Photos by Steve Bracci
She’s a true Southern lady through to her bones, so it’s not unreasonable that, as a girl growing up in nearby Louisville, when she pictured her dream house, she imagined a big house with white, towering columns. Gone With the Wind’s Tara is the ideal by which all other Southern homes are judged, is it not? In 2007, when Marilyn Wangsnes and her husband Kraig purchased her dream home, she got her columns and so much more. The arched portico and the lacy fretwork in the sidelights of the front door promised big things in store behind the four columns gracing the Milledge Road house.
The first time Marilyn visited the house on a gray rainy day with friend and real estate agent Kathy Marks, she was overwhelmed. The disrepair of the structure would have made a less bold woman ask to see what else Marks could show her. Yet, as Marilyn turned every corner, entered every room, examined every crevice, her mind spun with ideas. Neither the cracks in the plaster walls and ceilings, nor the dim light, dampened the potential she perceived in the place. Looking around, she saw herself and her family there. She could almost hear the voices of her sons, Jarrett, now 15, and Wyatt, now 11, echoing in the hallways. And her eyes dressed the neglected interior in window drapes and antiques with shoes by the back door.
This was it for her. This was home.
“She wore me down,” says Kraig, good-naturedly. “She got obsessed and wouldn’t let it go.” They both went into the endeavor with open minds, acknowledging that if they were going to do it, if they were going to tackle this house and return it to the masterpiece architect Henry Wendell created, then they were going to make the investment of time and money required to do it right. “You don’t know what you’re getting into when you buy a house like this,” says Kraig, pragmatically. Marilyn adds, “But we knew we did not want to go backwards or re-do or say, ‘Oh I wish we would have.’”
Although a previous owner had begun a remodel, the effort, for whatever reason, had been abandoned. No one had occupied the house in two to three years when the Wangsnes family took ownership. Plaster cracked and crumbled from the walls and ceilings. The heating and air system had long ago inhaled and heaved out its last puff. A kitchen stripped of appliances, cabinetry and flooring presented a blank slate. An oddly arranged addition to the home added a challenge. Kraig and Marilyn partnered with Brad Bennett, of the Brad Bennett Company, to oversee the renovation, which took the whole of nine months.
“You’ve got to know what needs to be done and how to do it and the right people to do it,” says Marilyn, who reports that they found every resource they needed for the project right here in Augusta, with the exception of the French-style furniture pieces in the master bathroom.
In the typical style of a Wendell house, just beyond the front door, a step-up introduces visitors to a magnificent quadripartite vaulted ceiling in the spacious entry of the Dutch Colonial home. This graceful plaster ceiling, which took craftsmen almost four months to restore, is defined by a combination of four segmental arches, adorned with a delicate, reflective crystal chandelier, one of the few remaining light fixtures original to the house.
More than any other architectural feature, Wendell incorporated the segmental arch into his designs and used it abundantly. A segmental arch is one with a curve that is less than a semi-circular segment of a circle, giving it a wider, more gently rounded appearance. Wendell repeated segmental arches throughout the Wangsnes home, one of several he designed in Augusta’s Summerville and Old Towne areas in the early 20th century. Large windows tucked into arched alcoves allow light to fluidly flow into the living room while at the same time drawing the eye to the view beyond. A large fireplace, also characteristic of Wendell, with a French marble surround provides a focal point in the room. Wendell’s careful balance of proportion paired with repetition brews an understated sense of symmetry that combines with the Wangsnes’s neutral color palette to imbue the room, like many others in the home, with warmth and comfort.
Another of Wendell’s marvelous touches is the staircase leading from the foyer to the second story. Visitors entering the front door cannot miss the fairy tale quality of this twice-turned flight of stairs with cherry wood treads, a walnut banister and closely spaced, hand-carved spindles painted a traditional gloss white. Standing in the curve of the wall and looking up is almost as irresistible as standing at the top of the stairs and peering down from above. Even if dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, walking down those stairs will make you feel glamorous.
The new is particularly emphasized in Marilyn’s kitchen, fit for a master chef. A plenitude of cabinets with old-world finish holds everything she needs to cook to her heart’s content. The long, granite-surfaced island allows guests to chat with her while she prepares meals on an eight-burner gas stove. And an antique French farm table nestled near the fireplace allows for the option of an intimate dinner when the turn-of-the century antique American black walnut table’s seating for 12 in the dining room is a bit too ample. Centered above the kitchen sink is the custom-designed arched window around which the rest of the kitchen came together. It gives the entire room an upbeat, cheerful quality that makes people want to linger at the island a little longer.
And not just the kitchen entices friends, adults and children alike to stay a while. There’s not a room in the house that rushes people on their way. From the tranquil, cool-sage toile upholstered chaise lounge in the guest bedroom to the durable coconut wood coffee table in the boys’ playroom, from the plush chairs in the living room, where even the cat cannot resist napping, to the powder room with a pedestal sink tucked neatly under the stairs, it all beckons and begs for visitors to relax.
Fine details and architectural precision, while inarguably appealing, are not what make a house a home. It is the family who calls it their own and builds a life within its walls, creating memories out of the daily routine.
“This is a happy house,” says Marilyn, a true Southern lady. “There are very happy memories in this house and we want to continue that.” She and Kraig and Jarrett and Wyatt will, of course. Henry Wendell very likely intended it that way, his lasting and permanent stage-set renewed and revitalized by the Wangsneses, to host their comings and goings as well as those of future generations.