Photographs by Emily Followill
Written by Amy Elbert
Produced by Lisa Mowry
So what if the powder-room toilet was visible from the front door and the kitchen dated to the Reagan administration? A sweet 1920s Dutch Colonial in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood sang with possibilities, and designer Debbie Cummins heard every verse. “There was something about the scale of the rooms and the way light came into the house,” Debbie recalls. “It really did speak to us. The house just exuded charm.”
Admittedly, there were less-than-charming spaces, mainly the family room, kitchen, and bathrooms—rooms that had been added or redone in the 1980s. But those could be fixed, agreed Debbie and husband Beau, who have renovated several homes as they have moved around the country for Beau’s career in finance.
Betting on the strengths of the original structure—spacious rooms with large windows and French doors, solid wood floors, and charming decorative plaster details like dentil molding and ceiling medallions—Debbie and Beau went headlong into a renovation, working with designer/builder Mike Hammersmith. “We bought the house quickly, knowing we would renovate,” Debbie says.
The ’80s kitchen hit the recycle bin, and new custom-built cabinets in creamy white now complement the architectural details of the house and provide generous storage—a must-have for this couple who love to cook and entertain. A peninsula was removed to open the kitchen to the family room, and a large island painted a soft gray now anchors the space. To bring in more natural light, two small kitchen windows were replaced with taller ones that rise from the countertops and symmetrically flank the range. “I cook a lot, and as I work, I love having that bright natural light and spacious counters to work on—it’s like being outside,” Debbie says.
The kitchen and family room ceilings were different heights and styles (most likely because the family room was added in the 1980s), so Hammersmith aligned them at 10 feet and put up painted-white wood planks and beams. “The kitchen’s old ceiling beams were faux finished to look like wood. The family room didn’t have any beams,” Debbie says. “We added the beams and planking and painted everything white to make the rooms consistent.”
Debbie opted to keep the existing herringbone-pattern tile floors in the kitchen and family room, helping to unify the two spaces. The tiles were cleaned and refinished for a fresh look.
The family room fireplace wall gained gravitas with a limestone fireplace surround, new custom built-ins, and horizontal wood planks sheathing the previously bricked wall.
“The original parts of the house had beautiful woodwork, and I wanted to bring more of that into areas like the family room, where it was lacking,” explains Debbie. Horizontal wood paneling-—a classic Southern wall treatment—was also installed in the back entry, master suite, bathrooms, and elsewhere in the house. The family room’s existing French doors and floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls make the room a sun-warmed space to relax in, and Debbie maximized comfort by reupholstering a sofa in a chenille-style velvet trimmed with brown velvet cording. She kept the room casual with a custom sisal area rug over the red tile floor. “I have too many dogs to have a fancy rug,” she says. Witness the wicker end table by the family room sofa, which is also a kennel for their two Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
The living and dining rooms are somewhat dressier, furnished with elegant French antiques, including a glass-front cabinet with its original well-worn sage green paint. The back of the cabinet is painted a lovely melon color that shows off the dishes (Beau’s grandmother’s) displayed inside. The cabinet colors inspired the green, cream, and coral choices for the rug and fabrics in the room.
Debbie brought blue into the mix in the dining room, with a floral drapery fabric and satin hems on the slipcovered dining chairs. “The floral is more pattern than I typically use, but I loved that fabric, and it pulled everything together in such a pretty way,” she says. “There was something about this Dutch Colonial house that seemed to call for a floral fabric.”
Debbie’s three sons are grown and living on their own, so the empty nesters weren’t interested in adding square footage and no exterior walls were changed. To make better use of the existing rooms, however, an interior doorway was added to connect the living room with the back hall, family room, and kitchen. “We wanted a circular flow in the house,” Debbie explains.
A new glass-paned back door and metal-grille window bring light into the house, and provide sight lines from the front door to the backyard. The family’s four dogs—two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, a basset hound, and a Portuguese water dog puppy—appreciate the doggy-eye view as well.
In the front entry, the coat closet and the powder room swapped places. The powder room was enlarged and the toilet repositioned to face the rear of the house rather than the front door. “Now when you enter the house you see a pretty sink and old trumeau mirror over it,” Debbie says.
The upper-level master suite was reworked for better flow and an elegant master bath with white paneling, and a basket-weave tile floor replaced the outdated 1980s bath. A trumeau mirror Debbie found at an antiques shop 20 years ago hangs above the new freestanding bathtub, enhancing the period style of the space. “We took it back to a cottagey and classic look,” Debbie says. “We wanted it to be appropriate to the house.”
The back exterior was also landscaped with brick walkways and an outdoor fireplace and dining area. “The house entertains beautifully, yet it’s small enough for just the two of us,” Debbie says. “It’s lovely.” Charm restored.
Interior designer: Debbie Cummins, D Cummins Design, 404/825-0749. Builder: Mike Hammersmith, Mike Hammersmith General Contracting, 404/351-5227, hammersmithatlanta.com.
Windows (custom): Mike Hammersmith General Contracting, 404/351-5227. Exterior wall light (“Drake Gooseneck Light” #BLE-G-WHD-PC): Barn Light Electric, 800/407-8784, barnlightelectric.com.