Houses Change; Memories Never Fade

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Mississippi Magazine
Home & Garden Insert
March/April 2015

While growing up in Jackson, James Blackwood always admired the stately houses in Eastover. His goal was to one day call one of these residences home.

“The neighborhood was my first priority,” Blackwood explains. “With all the old trees and the history of the houses, it’s the most beautiful neighborhood. Second priority was finding a house with good bones.”

Finding his dream home wasn’t easy. In fact, it took almost two years before an opportunity arose. Westerfield’s realtor, Shari Lackey called him one day and instructed him to meet her on Lake Circle Drive immediately. A home had just been listed and they would have to act fast.

Blackwood immediately fell in love with the floor plan and large rooms within 3,200 square foot ranch-style home, which was constructed in 1959. An avid gardener, he was also able to see potential in the home’s backyard and surrounding property.

Upon acquiring the home, Blackwood planned a series of renovations to turn the mid-century house into his own. However, at closing, the adult children of the former homeowners, Mr. B. E. “Corky” Grantham, Jr., and his wife Sarah, made a special request. The Grantham children shared many fond memories of growing up in the house on Lake Circle Drive. Their daughter Sally requested to tour the home once renovations were complete.

“This [request] really touched me in a special way,” Blackwood reveals.  “Having spent my entire childhood in the house my parents built and still live in, I often wonder what will become of that house one day.  With all the memories of my childhood, I want that special house to always exist. This inspired me to create a remodeled house that will stand the test of time, with hopes that my childhood home will one day be updated as well for another generation to create their own memories.”

The house has approximately 12 rooms, including a formal living and dining room immediately off the foyer, in addition to a den that leads into the kitchen. Blackwood enlisted the help of Kim Inzinna to coordinate the design elements of the project. Turns out, Inzinna already had a connection to the home. As a young designer, Inzinna was the was the protege of designer Jim Westerfield, who oversaw the house’s partial renovation in the 1970’s.

The home already featured several classic Westerfield details, such as signature molding, eye-catching wallpaper, and black and white marble flooring in the foyer. It was these details that Blackwood and Inzinna decided to incorporate into the overall design. Drawing on her experiences while working with Westerfield, Inzinna was able to create a plan that complemented his updates while creating a fresh and modern feel.

Blackwood selected Mack Chunn of Structural Solutions to oversee construction. The team immediately began working on the layout of the sitting room and kitchen. Because the kitchen had been given a facelift recently, no major changes were planned other than removing the wall that divided the kitchen from the sitting room and replacing it with a bar area, creating an open floor plan perfect for entertaining guests. A half bathroom and laundry room was also added.

Inzinna opted to open up the den by removing the original slanted ceiling and replacing it with an arched pickle-pine barrel roll ceiling. The painted cypress paneling was removed while the original brick floors were replaced with rustic, antique heart-of-pine floors.

One of the focal points of the room was the large brick fireplace and hearth. This was also given a facelift by adding stacked black granite stones over the existing brick, which coordinates with the black granite countertop used in the bar. Floor-to-ceiling windows were added, in addition to raising all the door casings, to let in additional light and create more height.

Elizabeth Gullett, interior designer for Summer House, was recruited to provide the decorative touches needed to complete the newly renovated den. Because Blackwood enjoys entertaining, it needed to have ample seating for guests. However, the large scale of the space also made functionality a challenge. Gullett solved this dilemma by dividing the room into sections and creating multiple seating areas.

In the center of the room, four deep, white armchairs are centered around a large white leather ottoman. A brindle cowhide rug layered over a large sisal and wool area rug sets the space apart while providing dimension and texture.

“Doing a group of four chairs in a room rather than a sofa is unexpected,” explains Gullett. “However, it allows guests to move around the room more freely.”

The armchairs are accented with kelly green velvet pillows, which tie into  two tufted, olive green, benches situated along the far wall of the den. A pair of striking, 40 x 60” black and white paintings done in the style of Franz Kline, combined with oversized wall sconces, brings the large wall down to scale. The most interesting element of the room is the carved wood and marble table created by New Orleans-based designer Tara Shaw. The table, which took almost a year to procure, combines both Baroque and French elements.

Finally, the huge oversized chandelier that hangs from the arched ceiling adds drama to the design and complements the gold in the wall sconces and the Tara Shaw table.

Once the den was complete, Blackwood still had two large rooms – the formal living room and dining room – to tackle. These are the first rooms a visitor sees upon entering the house, so they both had to have a major wow factor. Blackwood decided to incorporate a French-Old World theme into the design and approached designer Matt Nicholas to create the look Blackwell hoped to achieve.

The final phase of the renovation was updating the exterior. The entire house was repainted and the original red brick steps were overlaid with Pennsylvania Blue Stone. However, Blackwell’s most important project was installing a courtyard and open-air shower.

Blackwell dreamed of having an open-air shower after vacationing in both Cabo and Lake Michigan. Landscape architect Rick Griffin was consulted on the design, while contractor Monty Montgomery and Wright Plumbing headed up implementation and construction. Other outdoor elements include the addition of a deck and parterre garden.

During the nine-month renovation process, Blackwood never forgot the request made by the Grantham’s daughter Sally. During the renovation process, Sally was invited to tour the home she grew up in.

“It was one of the special moments during the renovation,” Blackwood adds. “I was so pleased to see her reactions to the updates that were being made. Once, while in the attic, I found an old invitation inviting Sally to an after-prom breakfast. I think the time frame was the mid-1970’s. As a reminder of the history in the house, I placed the invitation on the bedside table in the room that was once Sally’ childhood bedroom.”

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