Stately home sizzles with new design twists


he Arts Council of Wilmington has brought back the designer showhouse.

Wildly popular during the early 1980s, the classic designer showhouse format requires an empty house and a swarm of adventurous interior designers. The gala kickoff has passed, but now through May 18, from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m., arts council supporters, interior design fanatics and erstwhile voyeurs may tour the former home of Mr. and Mrs. Laurence Gray Sprunt at 1909 Gillette Drive, Wilmington, North Carolina.

Arts council executive director Rhonda Bellamy had just returned from a visit to Charleston where the symphony had hosted a designer showhouse. Chapter members of the American Society of Interior Designers were meeting in the arts council’s space and Bellamy, who amplifies the intersection between art and design, seized the moment to pitch the idea to the group. Later it was rubber stamped by her board.

“We have four more days to see the work that has been put into this house. We’re talking thousands of dollars that the designers have put into it: their time, their talent, their resources,” Bellamy said. “We want people to come in and see what the local design community is capable of doing, the different aesthetics that each brought to the project, and also to, of course, raise money for the arts council.”

The Georgian Revival dwelling designed by architect Charlie Boney is sited for majestic panoramas of the Cape Fear Country Club’s rolling green fairways, sandy white bunkers and a meandering water hazard that sparkles at twilight. The interiors sparkle too.

Hand-drawn wallpaper created by Wrightsville Beach designer Hooper Patterson introduces a chinoiserie pattern to the foyer walls. Fabricated locally at Port City Signs, the removable wallpaper sets the tone for a classic entry — grounded in an Asian carpet from Gallery of Oriental Rugs, and an antique oriental screen — offset with vintage chandelier and sconces.

Rooms fan out in all directions. The old bones of the Sprunt family library are rendered in exquisite woodwork. This sequestered area was retooled to double as a library and a lounge by Monika Williams of Nest and features paintings by MJ Cunningham and sculptural work by Michael Van Hout.

Lead designer and HGTV star Meg Caswell adopted the dining room to mint her Palm Beach look drenched in deeply pigmented pink balanced with neutral hues. Airlie Road fine china, stationery and gift emporium, The Fisherman’s Wife, set the table complemented with arrangements by Fiore Fine Flowers.

“We were thrilled that Meg was able to be our chair. She was just getting acclimated to the community and for her to be able to network with others in her profession was really great for her,” Bellamy said.

The dining room overlooks the rear terrace and is flanked on its left by the kitchen, rechristened The New South Kitchen. Mary Jo Shipman, Taylor Rohrer and Michelle Johns, of Shipman Design Group, teamed up to upfit the monochromatic kitchen with color pops of orange and silver. A dramatic banquette beneath a textured mural lines an interior wall. Counter and island tops glisten with the addition of white quartz counter. Finishes also appoint the home’s command center, aka The Lady’s Study.

A dramatic overhaul of the original family room was the collaborative effort of Sherry Black and John Miller Designs who mirrored the fireplace surround, refinished wainscoting, added grass cloth wallpapers, animal print drapes, a trophy stag and original art pieces by Sullivan Elaine Anlyan, Michelle Connelly and Elaine Mintz.

These artful transformations notwithstanding, the attendees of the showhouse gala opening Friday, May 2 voted The Printemps Living Room as their favorite. Design Associates  Paysage Interiors collaborated on the redesign of the space.

Design Associates’ Maggie Aardema, ASID, said when arts council executive director Rhonda Bellamy approached the Wilmington chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, she wanted to participate because the community had been so long without an arts council. On the heels of a newly formed partnership with Paysage, Aardema said it was a great opportunity to be involved in a creative project.

“It was a fun collaboration,” Aardema said.

Designers were asked to walk through the empty home in mid-January and allowed roughly two to three weeks to submit concept boards, narrative descriptions, six to eight images of their best work and complete a proposal submission form. By mid-February, winning designers were notified and room assignments were made.

The Design Associates/Paysage team pitched two sets of boards: one for the library and one for the living room.

“A lot of people submitted boards for the library,” Aardema said. “The living room was a big challenge because it was a big room, requiring a lot of furniture. The focus was to lighten the space.”

With arched windows framing views of the golf course, the tone the designers brought to the room was inspired by Monet’s famed Giverny garden. The décor was grounded around a Priscilla Whitlock’s “Blue Chicory, Butterfly Garden” triptych. The painting, along with seven others loaned by New Elements Gallery, was selected by Aardema, who also contributed the floorplan and the mirrored wall concept drawn by Elizabeth Sheats.

Outdoor entrances and terraces are also groomed for the duration.

Now through May 18, admission is $20 per person with proceeds  — including 20 percent of the sale of furnishing and artwork — benefitting the arts council. Annie Gray Sprunt Johnston is the council’s vice chairwoman and the Gillette Drive residence on view is her girlhood home. Chicago native Meg Caswell, celebrity event chair, is now a Wilmingtonian.



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