A designer employs traces of her family’s past in her home, while staying true to her modernist heart.
a rented 27-foot truck gingerly under Savannah’s famous and historic live oak trees. The truck was loaded with salvaged wood she had driven several hours to retrieve. “I now have a really good understanding of just how tall 12 feet is!” she says.
The experience was well worth it. The priceless timber in the back of the truck was destined for the house Laura Lee was building with her husband, John, outside Savannah in a planned community called The Ford Plantation. She had reclaimed it from her great-greatgrandfather’s homestead in Oconee County, Georgia. “He walked home from Virginia when the Civil War ended and built a house by hand,” she says. Retrieving and refinishing the wood was a monumental—and pricey—effort. “John jokes that this is the most expensive free wood we’ve ever paid for,” Laura Lee says with a laugh. After removing every nail from the boards, she had them run through a planer to remove most, but not all, of the ancient paint. The result: gorgeous, texture-rich ceilings above her dining and breakfast tables.
Other salvaged materials contribute touches of rustic character to the new home: The floors in the dining room are made from historic Savannah gray brick, and heart pine beams overhead came from old warehouses. “I guess I’m just a scavenger,” Laura Lee says. These rustic surfaces are juxtaposed with simple white walls and blunt trim molding, as well as a mixture of clean-lined contemporary and traditional furnishings placed in spare, uncluttered groupings. The 12-foot ceilings and expansive 9×4-foot windows give the house an airy, loftlike feel. “I wanted to make a modern farmhouse. I did not want this to feel like a country house,” she says.
A Southerner with deep roots, Laura Lee loves the history of her region. The tabby concrete over her mantel is based on pre-civil War buildings on nearby Ossabaw Island. Framed by square columns, the iconic treatment, above a seamlessly plastered firebox surround, has a contemporary sensibility. “I wanted some character and texture,” she says, “but I’m a modernist at heart.”
opposite: Laura Lee’s blend of modern and traditional style is on display in the living room, where a formal oil painting of husband John’s father has pride-of-place on the tabby surface over the mantel. Laura Lee used 1970s Lucite stands from her mother-in-law’s New York City apartment to make a console table. above: Salvaged materials are incorporated in the architecture; here, warehouse beams frame openings. The cane bench is a family heirloom.
“Oh, this is fun,”designer Laura Lee Samford thought as she drove