/ by Brendan Blowers / photography by Inspiro 8 Studios
Updating the nearly 5,000 square foot residence atop one of Greenville’s most iconic addresses is a tall order; but homes of good design are informed by the past while taking full advantage of contemporary materials and superior technology.
The penthouse of Poinsett Plaza, as re-envisioned by designer Eric Brown is one such property.
It took a team of artisans to propel this luxury living space, owned by Tim and Lana Hockey, into its next chapter. Brown enlisted his frequent collaborator, architect Tom Felton to join him on the project. And, in turn, Felton brought in Larry Myers of INEO Builders to help execute their vision.
Myers hadn’t worked with Brown before, but Felton knew that INEO had the right blend of commercial experience and a creative mindset to execute. “Larry is one of the first builders I’ve met who gravitates towards the design process. He gets excited about design,” Felton says.
The Hockeys had commissioned Brown to renovate the open plan kitchen. “If you’re gonna do the kitchen, you could do a couple of other things,” he told them over a holiday meeting. Brown pulled out a pencil and paper and sketched out some ideas on the spot, something he’s been known to do for the past twenty-five years as head of his studio, Eric Brown Designs.
He wanted to cut into the second story walls to add Juliet balconies, taking full advantage of 30-foot ceilings and expansive views out and below. He could see the evolution of the space and called Felton almost immediately. Brown wanted to play off the building’s Art Deco styling to give the penthouse a story of its own. Brown says, “You can create a history as if it’s already there,” describing his working relationship with Felton as a ping pong match. “We come up with really great things together.”
“The way we approach a project is looking at the past and seeing how we can take older ideas and new ideas and put those together. We both have a good knowledge of art history and classical masters,” says Felton, who recalls first meeting Brown early in their careers, two decades ago in New York City.
The vision was to walk into a high-rise apartment of the 1920s with the period cast metal that often framed signature buildings of the era. Brown found inspiration from the public and university library in Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, admired for its decorative ironwork and designed by Neo-Greco architect Henri Labrouste.
He wanted exposed metal beams with rivets to frame the massive penthouse windows. The design creates a bridge-like frame for the glass that leads out to a terrace which overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains.
A local metal fabricator was contacted, but the scale of the project proved too labor intensive. Myers was determined to find a way to fulfill Brown’s vision. Brown, who has built a career on resourcefulness, asked Myers to pivot and consider wood instead. “I found a mineral paint from England that has metal in it,” Brown says. “It flickers like stardust when light hits it.”
Three different colors were ordered for the mock-up. The final result is not faux metal, but a complete illusion of I-beams. The INEO team embedded 7,000 real steel rivets into the wood. “We degreased those for several days,” Meyers says.
The wood trim pieces are fabricated to look and fit just like angle iron, down to the proper size and overlap. “It was Eric’s concept and Tom drew every bit of it,” Myers says, “In the world we’re in, we don’t like contrived, you don’t want something that looks inauthentic.”
There’s a concrete bond beam at the top of the windows and the columns were built out to match it. Brown mirrored the forearm of the columns to quadruple the effect of natural light. Felton says it’s an old trick from the 18th century, one they saw in the John Soane museum in London. Brown explains that without the mirrors you wouldn’t see outside, you would just see wall. Today, with the project complete, it remains everyone’s favorite element.
Instead of giving each room its own identity, the home is a mélange of repeating elements of hickory, concrete and metal. “That consistency running throughout the whole thing makes it cohesive,” Felton says.
The hickory paneling is stained walnut and the hardwoods on the floors were also used to create the barreled ceiling above. Several jib doors, similar to ones seen at the Biltmore estate, provide concealed storage. Myers enlisted Concrete Canvas for countertop surfaces throughout the home and they produced the unique curved shower walls in the primary bath.
The industrial finishes of the penthouse are offset by an art collection of landscapes, birds and nature scenes that Brown helped the Hockeys amass. “I had a mental image of every piece of art they owned,” Brown says, who is used to working on multiple properties for most of his clients both as designer and curator. The fireplace in the living room was moved two feet to the left and refaced. It features a large Ed Rice painting, which graces this issue’s cover.
Brown culled works from the Hockeys’ three homes for the penthouse project and functional furnishings already at the property were reupholstered in soft solution-dyed acrylic. Even a John Saladino leather chair has a new sculptural line.
To better utilize space, a wall was added upstairs where the tv is hung. Brown says he’s okay with wall-mounted TVs and the notion of hiding everything is no longer necessary. Adjacent to the flat screen is a wood veneer wallpaper with more art hung in a salon-style. An automated curtain that disappears between cast iron arches makes the space truly transitional. When not watching a movie, it can open to become one with the great room.
The completed project took 14 months and patience with the process (and each other) was crucial to bringing it home. The trio took on the fluid group dynamics of a modern-day artist guild. Meyers says every meeting happened on site, where they could see images and drawings together and tackle problems in person. “With projects like this,” says Myers, “we’re putting together a team that can execute what the architect and the designer dreams. You want to fight for the design, not be a roadblock to it.”
Felton wanted to ensure the penthouse reflected its owners, who he describes as having a relaxed personality that’s also sophisticated. “How do you bring that out in the architecture and give it a richness? It’s gotta feel right.”
Brown says creating a home like this is very much an artistic endeavor. “If you go on autopilot, you’re going to miss out on some opportunities.” He appreciated the trust that both the Hockeys and Myers had in him. “It allowed for some additional magic to happen.”