Sometimes you find exactly what you want when you’re not looking for it. Such was the case for contemporary artist Sally King Benedict when she stumbled upon a real estate listing for “a jewel” of a home, as she describes it, in the established Atlanta enclave of Tuxedo Park. Though she and her husband, George Read II, weren’t on the market for a new property, “I told him, ‘We have got to go see this house; it looks like a little dream.’ ”
First built in the forties, the now-French Norman-style residence had fallen into disrepair over the years, leading to roof leaks, a cracked driveway and decades-old plantings of boxwood hedges and English climbing roses that had tangled the nearly 2-acre lot into a scene Sally likens to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden: a treasure waiting to be revealed. But since vision is something the artist has in no short supply, she was delighted by the possibilities she saw—and that was plenty to seal the deal.
To return the residence to its former glory, the couple tapped builder Tim Townsend, a craftsman Sally has known since her early 20s (“he used to work for my uncle; he’s basically like family,” she says). Townsend and his cadre of tradespeople thus embarked on an intensive top-to-bottom renovation focused foremost on interiors. The goal was to reinforce the structure while responding to Sally’s boundless ingenuity. “Everything we did was based on her ideas; what she wanted the house to look like,” says Townsend, whose team tackled functional components as well as aesthetic ones: adding floor-to-ceiling blackened steel windows, opening up walls and replacing an existing single-sided fireplace with a double-sided version—all in the interest of capitalizing on the property’s ethereal quality of light.
Through her work as a prolific artist who has collaborated with interior designers around the world, Sally has exceptional instincts. So, she drew upon her seasoned knowledge of art history, composition and balance to honor the home’s existing architectural details with a serene neutral palette—introducing fresh elements that reflect her and George’s effortless global style. The pair added herringbone hardwoods to the living and dining rooms, plus a new marble-topped wine bar serving both spaces, before updating their home’s circular library with pine-paneled walls and a soaring vaulted ceiling. Wood paneling was retained in the kitschy, ’70s-esque bedroom now belonging to 8-year-old son River—a space Sally has since adorned with framed art and photographs. “It continues to be my favorite room,” she reveals.
Both spouse’s upbringings fostered a deep appreciation for art—George’s father, Charleston artist and appraiser George E. Read, formerly sourced French paintings for Sotheby’s—a factor that aided the couple as they built their own growing collection, now displayed in ever-evolving placements throughout the residence. Photographs by Sam Kweskin and Masao Yamamoto, a pair of Aurélie Guillaume cloisonné pins (they “sit on our shelf in the library like two miniature paintings,” Sally says) and paintings by abstract artists Kiki Slaughter and Mary Nelson Sinclair are standouts. As an artist herself, Sally recognizes the immense value of collecting, so she does not waffle about making such investments. “We don’t really have a goal in mind as far as collecting art,” she says. “If we see something we love, and we can afford it, we buy it.”
The verdant grounds that had so charmed Sally and her husband received marked improvements by landscape architect Missy Madden, with ongoing assistance from Sally’s mother, Cissy Benedict, an avid gardener. Keeping mature plantings of classic Southern flora including edgeworthia, dogwoods, azaleas and roses was a top priority, as was adding structure. “The Read’s house has great scale and connection between the home and the exterior,” notes Madden, who enhanced the front motor court using concrete pavers softened by turf in the joints, refreshed the property’s hardscaping and added lush greenery to enhance an existing staircase climbing the backyard’s sloping hill.
Since the scene was practically begging for a resort-style pool, Madden created a haven for both adults, River, and new baby girl, Bowie, based on the couple’s own sketches. Ever hands-on, George even flew to Austin to personally source the creamy Texas limestone for its clean-lined hardscape. Finally, a longtime friend of Madden’s, architect Amanda Orr, teamed up with Townsend to augment the oasis with a chic pool house structure that appears to have always been in place.
With its privacy, amenities and effortless luxury, “it’s like a little sanctuary where it feels like we’re always on vacation,” says Sally, proud to honor her home’s European hallmarks and rambling quirks in equal measure. “We love it. We saw its potential from the very beginning, and it became everything we wanted it to be.”