Savannah house mixes Georgian architecture with ’60s style
IN THE MID-1950s, Savannah, Georgia was falling apart. The effects of the Depression had left buildings in the city in disrepair. And as residents fled to the new post-war suburbs, developers began planning to raze many deteriorating and expensive-to-maintain pre-war homes, as well as the once-stylish public squares conceptualized, from of 1733, by the founder of the city, James Oglethorpe.
The impending loss radicalized many locals, including an energetic real estate agent, developer and entrepreneur named David Morrison and his wife, Zelda, who became members of a preservation movement that would lay the groundwork for what the landmark of 2.2 square miles The neighborhood would become: a graceful grid of gracefully restored homes, trendy restaurants, art galleries, and boutique hotels. David, a native of Savannah, was at the forefront of the effort, wrestling with bank funding for the Historic Savannah Foundation to save dilapidated historic properties. Zelda, a native of South Carolina who is passionate about design and interior, also supported the fight and eventually joined the foundation’s board of directors.
But despite their fervor for Savannah’s original structures, the couple had no interest in buying and restoring residential property for themselves and their three children. Instead, in 1965, they started designing their own home on an acre lot shaded by huge magnolias draped in Spanish moss. âThey always knew they wanted to create this house together, taking into account all aspects,â says Lisa Van Dusen, their youngest child, a 66-year-old architect who lives in Washington, DC. âThis collaboration was what what they were living. “
At first, Zelda asked for a modern house influenced by the colors and shapes of Pop Art of the time. But her husband, an avid sailor who in his youth had spent hours building elaborate models of famous ships, convinced her that she would tire of her trend. A “detail guy,” as Van Dusen calls him, David had amassed salvaged building materials – 200-year-old windows with wavy surfaces that would catch the morning light and waxed heart pine floorboards – in predicting the day when he would start his dream home. He was sure they could build a Georgian-style residence with interiors aligned with his wife’s love for the 1960s palette and patterns, a residence she could transform over the years and changing tastes.
Six years after they moved in, however, David died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 54, upsetting plans for the home’s development. Instead, it remains almost exactly as it was when it was completed in 1966. The property is the couple’s second big saving gesture – a vibrant celebration of two eras of seemingly incongruous aesthetics and design.
AFTER HER HUSBAND’S DEATH, Zelda, who had been a housewife, stepped in to run her business. That, in addition to raising three children, Lisa and her siblings, Nancy Macaluso and Bill Morrison, made her too busy to update the decor. But even after all of the kids had left, the place remained largely untouched, and it remained that way long after Zelda died in 1998 at the age of 75. “Most families would have sold the house a long, long time ago,” says Van Dusen, who, like her siblings, now has children of her own, including the based textiles, clothing and housewares designer. in Brooklyn, Ellen Van Dusen, and Henry, the production manager of multimedia artist Cory Arcangel. âWe just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Van Dusen, who owns commercial properties in Savannah, goes down once a month, and Macaluso, a former textile designer, comes from New Orleans occasionally, but the decision to keep the house, Van Dusen concedes, largely reflects how strong his emotion is. shoot rest. âThe personality of my parents,â she says, âis everywhere. “
From the outside, the two-story, 5,000-square-foot Savannah gray-brick structure is stately and, with the exception of one wing, symmetrical. The front door is a replica of that in the 1770s Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis, Maryland, itself among the best examples of existing Anglo-Palladian architecture, which David Morrison had seen during his training as a naval officer during World War II. (Its chief architect, William Buckland, based the design on an engraving by Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.) There are twin fireplaces at each end and the entrance is flanked by a pair of electric lanterns. atop eight-foot beige poles. The roof was designed in a foreshortened pattern that David worked hard on – all of the shingles appear the same size when viewed from the circular walkway, itself made of reclaimed 18th-century Belgian blocks once used as ballast for the clippers.
But behind the front door, centuries collide. Interiors are pure Zelda, a riot of pattern upon pattern, with antiques and mid-century furnishings exuberantly combined. The breakfast room, with its lapis wrought-iron chairs sunk into the Greek sheepskin rug and a picture window lined with hand-painted Mexican tiles in azure and midnight tones, is surrounded by tall cabinets stacked with crystal antique and modern tableware. In the living room, above the Sheridan sofa covered in marigold silk jacquard near a Chippendale Cockpen chair, hangs a full-length portrait in oil, in the style of John Singer Sargent, of teenage Lisa in a pea coat with her basset, Alfred; the bedroom rug – a geometric fantasy in peach, blue-green, and lavender, in equal parts Pop Art and Art Deco – was designed by Zelda herself, who designed it with Crayolas before having it custom made in Portugal. Upstairs, the children’s former bedrooms and their mother’s office are adorned with bright pink, anise green and tangerine.
âWe’re going to have to sell this place,â Van Dusen said resignedly. âIt just doesn’t make sense to own it from afar. But there are consolations, she recalls: the joyful desire of her parents to take aesthetic risks, to create an offbeat monument as eccentric as it is warm, ended up influencing generations of their offspring. Her daughter, Ellen, was inspired by a crisp black and brown Clarence House fabric that Zelda once used to upholster a sofa in the conservatory. In the interpretation of the young designer, for a textile from one of her recent collections, the colors are similar, but the lines are more blurry, softer at the edges – like a memory.
Photo assistant: Ross Ladenberger