“I’ve always been in love with white farmhouses,” says Keith Robinson. It’s a statement that might surprise those who only know Keith as the jet-setting founder of Gloriosa, Atlanta’s marquee full-service event firm, which he founded and ran for 33 years. During that time, Keith made a name for himself as a hard-working creative juggernaut who could do it all—an excellent chef, a talented floral designer, a detail-oriented perfectionist who could pull off the wow factor at any black-tie gala. Along the way, he made famous friends such as Maya Angelou, Coretta Scott King, and the royal couple Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (whose wedding he attended).
“A lot of people think of me as a man who dresses in high fashion and expensive shoes and lives in a loft in the city,” he says. “But the real Keith Robinson would rather greet you in mud boots, jeans, and a T-shirt.”
Keith’s love of the countryside began when he was growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, the second oldest in a family of four boys. It was an idyllic upbringing—gathering strawberries, taking walks in the woods, fishing for trout, and spending time on the farmhouse porch of the local high school art teacher and his wife, who saw in Keith a burgeoning talent. As the only Black family in their tight-knit community, Keith’s parents tried hard to expose their boys to opportunities they themselves hadn’t had growing up in the South.
“I was always that kid who was asking, ‘Can I do this? Can I do that? Can I learn to play the piano? Can I join choir? Can I do theater? Can I paint in watercolor?” says Keith. “My parents never said no to me. They gave me my wings. Because of them, I don’t know what it’s like to have fear.”
That fearlessness fueled Keith as he built Gloriosa, and later it dared him to move away from it all and embrace something new. One day in 2008, while driving down a country road near Chattahoochee Hills, a rural area southwest of Atlanta, Keith noticed an old white farmhouse. It spurred childhood memories of afternoons on the front porch with his art teacher’s family—memories of comfort and contentment, qualities he was missing living in his Atlanta loft. “The loft was beautiful, but it didn’t have soul,” says Keith. “I was ready for a change.”
He started asking around, trying to find the owner of Redwine Plantation, as the place was known, but no one knew who owned the old, sprawling property. Then one day, fate interceded. A client mentioned in passing that his family was from Chattahoochee Hills and that his cousin still owned the very home that Keith admired. In fact, it had been passed down through one family since it was built in 1841. Soon Keith connected with the owner, Frank Redwine III, and made an offer. On July 1, Keith’s 45th birthday, he moved in.
These days Frank Redwine III, now 85 years old and a dear friend, still comes by for visits and walks the grounds astonished at the property’s transformation. Over the last 13 years, Keith has turned the neglected place into a verdant paradise. The sense of drama he once tapped for events has now been channeled into the garden’s design, with harmonious spaces reaching a crescendo of sweeping sight lines and vistas anchored by the property’s 175-year-old trees. The place is alive with the sounds of birds, bees, fountains, and the occasional sound of Keith’s husband, Scott Morris, calling the couple’s two boisterous dogs.
For all its beauty, the long, complicated history of Redwine Plantation is not lost on Keith. “I know that for a lot of people, the word plantation has negative things associated with it—as a man of color, if I don’t get that, then there’s something wrong,” he says. “But frankly, for me this is a place where I feel so much love. All the ghosts of the past are gone. I have all the documentation of this home’s past—the ledgers and the tax valuations and documents on the 26 slaves who lived here. But that doesn’t dissuade me from wanting to see this place at its absolute fullest potential.”
A view through the plane trees into the pavilion, where a prolific Lady Banks’ rose greets guests
The fullest potential of Redwine is perhaps best experienced at Keith’s newest venture, a series of intensive classes he’s begun to offer called the Redwine Sessions. With topics on all aspects of cooking and gardening, students come for weekly classes that culminate at the end of the term in a fabulous dinner party in the Redwine pavilion. The pavilion—once a three-bay tractor barn—has been given a face-lift as a gracious open-air living and dining space. Anchored by a large fireplace at one end and an industrial teaching kitchen on the other, Keith is able to entertain guests in comfort and style.
“I really love teaching,” he says. “I love sharing the disciplines that I have learned throughout my career.” In addition to teaching and running operations at Redwine Plantation, Keith is also busy designing gardens for others. After officially closing Gloriosa last Christmas, he says he is busier than ever and happier than ever too.
As he walks the gravel pathways of his garden, Keith points out a clutch of tiger lilies he rescued from a ditch down the road and replanted. Once immature, the plants now flourish in their new home. “This garden is the result of a lot of happy accidents,” says Keith. Like the lilies, he is thriving too, reclaiming a home that seemed destined to him by fate—or by a happy accident—and giving it a new life, a new purpose, a new chance to throw open its doors and welcome people in.