From his captain’s chair in the dining room of his new home, Steve Gray can see two paintings that he and his wife, Sharman, commissioned depicting their childhood homes. Sharman’s shows an elegant home place her family called “Riverview,” situated on the Sunflower River in the Mississippi Delta outside of Greenville. His is a humble, 900-square-foot “matchbox” house in Louisiana. His father worked for a gas company that transported oil from the Gulf to New York and he was raised in one of the small houses the company built in clusters at its pumping stations along the way for its workers. Within this line of sight, is a story of where they came from and where they are now.
After retiring from the wireless telephone business a couple of years ago, Steve and his wife of 33 years, decided to build their dream home at Reynolds Plantation – one worthy of its own masterpiece.
One day, a painter will capture the hues of its cedar trusses against a fall sky and bring out the textures of the surrounding stone. She will include even the smallest of details like the fleur de lis hiding in the iron work of the striking front door. The background will reflect the expansive view of Lake Oconee afforded by the immaculate terraces that give height to the home, brought to life by builder Rick Buechler and landscaped by Steve Noles.
“They came with a lot of their own pieces that were a part of their journey,” says Meder, “so it was important to keep that presence, but build upon it. We didn’t want the old house coming in to change the feeling of the new house.” Meder found ways to incorporate the existing items in ways that kept the design fresh and allowed the pieces to keep reinventing themselves.
Their son’s Beatles poster is mixed seamlessly into the black-and-white scheme of a guest room. Generations of family portraits add a personal touch to the entryway of the master bedroom. The paintings of the Grays’ childhood homes could have been hung in a hallway or office, but Meder says it was important for them to be in a place where they could point to them and keep a conversation going about their journey.
Meder’s biggest challenge, perhaps, was the family’s most noticeable conversation piece – an antique pig carved from solid wood that once hung outside of a pub in South London. The large piece is noticeably old, estimated from the early 1900s, and still has its original hardware. The wood has been patched in places from years of use, only adding character to the unusual piece.
The Grays ran across the pig a few years ago at an antique shop in Charlotte, N.C., while visiting Steve’s sister. At the time, they were living in Arkansas and were big Razorback fans. It was heavy and impractical to transport, but nevertheless, they both had to have it.
“It was just something that caught our eye and we both fell in love with it,” says Steve. He knew the pig, which he and Sharman had by then affectionately dubbed, “Arnold,” should ultimately have a place in their kitchen.
Meder jokes that, on a scale from one to ten ranking odd client requests for interior design, Arnold hit double digits. “I’ve worked with roosters, and really all kinds of animal motifs, but not pigs,” says Meder. While Meder says the prospect of going “whole hog” with pig-inspired napkins rings and other accessories was never an option, he did want Arnold to factor predominantly into the Grays’ overall kitchen design. “I decided we needed to just put it front and center,” he says. “We’re from the South. We take our crazy and put it on the front porch with a drink in its hand.”
And so, in a spot above the stove and behind a customized display case, Arnold became the focal point of the kitchen.
“The millwork guys who made the case did an incredible job of making it more than just a box. They really brought it to life,” says Steve. “I love the tile work behind it as well. Shane wanted to keep that ‘old world butcher’ type of feel and I think it really worked.”
The soft lighting built into the display serves as a nightlight for the kitchen area that also encompasses a casual living area and breakfast nook with banquette seating. Both areas open into an adjoining screened porch that allows good flow when entertaining. The orange tones from the indoor fabrics are picked up in the outdoor furnishings of the space, punctuated by a cozy outdoor fireplace. Sharman says she often sits on the porch with a glass of wine and enjoys looking back into the kitchen at Arnold. “Especially at night, your eye is drawn here from any room,” she says. “That pig is just awesome up there.”
The kitchen opens into the dining room and main living area through two small galleys that serve as well-appointed staging areas for china or serving ware, a wet bar, and practical everyday storage – one of which showcases the portraits of the family’s original homes.
Easily accessible to the dining room table is a built-in buffet, situated between the two entry ways. The area brings a more formal tone, in terms of finishes, and the span of the long table is broken by two separate chandeliers.
Next to the open dining area is the main living space, anchored by a lush green French sofa facing custom built-ins that frame the fireplace. The Grays chose to bank this shared living and dining space in shades of yellow and green.
“Sharman has this kind of classic Southern style about her, and they went with a more traditional, sort of ‘Mamie Eisenhower in the White House,’ classic interior palette,” says Meder, who admitted being nervous when the first coat of paint went on.
“It’s tricky to work with yellows and greens,” he says. “Either you love it or hate it. This worked so well in this room because the fabric softened everything even more and the yellows became a natural way to invite the outside in through those windows.”
In stark contrast to the soft shades of the living and dining space is the connected foyer that boasts the ornate, iron front door at its center. Ensconced in brick, the high barreled ceiling and matching brick walls are punctuated by custom iron fixtures with leather strap details. “The foyer gives a sense of going through one of the old houses, so it brings a sort of historical value to it,” says Meder. With 14-foot ceiling, plus the barreled top, the brick walls and floating iron fixtures add a richness to the space without overpowering it and making it dark. Upon entering the home, the eye is drawn forward to the lake view ahead.
This view is what sold the lot for Steve Gray. When he first walked the lot in 2010, he realized it would be a challenge to build on the property’s steep slope. But as he began guessing where the house might sit amongst the large oak trees, he saw the potential. “I knew I could orient the house looking to the east, down the long end of a channel of Richland Creek,” says Steve.
The resulting view is stunning. The slope of the lot gives the house an illusion of being a mountain retreat, further reinforced by the home’s cedar beams and neutral stonework. “We chose this property so we could take advantage of the elevation,” says Steve. “A lot of people want to be low and flat, but I like the elevation because it gives you this vista.”
The entire lakeside exterior of the Gray home as been built to maximize this vista. The terraced lot builds up from the lake, flowing naturally among different outdoor spaces including an expansive fire pit area and resort-style pool.
The pool, created by Dennis Stevens of Oconee Pool Professionals, features entry points on both sides and a raised hot tub in the middle with channels connecting each space. The pool fits neatly into the topography of the slope and is high enough to provide privacy from the lake below.
The terrace level of the house opens onto the pool area, enhancing the home’s entertaining capacity. “We like to entertain a lot, we’ve just never had a good space for it before,” says Sharman. The full bar downstairs, next to a chic wine room, offers the perfect gathering space.
Steve says he always knew the last house he built would have a bar room. “During my whole career, I traveled and ended up in hotel rooms all over the country and internationally,” says Steve. “What do you do after a hard day’s work? Look for a cocktail or a glass of wine with friends or business associates.”
He wanted his bar room to nurture that camaraderie. “I’m not a ‘man cave’ guy, but I wanted this room to encourage conversation and casual living for both my friends and Sharman’s friends.”
The expansive room is separated into two “conversation sections.” If some guests want to watch a game on the big screen, others can sit nearby and enjoy a cocktail and still be connected.
There are three beautifully-appointed bedrooms downstairs, providing ample space when their son and daughter visit with grandchildren. Just like all the other bedrooms upstairs, a glimpse of the water can be seen through a window in each bedroom.
The striking view of Lake Oconee that originally drew the Grays here is replicated on each level of the home. As fall unfolds across the lake, the oranges, reds, and golds turn the Gray home from summer getaway to mountain retreat as effortlessly as the broad brush strokes of an artist painting a home for all seasons.
Written by Andrea Gable
Photographed by Justin Evans