Talk about trust. With less than six months to complete a top-to-bottom makeover of a large historic Atlanta home, these homeowners asked Don Easterling and Nina Long of Mathews Design Group to take the reins, knowing that the pair could pull it off with great aplomb. “They bought this house and wanted to have it ready before the school year started,” says Nina. “That gave Don and me only a short window to make it happen.” Since the designers both had the design prowess to do just that, as well as an existing relationship with the family, they saw the project as an exciting challenge rather than a stressful undertaking. “It was certainly helpful that we had worked with these clients before, so we knew what they liked and how they wanted to live in the house,” says Don.
While the homeowners went abroad, the designers rolled up their collective sleeves and got down to business. Fortunately, the house already possessed plenty of character and some outstanding architectural details, which helped prime the canvas for an overall cosmetic makeover. “It was in great shape, so structural changes were minimal,” says Don. “An addition had been completed years earlier by the previous owner. The kitchen also was renovated, so it only needed some tweaks here and there. Our primary focus was breathing new life into a dated design scheme.”
Enter new paint colors, lots of wallpaper, colorful floral and botanical fabrics, luxurious rugs, and updated light fixtures. The team mixed fine antiques with reproductions while using brushes of deep blue, ocher, red, marigold, and green hues to impart liveliness. Every piece pairs perfectly with its partners, and, despite the tight time frame, nothing feels like a placeholder.
In the dining room, chinoiserie accents highlight a studied mix of elegant appointments. “The space holds one of our favorite French-influenced dining tables from Hickory Chair, and I am obsessed with it,” says Nina. “It looks fabulous in a stained finish, but it’s so pretty painted white too.” While Nina and Don decorated with many of the clients’ antiques throughout the house, they chose the reproduction table for its functionality. “Antique dining tables often don’t have the scale for large rooms or the durability needed for livability,” says Don. “Some antiques can be too fragile, and we like things to work—no shaky legs and no drawers that don’t open properly.” The selection of the dining room chairs was debated among the pair. “I have always admired these chairs but was scared they were too over-the-top,” says Nina. “Don insisted on them, and I’m so happy with the result! They add a fittingly glamorous note to the room.”
The family room, bar, kitchen, and breakfast area showcase the enduring magic of blue-and-white with Chinese export porcelain, a jaunty navy leather-and-brass chandelier from Ralph Lauren, and white Chippendale-style dining chairs with striped cushions. A standout custom settee with decorative fringe serves as an ideal place to hang out during meal preparations or to linger over morning coffee. For the bar, the designers went bold with glossy blue cabinets and soapstone countertops. “We were channeling a little Miles Redd by infusing this striking color in an unexpected, small space,” says Nina. “It draws people in, which you want when entertaining.”
The large living room reveals a more subdued yet still engaging mood, with various seating areas to bring down the scale of the room. “We wanted it to seem cozy but still be usable for a crowd,” says Don. “You can comfortably welcome 30-plus people in the space and not feel crowded.” The soft green wall color provides a quiet backdrop for the art, along with a bold chandelier and a gold Asian-inspired mirror over the mantel. Hits of blue in pillows, lamps, and cocooning armchairs unite the room with the others on the main floor.
The vibe throughout the interiors is thoughtful, stylish, and collected. Only those privy to the process would ever suspect that this well-appointed home was designed, updated, and installed in less than six months, all of which speaks volumes for this dynamic design duo.
While infusing the house with a fresh attitude, designers Don Easterling and Nina Long made sure the original beauty of the architecture remained intact. Floors throughout were unchanged, including the hardwoods, the brick in the bar area, and a lovely mosaic tile with Greek key detailing in the master bathroom. In the dining room and foyer, bold light fixtures draw the eye up to the intricate ceiling medallions. The living room, once a deep red, was reimagined with a lighter paint color to enhance its innate beauty. In lieu of the fussy window treatments of the past, streamlined panels, classic Roman shades, and even undressed windows in the family room allow light to pour in, making the windows focal points. The old-school paneling in the study was a must-keep for the homeowners. And while some fireplace mantels and surrounds received updates, they remain in keeping with the age of the home. “When given the chance to work on a house like this, Don and I firmly believe in taking clues from the original architecture,” says Nina. Adds Don, “It’s a joy to work on historic homes. You are stewards of the past, giving the intrinsic beauty a boost while still allowing it to tell a story.”