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By Kelsie Allen Barton | Photo: by DeMarco A. Miller | November 26, 2018
With their signature blend of old-meets-new, Varnish + Vine’s Will and Shelby Perry transform an ultramodern Old Fourth Ward home into a playful, colorful sanctuary.
A sleek and simple home… decked out in street art? It may sound like a contradiction, but it’s the surprising blend of stark-white space with bold pops of color and whimsical illustration that makes the Old Fourth Ward residence of Davis Engle and Melissa Bryson a modern masterpiece. And they have Will and Shelby Perry to thank for bringing their unique vision to life.
It all started when the homeowners, a couple in their early 30s, reached out to the Perrys at the recommendation of a mutual friend. “We have grown the design and decorating side of our business essentially by word of mouth,” says Shelby, 29, who’s originally from Sarasota, Fla., but moved to Atlanta eight years ago to attend grad school at Emory University; her husband, Will, 34, grew up in Sandy Springs. Their shared passion for vintage hunting and antiquing—something they fell into while renovating and styling their own home—led the attractive pair to launch Varnish + Vine (@varnishandvine), their business selling new and refinished vintage furniture, home decor and plants, in addition to rentals for production companies and staging. Now housed within Westside Market, Varnish + Vine also offers residential styling and design services (up next, look for the pair to put their stamp on the new Bring It OM Yoga studio in Buckhead), allowing others to get in on the Perrys’ eclectic-cool style that has garnered them a loyal following on social media.
The design-savvy duo knew this particular home, located just a short walk from Ponce City Market, was something special from the moment they stepped inside. “I fell in love with how bright and open the main living area feels with all of the windows,” says Shelby. “It allows for the perfect amount of organic contrast against the modern-industrial architecture of the home. You essentially feel like you’re in a modern treehouse when you walk through the front door.”
Homeowners Engle and Bryson—who work in hospitality and medical sales, respectively—envisioned their place being stark and modern, while also giving off a warm Scandinavian vibe and incorporating their love of art. Plus, “the homeowners travel often,” Will says. “It was important to them to keep things simple and sleek, so they can focus on unwinding and relaxing during the time they do spend at home.” To accomplish this, the Perrys decided to keep the furnishings on the minimalist side and, instead, focused on bringing the drama in other ways—namely, through artwork and bold colors.
The project took approximately 12 weeks from start to finish, and the Perrys certainly were forced to get creative as they faced a number of challenges along the way. One example: “The hallway on the lower level of the house from the garage to the downstairs guest room was extremely narrow. Davis and Melissa wanted to add something to the walls, but adding canvases or art would have made it feel even more narrow,” Shelby explains. “As a solution, we decided to install a PVC geometric textured wallcovering in matte white along the entire length of the hallway. The lighting on it creates this amazing shadow, which gives the area just enough interest without being overpowering for the space.”
Another concern was how to define separate nooks such as the dining room within the open-concept layout of the first floor. “We wanted to do something bold along the dining-area wall as it is a main focal point when you walk in the front door, and we’re all about vintage signage,” says Shelby. “But I was thinking to myself, ‘How the heck am I going to sell this idea of an old metal sign to the homeowners who want stark and modern?’” The couple did what they do best—perused vintage markets—and ultimately found an antique sign that came off the storefront of a pharmacy in Iowa. “It was bold. It was 14-feet long. And it said… ‘DRUGS.’ It couldn’t have been more perfect,” Shelby says with a laugh, then adds, “Also, PSA: Hugs, not drugs, y’all.” The homeowners agreed with their choice, and now the statement-making sign (which Will drove all the way to Iowa to pick up) greets guests upon arrival and adds a welcome burst of color and cheeky character to the otherwise neutral dining area.
The Perrys continued to add warmth and color to the modern home through art and decorative accessories, many of them sourced from Highland Row Antiques and Westside Market: Think colorblocked books on floating shelves in the living room, natural textiles mixed into the living and dining rooms to soften the home’s hard lines, plus touches of green in the form of potted cacti and plants (insider tip: Varnish + Vine sells cacti via its rotating pop-up at Atlanta Used Furniture from spring to fall). In the master bedroom on the second floor, the designers painted a rich, smoky navy accent wall—“we’re suckers for a good accent wall,” Shelby reveals—that contrasted beautifully with the abstract print by artist Jaime Derringer above the mahogany platform bed. “It makes a bold statement while still maintaining the ‘Zen’ feel that a bedroom should have,” Shelby says.
The final touches—murals in the stairwell and guest bath—tied in Engle and Bryson’s love for street art. “We thought that murals would be a clever way to pull this vibe into the home,” says Will. The stairwell art was a commissioned piece by Dee Thurn (@deethurn) and Spaceship Zulu (@spaceshipzulu), and was based off a collaborative piece by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1985. “Warhol and Basquiat are represented as Charlie Brown and Franklin at the foot of the stairs—a comical translation of the photographs used to promote their artwork in New York City in which they were pictured facing off in boxing gloves,” Shelby explains. In the guest bath downstairs, the commissioned mural by Atlanta artist Lauren Visconti (@littlestmoon) offers the look of trendy botanical wallpaper, while still being a completely custom, one-of-a-kind piece of art.
Months of searching for just the right piece of furniture or decor to fit every spot—mostly via local makers or other small business owners—paid off in a big way, from the custom-built 10-foot-long sweet gum slab dining table to abstract art by Atlantan Heather Greenway (@heather_greenway_) displayed in the living room and kitchen. “Will and I have always sourced decor this way,” says Shelby. “We have stayed true to this since we began designing homes together. I think the blending of new, vintage and custom is what gives us our signature style. It affords us the ability to provide our clients with a space that is uniquely their own, not just a carbon copy of a retail showroom.” Indeed, Engle and Bryson were blown away when they saw their finished dream home. “They loved the custom furniture, refinished vintage midcentury-modern pieces, and how the art and foliage tied everything together,” Will says. The home’s seriously upped cool factor was just an added bonus.
“Honestly, the fact that we gained new friends in Davis and Melissa made the project the most special,” Shelby adds. “Designwise, this was the most ‘modern’ residential project we had ever done, so it was a fun challenge to tackle and translate that definition of ‘modern’ through our own aesthetic.”