette like we used here, you have to have a lot of layers or it will end up looking stark.
BD: The light fixture is big and dramatic.
PS: We wanted to bring a little bit of the black from the kitchen into the dining area and we thought the Large Calisse Pendant did that really well. It’s large and over-scaled, plus the black finish against all that white really stands out. We had to have some strong pieces because it’s a room without art. Most dining rooms have a great piece of art or a mirror. This one didn’t, so we needed to add them to create the space.
BD: The keeping room is tucked back behind the kitchen.
PS: We wanted a small, intimate place to go and hang out after dinner. The keeping room is more private than the living room and off the back porch. We used the Durham Small End Tables and the Belgard Cabinet to introduce wood into the room to complement the oversized gingham wall paint treatment.
BD: Tell us about the wall treatment. Everyone went crazy over it.
PS: When you walk through the doorway from the kitchen into the keeping room, you’re entering the brand new part of the house built just this year. That’s the transition from the old wood walls you see in the rest of the house to the new sheetrock. We used white on all the old wood so you could see it and help preserve it. For the sheetrock, we wanted to keep the specialness but make it different, so we came up with the gingham. By painting it, rather than using wall paper, we were able to scale the pattern perfectly for the room.
BD: The “X” detail of the buffet against the oversized check is really striking.
PS: The geometric look of that piece mixed with the geometry of gingham all flows together. And the color of the wood looks so good with the linen colored paint on the walls.
BD: The keeping room opens onto a great porch.
PS: We wanted the porch to be an extension of the dining room – a place to go for a drink before dinner and to relax afterward. We tried to keep some of the dining room colors there, but make it a relaxing conversation area. We thought the chairs from Ballard were really beautiful and brought that texture we got from the jute rug to the outside. The oversized lanterns are just gorgeous and we love that little bit of shiny mixed in. There’s just enough color in the fabrics to keep it from being monochromatic.
BD: Let’s talk about the master bedroom – it’s really spacious. How do you keep such a large space cozy?
PS: We started with the bed size and placement and size first. We felt that the tufted bed from Ballard really anchored the room. It’s beautiful and one of the most asked-about pieces in the house. The charcoal gray linen on it looks really strong against the white walls. And the white linen panels from Ballard you saw in the dining room reappear here. You don’t remember they are the same, but picking up a few pieces from room to room creates a consistent flow throughout the house.
To the left of the bed, we used another Terrific Table from Ballard and selected Ballard’s Malabar Gray fabric by the yard and had the skirt made with box pleats for a really tailored look. It also brought a little extra pattern to the room. The stripes on the bed and the ikat pattern on the skirt all flow well together.
BD: There is a fun casualness to the room. The bed could go more formal depending on how it’s dressed.
PS: The bedding is not formal, so it makes it a little more playful. And by using two different end tables, rather than matching each side of the bed, the look is more casual and less formal.
BD: You used the Seagrass Rug here, and this one has a black border instead of a fringe.
PS: We liked the little bit of fabric on the edge and also that it was flat versus a thick tufted rug like you normally see in a bedroom. We loved being able to mix in the gray Louis XVI Armoire from Ballard with the gray linens on the bed, the gray in the ikat table skirt and the gray on the chairs. The bench at the foot of the bed is covered in the same white linen as the drapes for contrast. It adds storage and gives you a place to sit while you’re getting dressed.
We had all these levels of gray and white and it really all works together. They also make the strong toffee accent color stand out.
BD: You picked the Eldridge Pendant to hang in the center of the room.
PS: This whole house was a play of elegance mixed with classic, the old and new, and you can really see that in this room. There’s the old wall, an antique chest and side table, the vintage antlers, mixed with these really elegant new pieces like the bed. So we picked out this very clean, straight-lined fixture. If we had done a dressier chandelier, it would have changed the whole effect.
BD: How did you tie in the master bath with the bedroom?
PS: We pulled the two rooms together with layers of white and gray. The master bath has his and her sinks with a window in between. We used the same white linen drapes you see in the bedroom. Below it, we chose the Castered Tufted Storage Ottoman from Ballard and covered it in the same Malabar Gray fabric you see on the table in the master.
BD: The mix of old and new feels just right.
PS: This is the 2012 Southern Living Idea House, but it started as a farmhouse from the 1830s, so we wanted to keep it casually elegant. I think the master suite is the ultimate expression of that idea.
Meet Tracery Interiors
Constantly reaching beyond a singular style, Tracery is a nationally recognized interior design firm specializing in residential and hospitality projects. Tracery was founded in 2004 and since the beginning all aspects of design are interconnected and the visions and needs of the client are paramount. Design excellence is implicit. Projects are executed with passion and personal attention to detail. An enhanced quality of life is the ultimate goal.Tracery’s designers work in collaboration with studios located in Rosemary Beach, Florida, and Mountain Brook, Alabama. Paige guides the firm and is personally involved in the design of all projects. She is joined by talented designers Anna Kay Porch and Bess Marshall. The firm’s diverse portfolio spans the country from Montana to Nantucket and all across the Southeast and Gulf Coast. In addition to their design studios, Tracery maintain boutique retail shops in both Rosemary Beach and Mountain Brook offering accessories, original artwork, occasional furniture, upholstery, lighting and antiques.
