Shared history

It’s no surprise that this elegant Greek Revival house, built at the crest of a hill, looks a little familiar. Created by North Carolina residential designer William Poole, the house was inspired by Melrose Plantation, a circa 1849 historic home in Natchez, Mississippi (see "Melrose Plantation," page 66, February/March 2000). "My intention was to convey the feeling and charm of the original house," says Poole, "to maintain proportions but not scale."

The new version artfully disguises 21st-century amenities and achieves the goal of planting a question in a visitor’s mind: Is it new or is it renovated? "It’s an historic house for today–an old house for people who don’t want an old house," says interior designer Roger Higgins about the new home located in The Governor’s Club, a golf-course community near Nashville, Tennessee.

Indeed, the new house, which is more than 6,000 square feet, was downscaled about 20 percent from its historic sister. While not meant to be a copy of the original Melrose, the new home retains the unmistakable air of the old. Authenticity is woven through the house in such telling details as thick crown moldings, deep window jambs, and 11-foot ceilings.

The furnishings were also chosen to underscore the feeling that the home has a rich history. "There’s not anything that’s too perfect," says Higgins, who worked with his partner, Ann Shipp, to create interiors that perpetuate the old-house feel. "You go into so many new houses and they just look like big new houses. My thought on this was, because it was based on an historic plan, there had to be some nod toward an historic interior," he adds.

Higgins has deftly placed period antiques amid beautifully crafted reproductions–many pieces from Henredon’s Natchez Collection–and new upholstery. An element of surprise, too, is at work within these walls. The family room, for instance, gets a fine, antique Heriz rug, while the Neoclassically inspired living room is grounded with a seagrass rug.

The end result is pared-down classicism, achieved through the strategic use of color and grand gestures, such as a series of vintage prints hung as a dramatic group in the living room and wide-plank pine floors used throughout most of the main level. "The use of heart pine gives it a warm, used character right from the get go," says Poole.

Despite traditional details, the interiors stray from the past due to clean and contemporary furnishings. While many 19th-century homes would have had heavy draperies and carpets, Higgins kept window treatments simple and floors bare except for a few judiciously placed rugs.

"A complete lack of window treatments looks like you just moved in," says Higgins, "but there doesn’t have to be swag and jabot, velvet and trim, and 14 layers. Some houses are so full, they’re hard to live in," he continues. "Leave a little room for you in the house."

Understated colors, used in unexpected ways, also provide an exciting touch. Pale celadon ceilings in the kitchen, living, and dining rooms give depth to an otherwise forgotten surface, while in the home’s formal areas such as the entry, powder room, and living room, smart black defines the baseboards. "Everybody freaks out until they see them," says Higgins about the baseboards, which incorporate a favorite Nashville painting technique that smartens rooms.

In the family room, a glazed finish on the walls provides depth. "It looks like someone’s been in there smoking cigars for 40 years," he says.

Nashville builder Stan Pope, who served as general contractor, took the concept of authenticity to heart and even made a trip to Natchez to inspect the original Melrose "to see what Poole was seeing." For that reason, many details often installed as traditional tokens on new houses are real on this home. The widow’s walk is functional, not a flimsy fake. The transoms that top many of the interior doors on the main level are just like those in the original house, down to their "X" motif.

"It’s an authentic house, yet it’s still light and airy, which is what people want today," says Pope.

"This house is very much what I like," says Higgins, "which is less stuff, the correct stuff and better stuff.

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