Into the Woods

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It’s rather surreal to turn off of a highly trafficked avenue, drive some 500 feet down a gravel road and suddenly feel as if you’re deep in the woods of anywhere but Savannah. The road dead-ends at an unassuming cedar house, but take two steps into the foyer and the commanding view tells the whole story: lofty windows and honey-hued cypress walls as far as the eye can see, stretching sixteen feet up and thousands of feet out. Alcoves and porches extend this way and that, with every space arranged at an angle that gives it a sightline into other rooms of the home. The centerpiece is a grand fireplace wrapped in tabby stone—the indigenous material a reminder that this is indeed a house in the South.

A built-in wet bar in the living room. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

In late 2016, Sam and Robyn Carroll were living downtown with their young sons, Stellan, now 6, and Zev, 3, and just starting to think about a possible move. Yet when they visited this house upon a friend’s recommendation, thought quickly turned to action. The home had been owned by the late Betty and Norton Melaver, lifetime Savannahians and prominent community figures, who had built the house 44 years earlier, working closely with renowned local architect Thomas Stanley Jr. Custom spaces abound, including built-in desks, a wet bar tucked behind bi-fold doors, and clever storage engineered with outlets, removable wall panels and adjustable shelving. Borrowing from the architect’s affinity for classical Japanese design, the house unfolds as a showcase of natural wood and highly considered open spaces.

The living room and dining room are partitioned only be a tabby fireplace that stretches high and wide to cypress ceilings and walls. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Today, this is a residence that’s at once looking back and thinking ahead, and the Carrolls were mindful to honor its integrity. “We really thought about how we would live in it as a family,” says Sam, who, as the owner of Carroll Construction, has seen his fair share of renovations. “We discussed how the flow would work for us and came to the conclusion that this house is laid out really well.”

Thus, they kept every wall intact, focusing instead on cosmetic work. Carpeting was replaced with oak hardwood, the bathrooms were updated with tile flooring and modern fixtures, and the kitchen was refreshed with new countertops, appliances and fixtures. The original cabinets were preserved, simply lightened up with a coat of mushroom-hued paint.

A framed mudcloth from South Africa hangs above the midcentury Baldwin Acrosonic, purchased from the home’s original owners. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

The Carrolls worked with interior designer Sonchia Jilek of Hultman Interiors, striving for a vintage-modern look with influences from Robyn’s upbringing in Cape Town, South Africa. “I wanted the house to feel casual, comfortable and lived in,” Robyn says. “We like midcentury design, and I wanted the palette to be neutral with lots of natural elements accented with South African collectibles.”

Jilek set out to create a story that layered muted colors with a medley of textures and patterns. “We were going for more of a feeling than a look,” notes Jilek. “The decor needed to make sense for this family—nothing could be so precious that you couldn’t put your feet up. We wanted things that were durable, cost effective and beautiful.”

A nook in the children’s bedroom creates a sweet spot for reading and play. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

The result is a well-curated mix integrating pieces from local artists and designers (Shea Slemmer, Katy Skelton) with items from big brands (Ikea, CB2, Article). The Carrolls were also lucky enough to inherit a few originals from the home’s previous owners: They purchased the midcentury Baldwin Acrosonic piano that’s sat in the home for decades, and they continue to find castoff pottery in their new backyard (Mrs. Melaver was an accomplished ceramicist and kept a kiln outside).

Clerestories reach high above a custom-made dining table and a painting by Shea Slemmer. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

The residence was constructed from a single story, extended ranch-style floorplan, yet the vibe feels sweeping and airy. Clerestories—a row of windows well above eye level—flood the living room with light, and skylights add extra depth to multi-level, vaulted ceilings. Recognizing that abundant natural light is the home’s most striking feature, the Carrolls have left nearly all of the 70 windows bare. “We’re surrounded by trees that serve as natural window coverings and they filter the light in such a lovely way,” says Sam. “The light is amazing all the time—even at night when the moon shines into the skylights.”

In the master bedroom, vast windows and glass doors flank a Lori Keith Robinson painting. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

On the south wing of the home, two parallel hallways, each up three steps, lead to the bedrooms: down one hallway is the guest quarters; down the other are two children’s rooms separated by a Jack-and- Jill bathroom, followed by the master suite. In each bedroom, a sliding glass door opens to a private deck overlooking a landscape of magnolia trees and bamboo underbrush. But for the occasional stray ball that lands in the backyard, you’d never know that Bacon Park Golf Course is just steps away.

A light installation by South African artist Brett Murray shines in a hallway nook. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

The largest spaces in the residence are the living and dining rooms, the vast tabby fireplace standing sentinel between them. The hearth, with a built-in granite bench, faces a midcentury-inspired sofa in smooth caramel leather, a sleek glass coffee table and a pair of plush chairs. The back side of the fireplace makes for an ideal gallery wall, where a large-scale Shea Slemmer canvas in washes of gray and green hangs beside a custom-made mahogany dining table.

Yet the heart and soul of the home is the kitchen and family room, “where we do most of our hanging out,” says Robyn. An eat-in alcove with surround windows juts out from the kitchen, while a smaller windowed nook, with built-in shelving and a utility sink, is at the edge of the family room. Designed for Mrs. Melaver’s ceramics work, these days the space serves as a cheerful arts-and-crafts zone for Stellan and Zev.

In the master bath, medicine cabinets on each side of the granite counter top open to reveal window-sized mirrors; print by Matt Hebermehl. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Adapting seamlessly to suit a new family, this home in the woods offers a thoughtful reminder of how space is meant to ebb and flow over time. “The house was pretty happy from the beginning,” says Sam. “We just helped it along.”


Home owners: Robyn and Sam Carroll

Year built: 1972

Original architect: Thomas Stanley Jr.

Year purchased: 2017

Square footage: 3,700

Accommodations: 4 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms

Time to complete remodel: 7 months

Builder: Sam Carroll, Carroll Construction

Millwork: Home South Architectural, a division of Guerry Lumber

Interior designer: Sonchia Jilek, Hultman Interiors

Flooring: Mike Adams, MT Adams Tile and Stone; Savannah Floor Covering

Kitchen and bath design: Creative Stone Accessories, Inc. (counters); Sandpiper Supply (fixtures) Electrician: J. Ryle Electric

Plumber: Jake Patrick and Son Plumbing

HVAC: Arctic Air Heating & Cooling

Appliances: KitchenAid, Livingood’s Appliances and Bedding

Furniture: CB2, Article, Target, West Elm and vintage pieces

Accessories: Katy Skelton, Kristin Mulzer Ceramics, Number Four Eleven, Maldoror’s Frame Shop, Etsy

Art: Betsy Cain, Matt Hebermehl, Brett Murray, Lori Keith Robinson, Shea Slemmer, Dan Smith, Christian Sottile