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Savannah Chic

This Georgian-style house epitomizes classic charm and timeless style

Written by Allison Hersh
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  • Tria Giovan

    Jennifer Abshire is a hard-working public relations expert who has a talent for turning strangers into friends. "When I sit on my front steps, I meet people from down the street, from New Jersey, and from Belarus," she enthuses. "I love sharing the magic that makes Savannah so special." Her friendly philosophy is expressed in her sophisticated residence, which overlooks the Spanish-moss-strung live oaks of Lafayette Square. Warm and welcoming, the magnificent Georgian-style house epitomizes classic charm and timeless style.

    As the owner of a public relations firm, Jennifer specializes in media relations, business development, and strategic planning. Without a traditional brick-and-mortar office, she runs her business from wherever she happens to be, whether she’s leading business meetings at her dining room table or answering client calls on her cell phone while vacationing in the Turks and Caicos islands.

    Jennifer’s stately 1888 brick house commands a prominent corner in Savannah’s National Landmark Historic District. Over the years, it has been a church social hall and an antiques shop.

    In addition to running her public relations firm, Jennifer stays plenty busy taking her son, Phillip, 13, to football practice and shuttling her daughter, Reilly, 9, to tennis lessons (among dozens of other daily tasks every mother knows well!).

    Interior design: Ben Watkins, Ben Watkins Interior Designer, St. Simons Island, Ga.
    Landscaping: Jay Ulrich, Native Son, 7 E. 61st St., Savannah, GA 31405; 912/844-5637.

    Photography: Tria Giovan
    Produced by Sandra L. Mohlmann
     

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    Instead of filling every inch of the spacious rooms, Jennifer decided to let the interiors breathe. "I didn’t want to clutter it up with stuff. I’m a big believer that a few select items make a huge difference." With oversized windows, parquet flooring, and a blend of furniture styles, the living room is a favorite gathering place.

    Paint (custom): The Sherwin-Williams Co., 800/474-3794, sherwinwilliams.com.
    Settee (#200-1, by Michael S, Smith); settee fabric (Austrian vegetable-dyed leather with nailhead trim, by Michael S. Smith): through Ainsworth-Noah, 404/231-8787, trade only.
    End tables: Newel LLC, 212/758-1970.
    Alabaster lamps (Jerry Pair Tour Collection): Jerry Pair, 800/367-7247, jerrypair.com, trade only.
    Painting over settee (jewel-encrusted copper panels, by Amy Pilkington): through Cindy Szczecinski, CAS Fine Art Consulting, 912/313-3464.
    Cocktail table ("Jonathan Cocktail Table’’): Oly, 775/336-2100, olystudio.com.
    Louis XV chairs ("Harcourt Chair,’’ by Dennis & Leen, reproduction, custom finish): Jerry Pair, 800/367-7247, trade only.
    Chair fabric ("Menggu’’/Brown #34056-6, discontinued): Clarence House Ltd., 800/803-2850, clarencehouse.com, trade only.
    Drapery panels (discontinued): Roger Arlington Inc., 212/752-5288, trade only.
    Accessories: Paula Danyluk, The Paris Market & Brocante, 912/232-1500, theparismarket.com.
    Drapery rods; bench; fern stands; vases: owner’s collection.

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    Jennifer hired interior designer Ben Watkins of St. Simons Island, Georgia, who has created lavish interiors for Ivana Trump and other high-profile clients. To craft Jennifer’s vision, Watkins used a neutral palette that allows the home’s distinctive architectural details—from ornate marble mantels to polished parquet wood flooring—to shine.

    Wall covering (grass cloth): Schumacher, 800/332-3384, fschumacher.com, trade only.
    Chandelier (custom, Quellez iron and lead crystal, by Dennis & Leen): Jerry Pair, 800/367-7247, trade only.
    Table ("Sutcliffe Table,’’ #807); side chairs (reproduction, Chinese Chippendale): Dessin Fournir, 785/434-2777, trade only.
    Chair fabric (silk tapis in Iced Blue #1711): J. Robert Scott, 800/651-4354, jrobertscott.com.
    Painting over mantel (by Christopher Reilly); watercolors to right of library door (by Christopher Murphy): through Cindy Szczecinski, CAS Fine Art Consulting, 912/313-3464.
    Vase (Waterford); candlesticks: owner’s collection.

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    A work by contemporary Cuban artist Alejandro Montesino hangs above a 19th-century French marble-top bureau in the dining room.

    Chest of drawers (antique, Jerry Pair Tour Collection): Jerry Pair, 800/367-7247.
    Painting over chest of drawers (by Cuban artist, Montesino): through Cindy Szczecinski, CAS Fine Art Consulting, 912/313-3464.
    Drapery panels (discontinued): Roger Arlington Inc., 212/752-5288, trade only.
    Drapery rods; tie-backs; tray; glasses; accessories: owner’s collection.
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    A lush, evergreen courtyard runs the length of the home, providing a place to relax. Wrought-iron furniture, a stone fish pond, and a pyramid-capped outdoor fireplace serve as focal points in this botanical sanctuary planted with shade trees, fragrant jasmine, and orange cape honeysuckle.

    Jennifer loves the fact that this venerable home has been transformed into a stylish retreat. "My favorite way to entertain is to open the doors to the garden and have friends over for cocktails and good conversation," she says. "It’s a very comfortable place."

    Shutter paint: custom.
    Outdoor fireplace sculpture; garden walkway: designed by former owner Bruce Capra.
    Large planters: Universe Trading Co., 912/233-1585.
    Wrought-iron table, chairs, and benches: Smith & Hawken, 800/981-9888.
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    Jasmine blossoms frame a stone fish pond.

    Fountain: Elements purchased from Savannah Hardscapes, 912/443-9000.

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    Jennifer Abshire believes in giving back to her community. Inspired by female philanthropists early in her career, she has founded a local chapter of Chicks With Checks, which unites working women who share a common desire to "get personal" with their philanthropy. This group of businesswomen has raised $25,000 to donate to local organizations in need.
     
    "Our philosophy is to give money as a group, without getting credit as individuals," Jennifer explains. She also chairs the Savannah Technical College Foundation board of directors, is a community adviser for the Junior League of Savannah, and is on the board of the Lady Bamford Early Childhood Education Center. "I have found that the more involved I am in community activities, the more I learn about myself and how best to help others," Jennifer says proudly. "Helping others is what motivates me."

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