The House Next Door

Read the story behind the restoration of an 1852 Georgia farmhouse and get advice for restoring older homes.
Robert Martin

Hear the term “member of the family,” and you’re bound to consider the usual roll call of kinship, such as aunts, uncles, assorted cousins, or even a dear friend who’s been extremely attentive over the years. For designer Jamie McPherson, his close-knit group includes all of the above plus one more that shouldn’t be overlooked―his house. While growing up on a farm in Newnan, Georgia, Jamie spent his childhood days admiring and playing in an 1852 former plantation home, which sat next door to his parents’ property.

Known as Vinewood, the house continued to intrigue Jamie even as he grew older and visited his folks during college breaks. Little could he have known that one day, he and his partner, Tra Raines, would settle down within its time-caressed rooms and bucolic surroundings. “I often heard my mother refer to this house as a ‘grand ole lady whose petticoat had gotten tattered over the years,’ ” Jamie confides. “I’m just thankful that Tra and I got the chance to unruffle its former beauty.”

Before moving back to Newnan, he and Tra resided in a contemporary condo in Atlanta. Once they decided to seek greener pastures, the couple assumed that they would find a quaint bungalow to refurb-ish. As soon as I heard that Vinewood was for sale, all other options were out of the question,” Jamie remarks.

The couple’s about-face is even more understandable when you learn that Jamie holds a degree in historic preservation from SCAD (The Savannah College of Art and Design). Even with his daily roster of clients who prefer something a little more contemporary, this designer always returns to his admiration for older structures. He readily admits, “I don’t know if growing up next door to Vinewood made me love old houses or if my love of old houses made me appreciate growing up next door to Vinewood.”

Though the house was built during the antebellum period, a previous owner had removed its stately columns and front portico. In their place, Vinewood’s entryway adopted a simpler pediment top, rectangular sidelights, and an unadorned transom―all of which changed it from Greek Revival into more of a Colonial style. Since there weren’t any known pictures or drawings from when it was first built, they decided to restore the exterior as is.

After removing the aluminum siding and clearing away the overgrowth of bushes and trees, Jamie and Tra miraculously uncovered Vinewood’s 150-year-old heart-pine planking. Having been protected by the modern cladding, the shiplapped planks remained virtually intact, apart from a board here and there that needed to be replaced. The house also still contained all of its original windows, wood floors, and mantels.

 

Even though Jamie and Tra made every attempt to respect their home’s past, the 1940s kitchen addition proved to be the trickiest and most demanding part of their restoration efforts. “A place as old as Vinewood would not have contained an indoor cooking space; it would have been in a separate dependency. Still, we chose to keep the addition and renovate it to reflect the style of the rest of the house,” states Jamie. They also worked in as many modern amenities as possible, including a stainless steel range, particularly since Tra is an avid cook.

The change in scenery also prompted Jamie and Tra to re-evaluate their furniture and accessories. While some items worked, others seemed out of place. The couple’s solution: replace inappropriate ones with more fitting finds, piece by piece. “We didn’t have any of the antiques we have now,” says Jamie. “So we began searching in local antiques stores for things that made sense with the period of the house.”

Not everything in Vinewood that looks like an antique is one, as the dining room’s corner cupboards prove. They provide a great way for Jamie to display his col-lection of brown transferware. Other updated elements, such as clean-lined upholstered sofas and chairs, modern-day light fixtures with a vintage flair, and soothing paint colors, also reinforce his ability to seamlessly mix new features with the old.

Whenever family and friends drop by Vinewood and marvel at the progress that’s been made, they mistakenly assume that the couple is ready to sit back and bask in their handiwork. But then another project catches the homeowners’ attention. “There’s always something to do here, and that’s what I love most about this house,” Jamie admits. “In a way, I don’t want Vinewood to ever truly be done.”


Jamie’s Renovation Tips
With his background in historical preservation, designer Jamie McPherson proved to be well-equipped in undertaking a project like Vinewood. That’s why we weren’t skittish to ask for his honest take on restoring an older home. Here are his non-candy-coated (and greatly informative) responses.

  • Know up front that a house like this is not suited for everybody. “Tra and I love everything about Vinewood, even its creaks and cracks and the occasional draft. Folks who prefer new homes and expect that everything should be sealed tight might run themselves crazy filling every hole and gap in an older home. It just comes with the territory.”
  • Remember that patience is key. “If you decide to move into an older home like this one, don’t just launch into tearing out walls and immediately start altering things. Move into it and allow it to stay ‘as is’ for a time. Let it speak to you; let it tell you what to do. Then go into action.”
  • Set your priorities. Things like heating, cooling, and plumbing should be the first factors addressed―but even those necessities shouldn’t detract or take away from an older home’s aesthetics. Also, because closet space tends to be minimal, you might have to get very creative in deciding where items like the hot water heater or return air system should go.”
  • Go into a project like this knowing that it’s a process. As an example, Jamie gives this humorous account: “Tra is a hair stylist and drives back and forth between Newnan and Chattanooga every week. One Tuesday he left for work and returned Thursday only to find that I had ripped out all of the existing kitchen cabinets. After that, we functioned without a kitchen for six months. To make do, we cooked out―a lot!”