Jennifer Felts helps a couple restore a 1957 ranch in The Cloisters to its midcentury glory.
by Cathy Martin | photographs by Erin Comerford Miller
Finding an authentic midcentury home in Charlotte that can be adapted for modern living can be a lot like finding a proverbial needle in a haystack. That was the experience Sean and Jackie Jones had when they began searching for a new home several years ago. The couple had lived in a two-story traditional house in Dilworth for 21 years. With their children grown, the empty nesters were looking to downsize. After developing an interest in midcentury architecture and design, they set their sights on finding a historic home from that era that could be renovated without significant modifications to the layout. The problem is, in Charlotte, such homes aren’t easy to find.
“Over the course of about 18 months, we maybe looked at five houses,” Jackie says. One of those homes was in The Cloisters neighborhood off Providence Road. The home was larger and more modern than they wanted, but the couple knew right away they’d found the right location.
“We picked the neighborhood before we picked the house,” Jackie says. Soon after, their real-estate agent contacted the owners of another home in the neighborhood — a corporate rental property — and it turned out they were willing to sell.
The couple loved the layout and the size of the home, but a series of renovations over the years had created a mishmash of architectural styles.
“The house was not in great shape,” Sean says. “We could see the potential in the house, but there was very little left that was original to the 1957 design.” Working with Alter Architect’s Studio and Spoke & Hammer Construction Co., they realized the home would need to be gutted and decided also to enlist a designer to help with the project. A friend of Jackie’s suggested Jennifer Felts, owner of Habitude Interiors.
“They wanted to live somewhere different and honor the style of the house,” says Felts, who had previously renovated and sold her own midcentury home. “The home had been a rental for a long time,” she adds. “The house — it was just kind of confused. … What we did was just strip everything back to what was originally there.”
After peeling back the layers, in order to modernize the home for 21st-century living, the owners needed to make a few structural changes.They installed large windows across the back of the home to let in more light and sliding doors to better access the pool area. A wall was removed to improve the flow between the kitchen and dining room, while another wall was added to separate the den from the laundry room. Still, the homeowners managed to preserve the existing footprint of the 2,700-square-foot home.
When it came to the design, the homeowners sought to incorporate authentic period finishes and styles. “At the same time, they also had some family pieces they wanted to bring, and their house in Dilworth was definitely more traditional,” Felts says.
“It’s a balance, because we didn’t want it to look like a time capsule, but we also wanted to be true to the period,” Jackie adds, noting that the furnishings are a blend of vintage pieces and reproductions.
Felts also knew the design would need to blend harmoniously with the many meaningful works of art the homeowners have collected over time. “Because they had a lot of colorful artwork, we knew we weren’t going to go overboard with color in the furniture because you don’t want it to compete,” the designer says.
Though the couple are originally from Tennessee, they’ve lived in their adopted state since 1993 and are passionate about supporting North Carolina artists. “We have been going to Penland [School of Craft] for a number of years and have gotten to know a lot of artists there,” Jackie says. In the dining room, Asheville-based artist Thomas Campbell created a new steel base for the 6-foot round tabletop, replacing traditional Queen Anne-style legs. Glass artist Nate Cotterman, a former Penland artist in residence, designed the light fixture over the table.
Mixing old and new furnishings and incorporating a diverse collection of art could have been daunting, but in this case, the homeowners and designer were in sync.
“[Jenn] was so good and so organized — she listened and she got us,” Sean says. “It was really just a fabulous experience working with her.”
According to Felts, having so many original works of art augmenting the design only made her job easier. “It’s great when your clients have great taste.” SP