Ever wonder what happens to a showhouse when the tours are done? Typically, everything not bolted down—rugs, draperies, artwork, dishes—is carted away, and the house awaits an owner. The 2008 Atlanta Christmas House lingered on the market a few years (a victim of the recent real estate downturn), but when it did sell, things happened fast. The new owners asked Atlanta interior designer Bill Musso to totally furnish the home—from mattresses to upholstered pieces to pots and pans—for the family of four in less than 10 weeks. Plus, they asked that everything in the house be made of healthful materials, so there would be no off-gassing of toxic chemicals and no VOCs from fabrics, finishes, and household products.
“We pride ourselves on using green products, but we’d never done anything to this extent. And this was a very tight time frame,” Musso says.
The couple and their children were moving from London to Atlanta for business. (He heads a large global corporation.) Unsure about how long they would live in Atlanta and not wanting to ship furniture and housewares back and forth overseas, they asked Musso to start from scratch, with the caveat that all the products be free of toxic chemicals. “The mother was very particular about making sure everything was eco-friendly. She didn’t want her children sleeping on mattresses that were sprayed with fire-retardant materials,” Musso says. “So all of the beds came from Duxiana, a Sweden-based company.”
The health-conscious mother, who is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, also enlisted Musso’s help in outfitting the kitchen with nontoxic cookware and utensils, such as pans with ceramic nonstick coatings.
What the couple did ship from Europe were many objects from their museum-quality collections of Chinese tapestries, sculptures, new and old bronze pieces, and a set of red leather Louis Vuitton trunks traced to the early 1900s and Russian Czar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra.
“The couple travels extensively,” Musso says, “and they have many different interests, especially in Asian textiles and pottery.” As the wife says: “We fell in love with the aesthetic of Chinese art and also to a greater extent the desire to feel ‘Zen’ at home. We like mixing modern contemporary looks with antiques.”
Using antiques is the ultimate in green—recycling in a beautiful way—and designing with the treasures was a thrill, Musso says. In keeping with the homeowners’ desire to mix old and new, he incorporated furnishings from contemporary designers such as Ralph Lauren and Christian Liaigre.
“The homeowner loves bronze,” says Musso, so the designer chose furnishings and sculptures by artist Robert Kuo, including armoires with hammered-bronze toad-skin-textured doors for the living room.
Rugs are wool and silk—natural fibers that were not treated with toxic chemicals. Draperies are linen and some upholstery fabrics were hand-loomed.
Low- or zero-VOC paints were applied throughout, and the couple waited two weeks after painting before allowing their children to sleep in their rooms to ensure any trace of toxins had dissipated.
While the undertaking was considerable, Musso and his staff, including lead project designer Lauren Dott, furnished the bedrooms, kitchen, and other “necessary rooms” in 10 weeks. In nine months, the project was largely complete. “It was a great experience for us,” he says.
“We ask a lot more questions now—about how and where things are made. That was the lesson in it.”
Photography: Lauren Rubinstein
Architect: William H. Harrison, Harrison Design Assoc., 3198 Cains Hill Pl. N.W., Atlanta, GA 30305; 404/365-7760, harrisondesignassociates.com.
Interior designer: Bill Musso and Lauren Dott, Musso Design Group, 1214 Villa Drive N.E., Atlanta, GA 30306; 404/873-1773, mussodesigngroup.com.
Builder: Neil Johnson, Canonbury Homes, P.O. Box 81344, Atlanta, GA 30366; 4933 Carol Lane, Atlanta, GA 30327; 770/841-5892.