/ by Brendan Blowers / photography by Inspiro 8 Studios
Being patrons of the arts not only afforded Janet and Steve Sumner a keen and varied art collection, but also instilled a deep appreciation for the artistic process. Steve served on the board of the Greenville Art Museum and many of the couple’s pieces were purchased on trips abroad they took with the board. “We’ve done Paris and Santa Fe and New York with the art museum. They get you to meet art dealers you wouldn’t have known,” says Janet.
Steve grew up here and practices at his own Upstate law firm. Janet became ingrained in marketing for top agencies and later directed marketing for the Peace Center. Her father, James Earle Roberson, Sr, moved the family to Greenville in 1965 to work for J.E. Sirrine Company. “His name was James Earle and we used to get him to drive down his street,” Janet says, recalling an early childhood memory of the tree-lined street in North Main that begins as Earle St and changes into James St. Years later, after the Sumners married, they purchased a home on James St, one built in 1934.
The Sumners hired the design team of Mcelreath Bates for the interiors of the James St home. The business partners and antique dealers at The Rock House Antiques have a keen eye for period furnishings and apt installments. “It was a wonderful first experience,” says Mcelreath Bates of the Sumner’s first project, “They said, we trust you.”
Two years ago, a different historic home caught Janet’s eye, this time on McDaniel Ave. “I was early for the open house,” Janet says, “and we weren’t really looking for a house, but I just love seeing inside older homes.”
She remembers being charmed by its potential. She called Steve and told him to come over right away, “I stayed while everybody was coming and going,” Janet says.
The home was previously owned by Earle Hungerford, an architect, and his wife, a designer, Margaret. When it came time to make the McDaniel Ave home a place to entertain and house their growing art collection, the Sumners knew who to call: Mcelreath Bates.
“We picked right back up, just like when we met,” Mcelreath Bates says, “We walked through one afternoon and decided everything we needed to do.”
In addition to designating what art, furniture and fixtures would fit in each room, the design duo decided to edit a morning room adjacent to the kitchen and add box beams to unify a more open feeling layout. “It was a matter of balance,” says Mcelreath Bates, “We wanted that to be one room instead of two separate rooms. We balanced the heavier feel of the kitchen by putting in the island.”
They also installed a bar in one corner to further define the boundaries of what now reads all-kitchen. “The island,” as it’s referred to, is everyone’s favorite feature in the home. It’s large enough for plenty to sit around when the Sumners entertain, plus the birch cabinetry below its massive surface provides ample storage. “It works really well with guests,” Janet says, “It keeps them out of the kitchen area, but allows everyone to socialize together.”
Both the island surface and the kitchen countertops were replaced with an updated quartz and the kitchen cabinets were painted Revere Pewter, a soft neutral by Benjamin Moore. Janet’s office is in a nearby alcove partitioned by double doors. The handwoven silk rug was acquired, through a bit of haggling on Steve’s part, during the couple’s trip to Turkey. “Steve loves to negotiate,” Janet says. “It was his favorite part of the trip.”
The home’s doors were painted a vibrant green, Behr’s Happy Camper, by former homeowner designer Margaret Hungerford. Mcelreath Bates picked up on the rich hue to use as unifying theme, “We played off that green of the doors by the previous owner. We saved something from someone else’s work that was perfect. It was a nod to a fellow designer that we liked.”
The verdant color inspired elements of nature throughout the house. It features prominently in the wallpaper choices, color palate and in oversized Audubon prints in the den and stairway.
Nature takes center stage in an Andrew Wyeth painting featured in the front room known as the library. Mcelreath Bates receded built-in bookshelves into the walls to gain more floor space on either side of the fireplace. It is a handsome and unified room. Matching wall lamps, sourced locally from Gallery of Lighting, were installed over the shelving, and additionally as task lighting over installed cabinets with French wire inset doors by Dale McDermott. A rug that the Sumners purchased on a trip to France also found its home in the library. “We were eating lunch on the sidewalk in Paris and it was draped over an iron railing,” Janet says.
“A lot of our design is based on places traveled, things we’ve seen in books,” Mcelreath Bates says. “You have to have a fairly good memory of rooms that you’ve visited or seen. New England, New Orleans, London and Paris are influences throughout the house.”
Attached to the kitchen is a hallway that received its touch of nature in the form of real split bamboo wallpaper. The pattern is Bamboo Weave by Thibaut and Mcelrath Bates sourced it through Carolina Furniture and Interiors. It became notoriously hard to install and required tin shears to cut through it and corner.
In the dining room, a woodland toile in a large-scale print was selected: Forest Lake Scenic in Green Novelty by York. Two 18th-century family portraits of Janet’s ancestors, the Yanceys, hang on the papered wall. Janet’s mother repaired them herself using an antique plaster technique learned from an Atlanta restoration specialist.
A significant 18th Century French gilt and paint mirror commands attention in this room. It’s Parisian and Mcelreath Bates purchased it from Carol Kilby, a dealer known for exquisite mirrors in her booth at Rock House Antiques. At first, Janet admits she worried it was a little over the top. “When the wallpaper went up, I loved it,” she says. “It fools the eye. It’s almost too big for that room logically, but you can’t use logic all the time in design. Visually, it makes the room,” Mcelreath Bates says.
The Sumner’s trust in their designers never wavered during the six-to-eight month project. Mcelreath Bates was afforded the freedom to source pieces and place art in a manner that gave each room distinctive character. “They were easy clients to work for,” Mcelreath Bates says, “They let us do our work and if you can get that with a client, it’s a dream job.”
“It has been the best party house,” Janet says. She appreciates the openness and flow of this home. Like many homeowners with artistic sensibilities, the Sumners know what they like. But it always helps to have skilled designers to focus the vision. “It’s your job to take what they love, and put it together in a way that’s artistic, pleasing and cohesive,” Mcelreath Bates says, “It’s a blessing to be able to go into someone’s home and make it how they want it to be.”