Houses, like people, sometimes need a second chance—a champion who comes along and appreciates their finest qualities, willingly overlooks any faults, sees the full potential, and encourages them to truly thrive and flourish. Such was the case for a Georgian-style brick house built in the early ’90s that, despite its distinguished profile and strong bones, had languished on Atlanta’s real estate market for many months. “It was a little dark and dated and perhaps a bit too formal and traditional to appeal to a lot of buyers,” says designer Heather Dewberry Stoller. But Heather and her husband, Steve, could see past those things and decided to make an offer.
The timing was perfect as the couple had just married—a second for both—a few days earlier and were returning from a post-wedding vacation with their four children. The blended family was ready to embark on a new chapter of their own, and the house was as well.
While the home did tick a lot of the right boxes—a desirable neighborhood, interesting architectural details, the necessary number of bedrooms and baths, and spacious, yet well-defined rooms with good flow—there were other elements that didn’t exactly hit the mark, such as a platform tub in the primary bath, a kaleidoscope of paint colors, and a kitchen island shaped like a jigsaw puzzle. “Our mission was to create a light, bright, and happy home, and Steve questioned whether we could make this one work,” says Heather. “I knew we could pull it off. Other than a significant renovation of the kitchen and the main bath, changes would be primarily cosmetic.”
For Heather, light, bright, and happy interiors are all in a day’s work. As coowner of the design firm Huff-Dewberry, she has been collaborating with business partner Will Huff to shake the dust out of anything staid or stuffy since they first met while working for legendary Atlanta decorator Dan Carithers 25 years ago. The pair share an affinity for traditional elements such as floral fabrics, brown furniture, and antique porcelains, but dark and dated is definitely not part of their stylistic vocabulary. “I fully embrace the word ‘pretty’ to describe our work,” Heather says. “Although I admire moody rooms, my own taste leans toward fresh and clean with more vivid color in accents, accessories, and art. I love things that tell a story—special pieces that have meaning, whether passed down by family or picked up on travels. A collected house welcomes you in and makes everyone feel at home, which was what Steve and I wanted to achieve.”
‘‘Our house is a great ‘second-chance’ story. My husband and I both had a lot of pieces we brought to our home, and we’ve loved combining them in new ways.’’ – Heather Dewberry Stoller
Heather’s starting inspiration surprisingly emanated from something a previous owner had left behind—a hand-painted scenic wallpaper of flowering trees, birds, and butterflies in the dining room. “When the real estate agent suggested we could strip it, I laughed because that wallpaper was so me,” Heather says. “It incorporated many of the colors I already loved and wanted to use. I could see that by painting the moldings and taking out the heavy furniture, the wallpaper would really sing, and the dining room would come back to life.” The day after closing, she posted a photo of the empty room on Instagram, hoping to crowdsource the paper’s maker. The owner of Gracie Studio chimed in that it was indeed their pattern called ‘Celadon Garden.’ It wouldn’t be the first time Heather had been charmed by the company’s exquisite designs. “Steve had a pair of framed Gracie panels in his former house. While I already knew he was the one for me, those panels may have sealed the deal,” she laughs. As part of what she calls his “decorating dowry,” the panels now hang in the sitting area of their bedroom, the first thing the couple sees when they wake in the morning.
In other main living areas, Benjamin Moore’s ‘Swiss Coffee,’ a white with warm undertones, gave the house an immediate lift and paired well with a palette that includes varying shades of greens, blues, and neutrals. Given that both Heather and Steve came into the union with established treasure troves of furnishings, relatively little needed to be purchased.
Heather updated upholstery fabrics and relied on her well-honed skills for mixing styles and sensibilities in new ways while also leaving space for the objects and art they would collect together. Shortly after returning from their honeymoon, the couple fell in love with an abstract painting by Christina Baker that soon found its way to the living room. And they spotted the hand-printed floral linen used on kitchen barstools and shades when they happened upon a sale at the Raoul Textiles warehouse in Santa Barbara. The fabric serves as a daily reminder of the city where they were married.
Heather believes that when decorating with and living among beautiful and sentimental things, making sure nothing is too precious to be used puts everyone at ease. “Now that the kids are teenagers and not around as much on weekends, we have a routine where I cook on Wednesdays and Steve cooks on Thursdays, and we all sit down to a properly set table in the dining room—even if we’re just having chili or pizza,” she says. “We linger longer than we do at the breakfast table, and the stories that come out are amazing. I don’t know what it is about that room, but if only those Gracie walls could talk.”
Heather’s Tips for “Light, Bright, and Happy”
Turn an Ugly Duckling into a Swan
When I was in my twenties, I rescued a dark-stained French chair upholstered in Naugahyde from my neighbors’ trash pile. I worked alongside my decorative painter to strip it and give it a painted finish. It’s been re-covered a time or two since, most recently with a Brunschwig & Fils chinoiserie print. If those neighbors could see it now, they’d probably want it back.
Err on the Practical Side
With four teenagers, three dogs, and two bunnies, there’s a lot of traffic coming and going through our rooms. I don’t want to stress if someone spills a drink or tracks in mud, so all the fabrics are treated.
Go Against the Grain
You don’t have to have light floors to brighten the house. It sounds counterintuitive, but staining them really dark allows lighter walls, fabrics, and painted furniture to stand out.
Pull in Some Flower Power
My mother is a master gardener, and I grew up appreciating flowers. I’d love to say I cultivate them myself, but I’m better at bringing them in through fabrics and wallpapers. I do keep fresh flowers or plants in spaces where our family gathers every day, even if it’s only greenery clipped from the yard.
Embrace the Happy Accident
I’m lucky that my grandmother gave me so many of her wonderful things that I cherish, but one Asian table was, to be frank, too shiny and gauche. I left it in the basement for several years, and it inadvertently developed a patina and crackle that was absolutely perfect. We now use it in our bedroom sitting area, and I love it!
DIY is More Fun When it’s a Family Affair
During the first of COVID lockdown, my daughter and I decided to update our sad laundry room. We broke one of my cardinal decorating rules and painted the cabinetry before we had even begun looking for wallpaper. Fortunately, we found a pretty floral pattern by Nina Campbell that works beautifully with Benjamin Moore’s ‘Schooner’ blue.
Always Mix and Mingle
While I love antiques and classic forms, I also incorporate furnishings that are more clean-lined and contemporary, like the acrylic coffee table in the living room. If you put a piece that’s quiet next to one that has a lot of personality, the juxtaposition elevates them both.