A young couple enlists the help of friends to transform a historic brick townhouse into a vibrant, cosmopolitan abode. Beth Concepción takes a tour. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson. Styled by Lily and Daniel Brown.
From the street outside Eli Hale and Zia Sachedina’s recently renovated 1906 townhouse near Calhoun Square, I can see the iridescent royal purple ceiling of the living room. The bold, modern hue forms a rich contrast with the pristine white of the historic ceiling medallion. Just that glimpse is enough to signal that I’m in for a visual treat.
Xhu-Xhu and Coco, two long-haired miniature dachshunds, greet me at the door. The dogs wiggle and snort, demanding lots of love in the form of belly scratches before they’ll allow me across the threshold.
Once inside, however, I’m treated like part of the family. Good thing, too, because Eli and Zia’s home is one I wouldn’t mind settling into.
This is an exotic space where the old and new exist harmoniously, from the jewel-toned ceiling to the burnished wood floors.
Two years ago, however, when Eli and Zia were looking for a space to share, the house was a study in potential. The couple had to see beyond the orange shag carpet, avocado bathroom fixtures and abundant wood paneling to the bones of the house.
Chuckling, Eli tells me that it was filled with “earth tones you want to avoid and forget.” But that was just the most obvious area for improvement.
The three-story home was chopped into small, dark rooms and all the electrical work and plumbing had to be replaced. The house needed a new roof. There was no access to the back from the main level. Plus, the place had been sitting unoccupied for five years.
In other words, it was perfect.
The pair wanted a fixer-upper. They longed to create a space that not only reflected their shared sense of style, but also married Eli’s contemporary leanings with Zia’s flair for the “ethnic exotic.” At the time, Eli was living in a single-family brick house on Wilmington Island, and Zia inhabited a 1940s bungalow in Parkside.
“We both agreed that we needed to build a space together,” Zia says. “That was really important.”
A Collaborative Relationship
As soon as they bought the house, the couple called up their good friends, architect Daniel Brown and his wife, interior designer Lily Brown. Daniel had seen Zia through the challenging renovation of his bungalow years before, so he and Lily were a natural choice for this new project.
When the Browns walked into the dark, divided space, they knew that they had their work cut out for them.
“I’d classify it as uninhabitable,” Lily recalls. But she and Daniel understood their friends’ goals and what it would take to achieve them.
“They were becoming a family,” Daniel says simply. “It’s a big deal. They have this awesome relationship where Zia’s aesthetic is very worldly, while Eli is tailored to the point of being streamlined and modern. The interesting challenge was to mesh these two influences with the historic details of the house.”
But first, the architect had to take the structure back to basics.
“We drew the as-built plans and then spent the next four or five months going through the design process, trying to figure out how we would open it up into a contemporary floor plan while maintaining the historic details.”
The four friends began by walking through the house together, noting architectural details they wanted to keep in place or repurpose elsewhere in the house. They talked about collaborating on a bright, open space for entertaining guests and showcasing Zia’s ever-growing collection of art objects.
Daniel used this information to draw a new plan that would open up the home to abundant natural light. This involved removing unnecessary walls, creating cased openings and redesigning an existing skylight over the stairwell.
“Now you get this beautiful light that flows through the leaves of the huge oak tree outside,” he says.
Meanwhile, Lily worked on a fresh way to display Zia’s art, amassed from his travels worldwide to gather materials and inspiration for his namesake Broughton Street boutique and internationally distributed jewelry label.
“I suggested a lot of white, museum-style walls with gray trim for the art,” the interior designer recalls. “For bold color and ‘high design’ details, we looked to the ceiling and to smaller spaces, like the dining room and powder rooms. The contrast between spaces doubled the impact.”
Throughout the process, the two couples met regularly over dinner or drinks, sifting through design choices and making frequent field trips in search of stone and tile. Zia and Eli would send images of objects and materials they discovered, saying, “We love this! Now what can we do with it?” This dialogue brought the home to life.
“Zia naturally pushes the design envelope, and Daniel is great at minding the budget and brainstorming creative ways to get the same effect for less expense,” Lily recalls. “When we found this glass tile we all loved for the downstairs powder room, he suggested mirroring the opposite wall to increase the effect.”
To replace another expensive tile choice, Daniel bought a simpler tile and had it waterjet-cut to create a similar effect. And when the time came to swap out a 1970s Colorado-style stone fireplace that stretched from floor to ceiling for something more appropriate, Daniel built an adjustable cardboard mockup of the custom steel structure he and Lily envisioned, then brought the mockup over for a fitting.
“Once we got the scale just right, we brought the fabricator in to measure it.”
