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Publication Date: 2013-09-02

House Tours

Well-Lived: A French-Influenced Atlanta Home

Designer Melanie Tuner and her builder husband Stan Benecki embrace a fresh take on urban French style to make their new home in Atlanta feels like an old house.

Designer Melanie Turner had long wished for “an inheritable house, something that would last forever.” It would be a city dwelling in an established, upscale Atlanta neighborhood, so the house would need to blend in, look gracious and settled.

Turner and her husband, residential builder Stan Benecki, decided on a stone structure for an aura of permanence and an urban French-influenced style for simple elegance. During a trip to Texas, they admired architect Robbie Fusch’s work, particularly his ability to design in stone, and enlisted him to create “a new house that feels like an old house.”

Turner, a native of Wales, explains, “I love houses that look as though they’ve been around for hundreds of years. I always want classical design, things that never go out of style. But I believe this house has personality. It’s glamorous and comfortable. I rely on two formulas: Make it livable and use what you love.” She did both and won the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center’s 2009 Southeast Designer of the Year award for this project.

In creating the house, Turner paid close attention to every design choice–from the nickel mesh for certain kitchen cabinet doors to the quarter-sawn oak floor in a custom stain. She specified wide doorjambs to suggest thick walls, windows extending to the floor and “all the tricks that make you feel like you’re in an old house.”

Functionality played a vital role. “I’m a practical person. Not only do things have to be pretty, they also really have to work. Rooms should be totally, fully lived in.” She wanted a salon for large social gatherings as well as intimate family get-togethers. “So I added wall paneling for warmth and created three seating areas that made the room usable and inviting. I covered the two sofas in a linen-like cotton and the chairs in velvet–all with no pattern for a soft look and a calming effect.”

Large works of contemporary art fit the scale of the house and made the rooms feel personal. Turner continued the marriage of old and new by combining antiques with custom upholstery. “My interest in antiques developed from my parents’ love of antiquing in Wales. After we moved to America and I was old enough, I spent every weekend going with them to antiques markets.”

In her dining room, Turner alluded to a French ballroom, fitting custom mirrors into carved-wood wall panels and using a parquet pattern underfoot. “It’s a classical room,” she says. “I played off the masculine and feminine, contrasting the dark floors with white walls, drapes and chairs. Then I added touches of yellow for freshness.”

The color scheme reappeared in her kitchen, where Turner again chose dark floors and white walls, along with subtly gold-veined marble for the counters and backsplash. She upholstered stools for the island in yellow linen. In an adjacent seating area, golden pillows brought a warm glow to a sofa in dark velvet and white linen-slipcovered chairs.

Turner enjoyed special validation from first-time visitors to her home: “The nicest compliments came when people asked if it had been renovated. They thought it was an old house.”

This article originally appeared in Veranda. Article by Linda E. Clopton. Photography by Eric Georges Dines.

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