Designer Jon Green has the unique distinction of never having lived in a new house. Raised in an 18th-century residence near Boston, Green spent his adult life living in a 1920s-era dwelling in Houston and restoring historical homes elsewhere. Following the renovation of a Victorian house in West Virginia, he took on painter and naturalist John Audubon’s former studio: an 1820s New Orleans Creole cottage that earned Green and his partner, former furniture manufacturer David Longwood, a preservation award. So, when the couple recently relocated to Savannah, it likely surprised no one that an 1878 abode in the city’s downtown historic district became their new home. What might be surprising, however, is how well it accommodates the owners’ 21st-century lifestyle.
Lured by its architectural charms, the pair was pleased to find the house boasted a few modern conveniences oft uncommon in a historical city like Savannah. “It had the historic aspect, along with features hard to come by downtown: a courtyard, plus a swimming pool and a two-car garage,” Green says. “Also, it’s Italianate in style, so it’s a little lower to the ground. It has only four steps up to the front door, which is nice.” Owing to the previous owner’s efforts, the biggest point of difference between this house and those the couple had worked on previously was the minimal alterations required. Aside from imparting their taste on the interiors and re-hardscaping the sheltered courtyard, the couple elected to renovate only the kitchen and the adjacent screened porch—a project hatched when a frequent collaborator and friend, residential designer Rogelio O. Carrasco, visited the pair in their new home.
“After seeing the kitchen—knowing how much David cooks—and listening to their ideas about the screened porch, I spent one morning drawing up designs for both rooms,” recalls Carrasco, a burgeoning historical house specialist who worked with fellow residential designer Nadia Palacios Lauterbach to complete the plans. By removing the cinder block wall that separated the kitchen from the porch (which was, in turn, enclosed to make the breakfast room), Carrasco created a generous and functional space for cooking, dining and entertaining—three activities Green and David enjoy frequently. The residential designer also conceived the kitchen’s classically styled cabinetry, including a sizable island. The latter, Green says, makes cooking a “delight”—which is a word that might be used to describe the entire renovation. “Rogelio and I have a nice building process; he throws out an idea, I improve upon it, then he improves it further. The result is very good,” says Green, who is equally complimentary of Josh Waters, the general contractor who worked closely with the local historic foundation to obtain approval for the home’s alterations. Adds the designer: “Josh did a beautiful job on everything.”
Much like the kitchen overhaul, Green approached the interiors with respect for the house’s age and architectural style, but without getting too mired in tradition. “Being true to the architecture of the home is the bedrock of decorating,” states Green, who furnished most rooms with at least a few antiques—a gesture that not only reflects the hallmarks of the residence but also its Southern roots. At the same time, he adds, “I like to be in the modern world; I like modern art, accessories and comfort.” As avid collectors, the couple has displayed their contemporary cache prominently throughout the house, where its appearance alongside some of the rooms’ traditional-patterned wallpapers creates an appealing juxtaposition.
Color was used to keep spaces from feeling stuck in the past. “I like a fresher look, so I whitewashed all the walls that I could, including those in the living and dining rooms,” says Green, who added more vibrant hues beginning with the entryway, where a turquoise stair runner is outlined in red, giving it zip. “Blue became our way to freshen the house and give it a clean look,” he adds. The dwelling’s most creative use of the color, however, graces one of its most unexpected new accoutrements: a custom steel-and-glass china cabinet inspired by the bright cerulean, campaign-style entrance at Château de Malmaison: the French country home of Napoleon and Joséphine. Occupying the new breakfast area—a space bridging the old and new portions of the abode and leading to its lush, bluestone-laden courtyard—the arrangement is proof positive that when Green and David merge past and present, the results are dazzling.