A Simple Backdrop Lets Eclectic Pieces Pop In An Art-Filled Atlanta Townhome


living room filled with art,...

After two decades and numerous homes, a designer tailors an Atlanta townhouse to longtime clients.

open door with windows and...

Designer Carter Kay strikes a welcoming note in the entry of this Atlanta townhouse with a marble-topped chest from Travis & Company, a Nefertiti lamp by Mario Villa and an antique Heriz rug from Moattar. The home’s existing light fixture and a mirror Kay sourced in Paris reflect light streaming in from the arched window. It’s an atmosphere appreciated by Odie, the owners’ dog.

large living room with three...

The living room has several seating areas to allow friends to mingle. A Ferrell Mittman ratchet-arm sofa holds center stage with its classic profile. A pair of tufted leather Nancy Corzine slipper chairs sits to the left, while a skirted Harley armchair by John Saladino is perched at right. An acrylic coffee table from Travis & Company offers a view of the custom Stark rug beneath it.

sunny kitchen with yellow cabinets...

The wife was tired of all-white kitchens, so Kay worked with her on a custom yellow color for the cabinets. The hue is inspired by the mustard tones found in the dramatically veined marble from Bottega by Stones International. The Emtek hardware is from Masterpiece Lighting and the Onda counter stool is from Design Within Reach.

staircase with decorative iron railing...

The chandelier—purchased at Illuminations—spans three floors, and its many cords and bulbs create what Kay calls a “magical” glow. The elegant metal handrail was devised by general contractor Kevin Kleinhelter.

bedroom with modern fireplace, red...

Kay and Kleinhelter created an artful focal point in the master bedroom using oyster sticks the clients already owned. Kleinhelter also fabricated the concrete fireplace surround beneath it. A pair of Niermann Weeks armchairs and an antique rug from Moattar make for cozy hearthside seating. The Buddha head placed in the center of the firebox is from the homeowners’ collection.

neutral bathroom with elliptical soaking...

Arteriors’ multi-arm Dallas chandelier presides over the master bathroom. A roomy Kohler soaking tub from Ferguson sits in front of windows dressed in sheers crafted at Douglass Workroom. The custom vanity is made with wood planks and topped with a Mirror Image Home mirror from JDouglas.

For designer Carter Kay, the owners of a particular Buckhead townhouse in Atlanta are more than clients—they are friends, former neighbors and fellow parents. Perhaps that’s why she’s successfully devised interiors to fit their lives throughout several moves and two decades. “We met when we were neighbors on Broadland Road and raising our children,” says the husband. “One summer, Carter went with us to Paris and helped us select furnishings. Since that trip, she’s done four more primary homes for us, using all the same pieces.” Adds the wife: “We loved what she did, and we haven’t even thought about buying new furniture. We enjoy our things now as much as we did 20 years ago.”

But when the couple’s two sons left the proverbial nest, that concept was put to the test. Having lived in large homes for many years, they decided to downsize to a four-story townhouse better reflective of their new family dynamics. Kay’s time-tested instincts told her what her clients were after, so, working in concert with design partner Nancy Hooff and project manager Catherine Branstetter, she tapped residential designer Caroline Reu Rolader and general contractor Kevin Kleinhelter to make the new residence a fit. “Before the remodel, this was a typical 1980s townhouse with small rooms and a confined kitchen that didn’t suit the wife, who loves to cook,” Kay explains. “We worked with Caroline and Kevin to get the bones just right—then we added the icing on the cake.”

Rolader knew transforming the kitchen would indeed be a priority. “The traditional floor plan was rather dated,” she notes. “All of the rooms were separated from one another, and the kitchen was enclosed; working in there would have felt very removed.” She solved the problem by opening the cooking space to the adjacent living and dining rooms on one side and the keeping room on the other. A wet bar was quickly converted into a working pantry—a place where the wife can not only store sundries, but also use small appliances beyond the sight lines of guests. Kay took the newly expanded kitchen as an opportunity to make a design statement by painting the cabinets a spirited marigold. “My past two kitchens were white, so I was more than ready for some color,” says the wife.

As the project continued, the team focused on expanding and simplifying, making doorways larger and wider to link rooms and share light while eschewing ornate molding in favor of more streamlined trim. “A simple backdrop was best for their eclectic furniture and art,” says Rolader, nodding to a collection ranging from Auguste Garufi to Dennis Campay, and even including a work by Kay’s son, Colorado abstractionist Will Kay. Upstairs, all interior walls on the fourth floor were removed, turning the home’s topmost level into a loft-like office for the husband. 

As design moved on to the decorative layer, the couple’s cherished collection of furniture and art served as an indispensable guide. “The wife documented all of the items she wanted to use, so we were able to take them into account during the design process, making sure there were places for the art and furniture,” Rolader explains. And that’s precisely how this residential designer prefers to work. “I love incorporating pieces that have meaning and memories,” she says. “That approach shows personality, and too often that’s something you don’t see. A home should be a living, breathing extension of the owners themselves.”

Kay believes the key to selecting furniture and art that would last these clients the better part of their lives was focusing on the classics and listening to the heart. “Classic will stand the test of time—be it a Jean-Michel Frank chair or a Directoire-style chest,” she notes. “You should also purchase things that speak to you. When I was shopping in Paris with the couple, we weren’t looking for anything in particular, but we ended up finding a chest, a desk and a pair of French chairs—as well as several other antique pieces. The idea is that they bought things they loved, and those pieces are still with them today. For this house, we purchased just one new piece of furniture: a smaller dining table.”

The third key, Kay says, is to buy pieces that will survive the years. “If you want something that will last forever, invest in heirloom quality,” she notes. “Many of the owners’ pieces, such as a pair of French armchairs covered in velvet, only get better with age.”

But just because the homeowners didn’t purchase new furniture doesn’t mean it doesn’t look new. “Carter’s genius is adapting the things we love to a new place,” the wife expresses. “The way she has arranged it here, everything feels new again.” One could say the owners have a fresh perspective of their own, too. “This house is warm and welcoming,” says the husband. “We feel like we are living our dream of a city life.”