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Design Quest

Photos by Steve Bracci

WHEN BETTY PERRY'S FRIEND INVITED HER ON A TRIP TO MAINE after her husband Owen died in 2002, she hesitated to go. The wise friend advised Betty that although it may feel uncomfortable to be social again, if she continued to decline, people would stop asking.

Betty heeded her friend’s words and went to Maine. She brought home a chest of drawers, a remembrance in a way of Owen, who loved anything to do with boats, fishing and the water (artwork along this theme is prominent in Betty’s home). Hand-painted in the center of each drawer is a lake scene. In one of the scenes a man fishes from a skiff. The chest of drawers, perhaps a nudge from Owen, is now a key furniture piece in the master bedroom of her Lombardy Court cottage. The chest’s wear from years of use contrasts with the crisp white leather chair next to it. This mixture of new and old defines Betty’s style.

She purchased her Lombardy Court home in 2008 because of its proximity to her daughter Laura’s house on Glenn Avenue. She liked that the lot runs from Lombardy to Helen Street, giving it a back entrance. The 1940s clapboard house, covered in white vinyl siding with narrow, black plastic shutters flanking the windows, wasn’t much to behold. A garish garage consumed the backyard. The foyer sagged where floor joists had long ago been cut out to accommodate a gargantuan furnace in the basement. Old termite damage threatened the stability of the structure.

“I really liked the floor plan of the house and I knew I could make it right for the last house in my life.”

It wasn’t until renovation started that she and her architect knew the source and the extent of the house’s problems. The architect with whom she was working at that stage suggested she level the home and start from scratch. He said it would be more cost effective, but Betty didn’t have the heart to change course. “It’s kind of like crossing a river,” she says. “You get so far toward the middle that it’s too far to go back. You just have to keep going forward.”

She has an affection for old, unwanted things. Making them useful and beautiful again probably stems from her training in fine arts at Ole Miss. An older home that needed someone to approve of its potential is the perfect fit for her. “I really liked the floor plan of the house and I knew I could make it right for the last house in my life,” she says. Architect Al Cheatham shared her vision. Together they took the nondescript Lombardy Court structure from tear-down to forever-home. “He turned my artist’s stew of visual ideas into a coherent plan,” says Betty.

With intent to remain in her home into her dotage, Betty added a master bedroom to the first floor. By bumping a side porch out five additional feet, enough space was gained for a master suite. Instead of replacing the porch doors, she exchanged the panes for mirrored glass. On the sandblasted brick face of the back side of the fireplace, Betty fashioned a dressing table out of a piece of furniture she bought from a man in Tennessee. It had no back legs when she got it. Most folks would have passed it over, believing it ruined. Betty used its shortcoming to her advantage, attaching it flush against the bricks. Over it hangs a large mirror with a silver-toned frame.
Betty has created a well-appointed place shimmering with graceful comfort imbued by up-cycled items and bargain treasures she began gathering upon buying the house. Double, hollow-core doors with mirrors affixed to each side swing open to a modest yet luxurious master bath with white marble floors. Inset mirrors on the bathroom’s cabinet doors conjure the impression of largeness. Etched glass sconces on either side of the mirror cast interesting shadows on the walls behind them. Betty points out the industrial white tiles in the shower. “You can mix tough stuff with nicer things and nobody notices that you didn’t spend a lot,” she says. It’s a conspiracy of illusion masterfully executed throughout.

To create continuity, the doors in the house, plus the kitchen island and the mantel in the living room, are stained driftwood gray.

Sleight of hand hides the truth in the hallway powder room as well. An early 1900s pedestal sink rescued by her contractor from another job takes up one wall. A medicine cabinet stripped of layers of paint is a façade for deep shelves recessed into the wall behind its mirror. On the far wall an old door, presumably decorative at first appraisal, hangs on a sturdy metal bar and glides to the right when pushed. Behind it is a shower, making this sweet little powder room a full bath in disguise.

To create continuity, the doors in the house, plus the kitchen island and the mantel in the living room, are stained driftwood gray. The pine closet doors in the hall previously closed off the living room from the dining room. After removing the dining room’s heavy pine doors, Betty liked the improved flow between the living room and dining room but sought visual distinction as well. Three French door castoffs from a Henry Wendell house of Williams Street, plus a fourth constructed by her builder to match, are mounted as stationary extensions of the walls. They narrow the doorways without obscuring the field of view.

Where the foyer floor once sagged, Jake, Betty’s German shorthair pointer, dances happily when guests arrive. His sleek brown coat is the color of the herringbone heart pine floor stained to match the original oak hardwoods in the house. A fanlight window, an eBay find—one of many—that had been a transom in a grand old house, is installed above the foyer doorway leading to the hall.

The floor in the great room addition on the rear of the house, where a wood-burning stone fireplace faces the simple but functional kitchen with freestanding cabinets, is also heart pine laid in a herringbone pattern. The wide pine clapboards from the exterior of the house, which now is cedar shingle siding, were flipped to expose the raw, unpainted side. Betty had them pickled for patina. The refrigerator is set into the wall space between the kitchen and the pantry and its door is camouflaged with the boards.

Betty points toward the gas stove and says, “The first things I ever bought for this house are the two corbels under the vent hood.” The corbels support the massive handmade copper hood detailed with copper tape Betty collected along the way. Recycled European windows on either side of the hood ensure a sunny kitchen.

“Almost everything in this
house has its own story.”

“Almost everything in this house has its own story,” Betty says. Along with objects of sentimental value, such as the coffee table that was her mother-in-law’s, the wardrobe from a trip to France, and the Bea Khulke pastel over the bar, she’s outfitted the cottage with architectural and decorative items that have pasts. The ceiling beams in the great room came from S.M. Whitney Company’s cotton warehouses in downtown Augusta. The company’s closure in 2010 was perfect timing for Betty, who was then deep into
the renovation.

For all of the revamping of the home, however, there were things she refused to change, things that connect her life in the Lombardy Court house to everyone who lived there before her. Despite how the handrail on the stairs leading to three bedrooms and a full bath on the second floor shows its age, she didn’t want to have it restored. She explains, “I like where all the hands have held it and rubbed the finish off.” As much as she could, Betty preserved what was good about the house.

She describes her style as “an old-world edge without living totally in the past.” She often sits on the sofa in the living room, reading by the light streaming through the plantation shutters. Jake lingers nearby. The brick walkway hand-laid in an X-pattern is one of the final touches added. The long arduous process of bringing the Lombardy Court address from tear-down to forever-home that began in 2008 came to a close in 2014. As Owen used to say, “If you just don’t give up, you’ll find a way to work it out.”

It worked out beautifully.

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