To establish an appropriate identify and connection to the place, Paige and the entire Tracery team strive to create timeless and evocative interiors that reflect the desires and demands of the client, while also reflecting the sensibilities of the locale. “The melding of styles and materials instills a home with personality and character,” explains Paige. “I love to mix of clean-lined furniture with vintage and antique furnishings.”
Mindful of the realities of life, Paige embraces welcoming and real spaces, as opposed to heavily decorated rooms. “I like to play with fabrics to keep it casual and comfy, while adding an accent of luxury with a touch of silk that works at the beach or the lake, as well as a permanent residence for an active family,” says Paige.
With strong connections throughout Alabama, Tracery has designed numerous second homes along Lake Martin and Smith Lake, as well as grand permanent residences in Birmingham. Paige has also worked on a variety of renovation projects of historic homes in Mountain Brook that pose their own set of challenges. “You are forced to deal with issue you would never confront if you were designing a home from scratch,” she explains.
Attuned to new marketing tools and the power of social media networking for both civic endeavors and professional ventures, Paige created Tracery’s popular blog two years ago. “We wanted a consistent, yet ever-changing outlet to discuss our work and reflective our creativity,” explains Paige. “It’s incredibly popular with supporters from Belgium and England and all over the U.S. Our readers seek out our shop when they come to the beach and it’s like we already know each other.”
Whether designing the grandest of homes, crafting a modest renovation or developing a color scheme, Tracery’s entire team of talented designers firm takes great pride in creating emotionally evocative spaces that are enduring in value and timeless in appearance.
Meet Paige Sumblin Schnell
Known for gracious interiors that merge European sensibilities with Southern charm and an appreciation for architectural details, Paige Sumblin Schnell is the founding partner and lead designer of Tracery Interiors.
Growing up in the small town South Alabama town of Opp, Paige’s artistic streak was nurtured early on by a mother who loves antiques and collectibles. At a young age, Paige set her sights on design school at Auburn University, where she graduated in 1998. An internship with The Garrison Barrett Group in Birmingham and a six-year stint with ASD in Atlanta working with corporate, legal and hospitality clients around the country, provided Paige with diverse experience, all the while spawning a desire for a more personal approach to design.
In 2004 Paige relocated to Scenic 30A in Northwest Florida to begin a new part of her life with her family and her career. Designing projects along the Gulf Coast from Alys Beach to WaterSound to Rosemary Beach to the Retreat, Paige creates timeless and evocative interiors that capture the personal desires and demands of the client, always in keeping with the setting and community.
Drawing on Alabama connections and a growing client base, Paige expanded Tracery Interiors in 2008, opening a Birmingham office. Paige has assembled a talented team of professionals for both locations, designing numerous second homes along Lake Martin and Smith Lake, as well as grand permanent residences in Birmingham and throughout the South. Mindful of the power of social media networking for marketing, Paige established Tracery’s on-line shopping and blog, which has thousands of loyal followers.
In 2009, Southern Living tapped Paige and Tracery to design their Idea House in Cinnamon Shores, Texas. Tracery has also recently completed the 2012 Southern Living Idea House in Senoia, Georgia. The Tracery’s diverse portfolio of work and Paige’s own personal home have been featured in leading national magazines, including Veranda, Southern Living, Traditional Home, Food & Wine, and House Beautiful, as well as the coffee-table book, 30A Style.
Meet Anna Kay Porch
Anna Kay (or AK as friends call her) grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, and graduated from Auburn Unversity with a degree in interior design. She began her tenure at Tracery as an intern in Rosemary Beach in the summer of 2005 and stayed on to become a full-time employee in Janaury 2006.
In keeping with Tracery’s collaborative design spirit, Anna Kay works closely with company founder Paige Schnell on major interior and architectural projects along Scenic Highway 30A, as well as Birmingham, Lake Martin, Texas and Sarasota, Florida. With a keen sense of style and a flair for color and pattern, Anna Kay helps interpret clients’ personal desires and requirements to create enduring interior spaces.
As well as collaborating on varied design projects, Anna Kay coordinates shop orders and scheduling, attends market to find new product merchandise, and manages special events. When Anna Kay is not in design mode, she likes to travel, bike along 30A, walk her beloved Murphy (the unoffical Tracery shop dog), and hang out on the beautiful beaches of South Walton.
Meet Bess Marshall
A native of the South Georgia town of Tifton, Bess spend her childhood summer along the Gulf of Mexico in Seagrove, Florida. Bess returned to Scenic Highway 30A to work as an intern with Tracery in 2007, while studying at Georgia Southern University. After graduating with a degree in interior design, Bess made a permanent move to South Walton to work for Tracery in Rosemary Beach the following year.
Bess brings a practical nature and personal approach to a wide array of Tracery projects and a creative flair to hands-on decorating efforts. As a key member of the Tracery design team, Bess has traveled to Lake Martin, Birmingham, and Cinnamon Shores, Texas, on various projects. Often on-the-go, Bess frequently attends market in Atlanta and New York looking for great products for the Tracery shop. An avid reader and writer, Bess is a regularly contributor to the Tracery’s widely acclaimed blog.