Impeccable taste and an open mind give these historic homes new life.
Impeccable taste and an open mind give these historic homes new life.
“For me, the ideal project keeps one foot in the past and one in the present.”
“I confess to always having been more of a visually connected person as opposed to a verbal one,” says designer Amelia Handegan. Based in Charleston, South Carolina, Handegan has over 30 years of experience designing up and down the Eastern seaboard. In Amelia Handegan Rooms, stunning photos bring to life 13 unique homes the author has worked on, including a few of her own properties.
Sometimes we find ourselves without the words to explain the vision we have in our heads. But this doesn’t mean you’ll fail at design.
A HEAD FOR HISTORY
Working primarily on the East Coast, Handegan’s book of work is filled with homes dating from periods as early as the 1770s. She is masterful in her ability to highlight the beauty of tradition while also making a home modern. “I love the contrast between this contemporary and functional space in a historic setting,” she says. “For me, the ideal project keeps one foot in the past and one in the present.” When moving into a historic home, you can add modern features without losing the charm of the time period. Unexpected décor, plus a focus on creating functional spaces, may seem a strange combination for a historic home, but Handegan makes it seem effortless. Recreate this by using period-appropriate décor on the walls and set the tone with a more formal color. Combining form and functionality is particularly relevant in the bathroom and kitchen. Add small touches in an appropriate material such as stone or marble to further highlight the time period, and be sure to keep modern appliances out of sight.
At first glance, the stunning sitting area and beautiful bedroom in one of Handegan’s projects makes it seem as if you’re on a grand piece of property, situated on a lot of land. It comes as quite a shock to learn that these rooms are actually in a prewar, two-room apartment on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. A media executive and a repeat client of Handegan, the owner of this apartment was looking for a show-stopping atmosphere. For this project, the color red was the star. “Kristen Bunting, a decorative artist from Charleston, was drafted to customize the perfect shade of Venetian plaster for the living room walls. The challenge was to develop a hue that would complement the fabrics without overwhelming the small space,” Amelia says. Attention to space and light was essential to the success of the red tones here. She played up the light in the space using gold- leaf tea paper on the ceiling of the living area. “Here, the gilded surface helps to create a glow in a room that does not receive much direct light,” she says. If you’re deciding whether or not to repaint, pay attention to how light will change the color throughout the day when observing your paint swatch. Be careful not to choose too deep a color when working with anything like this rich red hue.
This project illustrates Handegan’s mastery of establishing relationships with her clients and making similar design decisions work on vastly different properties. Pick a design element you want to be known for and repeat it across several rooms. Just as this client has used red across multiple properties, having a signature color palette will make your home memorable.
Amelia also made small shifts to the architecture of the apartment to open up the rooms for entertaining, something very important to her client. “The salon-like living area was designed for maximum seating, from the ample red sofa by the window to the dramatic corner banquette covered in handstamped and gilded velvet,” she says. Handegan also shifted the entrance of the bedroom, and created a unique barrier between the two rooms. “I had a set of jack-wood screens from India made into sliding doors to separate the two rooms. Even when the doors are closed, the perforated panels allow light into the living room from the bedroom, giving the space a more expansive feeling,” she says. Again, we see Handegan play with light to keep the rich and luxurious décor from feeling too heavy in the small space. Consider adding French doors to create privacy in a smaller space without sacrificing light.
HEART AND SOUL
Handegan herself owns an 1820s South Carolina waterfront property on the Ashley River, which served as her primary residence for over twenty years. “When I moved in, my youngest son rode a tricycle in the entrance hall and my older son was away at boarding school,” she says. Over the two decades she
Unafraid of the unexpected, Amelia incorporates pieces from faraway places such as Laos, Cambodia and even India.
lived in this home, Amelia created a space that felt comforting and warm. This Greek Revival-style home is a medley of the South and the past, something she kept in mind as she moved through the design process. The overall architecture follows the Charleston double style, two rooms wide with a spacious foyer, yet each room has perfect classical proportions with square layouts and high ceilings. Create the illusion of a taller room in your own home with the window hangings you choose. Using pattern or detailing on top of your drapes draws the eye upward and will give your home the same classical feeling.
Handegan perfectly blends the two by incorporating colors and cultures close to her own heart. She says, “It could have been furnished in a traditional manner, but with my inclination for the unusual, I challenged myself to place my offbeat collectibles in rooms that were probably entitled to things more subdued and elegant.” Unafraid of the unexpected, Handegan incorporates pieces from faraway places such as Laos, Cambodia and even India.
Handegan uses color to bring the rooms to life. “With no client to please other than myself, I indulged my preference for the colors in the fan deck that are often overlooked… what pleases me is exploiting color relationships and balance in order to provide depth of tone,” she says. By layering unexpected décor on top of traditional architecture, Handegan creates intrigue in her designs. Do the same by choosing a bold color for your walls. If bright color in a more public space like your living or dining room is intimidating, begin with your master bath or bedroom. After décor design fell into place, Handegan began to increase the functionality of her home, from the modernity of the kitchen to converting rooms to be relevant to her lifestyle.
Of one of her largest renovations she says, “I found a warren of rooms including two with dirt floors. I turned one room into a guest bedroom. Another became a bathroom with closets and a large porcelain freestanding tub.” Don’t have whole rooms to devote to adding functionality? Create functional areas in your home with furniture that can serve multiple purposes in the same space.
Handegan isn’t intimidated by these highly involved projects, and her patience allows the original design of the home to sing after she has finished. This acutely personal look into her own home allows us to see her deep dedication to the design process she uses in both her own home and client’s homes.
Over the two decades she lived in this home, Amelia created a space that felt comforting and warm.
Amelia Handegan Rooms by Amelia Handegan with Ingrid Abramovitch, published by Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., © 2016; rizzoliusa.com.