- The Hamptons
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- New York
- Orange County
- Palm Beach
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- Silicon Valley
- Washington, D.C.
Heaven on the Hill
By Elizabeth Dupree Lynch | Photo: by Galina Coada | October 3, 2017
Philip Trammell Shutze built Pleasant Hill in 1937, and it took the love of one couple to ensure his vision was painstakingly preserved.
This is our home. It is full of love, laughter and beauty. Every piece of artwork, sculpture and furniture was chosen by me and my husband, Dr. William W. Helvie; therefore, every piece inside has a beautiful memory or experience attached to it.
My husband and I are the fourth owners of the home, and upon our purchase of the property in 1997, the third owner gave us only three photographs and a business card: They were pictures of the original swan weather vane that was designed and placed on the top of the roof, and the name and number of where he dropped it off years ago. We contacted the company and were very fortunate to retrieve the weather vane—we discovered it weighed 2,000 pounds and was made of cast iron. It took us hiring two French master water gold-leafing gilders to prepare it for its new finish. It was completely restored with gold leafing and the empire green enamel that echoed the Prince of Wales feathers architectural detail on the rest of the house. It required a massive crane to lift and place it in the original location on the house. This was the beginning of a long journey of discovering the house’s hidden secrets and, most importantly, how to impeccably restore and maintain her in the style to which she was accustomed.
But it also belongs in spirit to its architect, Philip Trammell Shutze, and it’s first owner, Mrs. Ben T. Smith, aka “Piggle.” Piggle was instrumental in helping us discover, uncover and eventually love our home on the hill. A petite woman, at 4 feet 11 inches, Piggle was truly a grande dame of the Old South and in complete control of her senses. It was truly an honor to meet her and two of her grandchildren at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead one afternoon for tea and have her share special moments together. She told us: “You will never know how happy you have made an old woman’s heart to know that you and Dr. Helvie are living in our home. I can die a happy woman knowing it is in your hands and being loved by both of you.”
Piggle told us that Shutze wanted “the home to be open to the light” and for “everyone to enter through the front door.” This explains why the windows are double or triple the size of a typical Regency house and there is a grand entrance with the elliptical staircase. Piggle and her family desired the symmetry of the classic Regency-style home, but they also wanted a more modern style added to the architecture, which clarifies the art deco influence seen on the second and third floors.
My husband and I did not fully understand the extent of the restoration project and repair required when we first started—though we did know a house like this deserved only the highest level of skilled craftsmanship from all over the world. We took it on with a passion and did the necessary research on how to accurately restore the house and grounds. To begin, we visited the Atlanta History Center to investigate the history of the house before commencing projects—some that would take 20 years to complete.
Miraculously, the home had been kept as it was originally for almost 100 years. The only room that has been completely renovated is the kitchen. It was a typical 1930s kitchen when we bought the house. Carefully, we took every design element from Shutze’s original millwork for the kitchen cabinetry to mirror exactly his specifications in the dining-room panel details.
We were fortunate to have Shutze’s original blueprints with all the specifications detailed. The pool and tented pool pavilion are now located exactly where he originally envisioned them being placed (he was unable to complete them). Design firm Bill Ingram Architect and I carried out that project for him. We used Shutze’s preferred limestone quarry for the cutting of all exterior decks in the building of the pool and surrounding decks. Piggle’s grandchildren also gave us the original landscape plans designed by architect William C. Pauley in January 1946. Shutze believed in using only indigenous plants on his gardens and projects, including boxwoods, magnolias, camellias, hollies, cherry trees and dogwoods, which we abided by in our own plans.We decided to triple-plant the bushes and trees, using layer upon layer of green texture to create a totally private-park-like setting. You can’t see the house from the road, so once you approach our gated entrance, you know you have arrived at a special place. This was very intentional on our part: My husband and I wanted you to feel like you could be anywhere in the world when you enter the estate grounds.
The house is painted in varying shades of white, conveying a neutral palette, which is perfect because it allows the artwork to shine on the large walls with high ceilings. There is also a natural flow to the house, which allows for entertaining throughout the main level, the south-facing loggia; and on the third floor, which has exterior decks for dinner parties and dancing. We also love to host dinner parties alfresco in the tented pool pavilion. The third floor features the SS Normandie influence with its art deco aspect—the architect’s vision comes through in the Normandie cruise ship bar.
My husband and I both feel like it has been a real honor to be given the temporary guardianship of this magnificent house and gardens over the last two decades and to restore her into an even more beautiful home.