This hands-on approach to design persisted throughout the construction process, until Zia and Eli were settled in their new home. Daniel stayed involved, working closely with contractor Sam Carroll. The pair met often to fine-tune construction details.
“We’re not done until the client is moved in and happy,” Daniel says. “And we were lucky to work with Sam, who feels the same way.”
A Balancing Act
Now, after months of rehabilitation and restructuring, the house glows like a polished stone in one of Zia’s jewelry designs. Custom touches throughout showcase the unique interests of the well-traveled couple. In the living room, that regal ceiling caps a world where modern amenities such as the craft-beer fridge (one of Eli’s must-haves) harmonize with exotic pieces selected from travels in Bali and Zia’s native Kenya.
Repurposed elements also abound, such as the green door to the guest apartment downstairs. Salvaged from the home before renovations began, this former patio door boasts a magnificent century-old patina. Similarly, part of the living room’s former mantel now lives as a countertop in the half bath on the main floor.
The exotically variegated red gum cabinetry of the open-plan kitchen yields easily to the dining space, inviting get-togethers and good conversation with seating for eight in butter-soft leather chairs and plush banquettes. Stainless steel appliances gleam alongside lush, patterned marble countertops. The graphic wallpaper on one main wall offers optic pop.
The wall beneath the stairs reveals a yin-yang balance of the couple’s individual tastes. An arrangement of framed tortoise shells purchased from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service represent Zia’s aesthetic. The vivid red paint on the banister adds the contemporary note Eli wanted.
At the top of the stairs, past the gilded egg art installation Zia created, the guest bathroom floor and walls are encased in ceramic tile, embossed with an enlarged crocodile-skin pattern Eli chose. The soothing guest room offers a simple, serene oasis overlooking the courtyard.
Down the hall, the master suite is a made-to-order retreat that consists of a bedroom, sitting area, large closet and master bathroom. In the bedroom, the Caribbean-hued walls frame a view through tall unadorned windows that showcase the oaks outside. The marble tile floor in the bathroom is custom-cut into an arabesque pattern that echoes the distinctive wallpaper in the dining room. Presiding over the bedroom, the ornate angled fireplace dates back to the home’s first owner.
Next to the master suite, the office offers one entire wall lined with bookshelves full of neatly arranged tomes. The opposite wall reveals original exposed brick.
“It makes me want to come to the office to work,” Eli says.
“Eli gave me design freedom,” Zia adds. “But my dream aesthetic had to be something that Eli would like as well.”
And, with Daniel’s and Lily’s help, it worked.
“I think it’s fantastic!” Eli delights.
New Kids on the Block
Though renovations can be tough on a relationship, Eli and Zia say that their project has brought them closer. They claim that the secret to their success is a willingness to make concessions.
“You have to decide early what you are just going to completely give over to the other person,” Eli says. “I understood (I needed) to let go of things I wasn’t as good at, and to let him do what he does best.”
The result is a home they both can be proud of.
“We look at each other all the time and say, ‘This is such a great house,’” Zia says.
“Don’t be afraid to do things that are unusual and be bold,” Eli advises other homeowners. “If you love something, don’t worry if it’s going to fit in or be appropriate.”
For their part, the pair fits seamlessly into the fabric of the neighborhood, participating in community events such as ward picnics—potluck events where the denizens of Calhoun Square’s surrounding ward mingle.
“We’ve had only positive experiences with our neighbors,” Eli says.
The duo does their best to be just as welcoming, often answering questions from passersby interested in that remarkably pigmented ceiling.
And once inside, guests find Savannah in a microcosm: old and new living happily together.
The Hale-Sachedina Stats »
Owners: Eli W. Hale and Zia Sachedina
Year built: 1906
Year purchased: 2011
Square footage: 3,300
Accommodations: 4 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms
Time to complete: 9 months
The Hale-Sachedina Referrals »
Architect/planner: Daniel Brown, CED Architecture
Interior design consultant: Lily Brown, Calvert-Dean Design
Contractor/builder: Carroll Construction
Tile/flooring: Garden State Tile, installed by Cornermen Custom Tile
Paint/wallpaper: Kensington Print by MDC Wallcovering (to the trade; contact designer for information)
Kitchen/bath design: Daniel Brown, CED Architecture, and Lily Brown, Calvert-Dean Design
Kitchen/bath cabinetry: AWD of Savannah
Lighting design: Daniel Brown, CED Architecture
Lighting fixtures: Circa Lighting
Landscape/hardscape design: Daniel Brown, CED Architecture
Electrician: Longbeard Electric and Integrated Systems
Carpenter: Voltolin Construction
Plumber: Jake Patrick & Son Plumbing
Landscaper: Chuck Morrison
HVAC: Alan’s Heating & Air
Floral designer for photo shoot: Megan Benson, Blum Floral Design