TEXT by Jordana White | Photography by Steve Roberts & Ralph Crafton
In 2009, retired teachers Ron and Paula McLarty decided to bid farewell to their Tennessee home and take up residence in Abbeville, Mississippi, on the grounds of a farm that had been in Ron’s family for over 100 years. Once Paula decided to raise little nibblers on the ground, the couple dubbed their home-to-be Goat Manor and got to work planning.
The McLartys’ first move was to approach Germantown independent designer Fran Winstock to aid with the task of building a stylish yet appropriately rustic house. Understanding that the exterior of the structure had to reflect the “dirt, animals and lots of family” that would become staples of farm life, Winstock helped guide the couple toward a brick facade in keeping with the style of stately older homes in the area.
Not only was it crucial for the building materials to reflect Goat Manor’s setting, but Winstock and the McLartys also knew the layout of the house had to take into account the more relaxed nature of agricultural life.
With that goal in mind, plans for the two-story, 5,000-square-foot home were designed to include plenty of windows offering views of the farmland, ample screened porches to enjoy outdoor living, and an open floor plan conducive to a less structured way of life.
As soon as the floor plan was agreed upon, the task of choosing fixtures and décor began. The McLartys wanted to incorporate their existing art and furniture into the new digs, but also wanted to bring in art and accessories that reflected their current setting: think cows painted on canvases, metal roosters and old-world fixtures that referenced the rich history of the family land.
Given the task of installing such playful accents against the backdrop of an extremely open living space—the kitchen, dining room, family room and sitting areas sit side-by-side on the first floor—Winstock opted for a fairly neutral design palette. The walls are bathed in a shade called toast; the furniture, fabrics and shutters range in tone from creams to whites, taupes and black.
Of course, even with a neutral base, choosing décor for an open concept home can be tricky: the challenge is to distinguish each space without the aid of any physical divisions and without creating jarring visual disruptions.
For Winstock, the answer was clear—give each “room” its own space and warmth. Through careful lighting and accessory choices, each space in the open area gained its own unique character. To maintain flow amidst the distinctions, Winstock furnished the space eclectically, (“It’s not about the match, it’s the mix,” she explains.) incorporating rustic painted and English traditional pieces, many purposely distressed. In that way, a distinct yet cohesive design plan took hold of a space that could otherwise have been challenging to appoint.
With the “big picture” problems solved, the design focus shifted to the special details that would lend the house that, “warm, welcoming and livable feeling,” the homeowners hoped to create. Under Winstock’s direction, the couple installed an entire pantry room, lined with open shelving for optimal visibility and finished with built-in office space, complete with a chalkboard wall for scribbling down notes and shopping lists.
In the kitchen itself, an oversize country sink got an instant upgrade when selected in a textured copper; the slate and old stone backsplash behind it strike just the right balance between the McLartys’ city and country roots.
In the main-floor master (one of three bedrooms in the home), crisp white sheets play perfectly against the dark wood of the couple’s simply elegant four-poster bed. To bring a sense of family into the sleek setting, Winstock incorporated a custom “Goat Manor” sham and gave prime placement to a painting created by Paula’s great aunt and passed down from generation to generation.
Of course, the measure of any successful home design is whether the occupants enjoy living in it once the designer’s work is done. And, to hear Paula tell it, Winstock hit the mark in Goat Manor: “You can curl up in, read, eat or swing on and gather around the simple, cushiony furnishings. You have a farm table that sits 12 but is so comfortable. You can put your feet up on everything from upholstered pieces to coffee tables. It’s very livable but also great for entertaining.” And isn’t that exactly what a home should be?