With seven home renovations already under her belt — each imbued with an aesthetic that piqued the interest of shelter publications, buyers and advice-seeking friends — there was never any question that Jamie Meeks would transform the 100-year-old corner cottage she purchased a year ago. But with no clear plan of attack, this renovation proved more challenging than all of her previous experiences. "This was a less conventional project," says Meeks, a painter and sculptor. "In the past, we used full-time architects and contractors, but this time I was flying solo. I felt my way through it. There was a lot of trial and error."
Meeks wasted no time jumping into the remodel feet first. The day she took ownership of the house, a crew of workers began demolition. "It was scary to take things out," she says, recalling that many of the decisions to eliminate walls, non-functional fireplaces and other structural and decorative components — even entire rooms — were made spontaneously on-site. "But because of the projects I'd done in the past, I knew what the possibilities were," she says.
At the same time, Meeks took a second leap of faith, opening a Magazine Street gallery of home furnishings, fashion accessories and art that bears her maiden name, Grace. The move was both an outlet for Meeks' creative expression and a decision that proved serendipitous for the renovation. When a mutual friend introduced Meeks to jewelry designer and architect Marion Cage McCollam, the two rented a building and set up neighboring businesses. Soon after, Meeks hired McCollam to work on the house's design. The possibilities Meeks had imagined became concrete.
Originally a double, the residence had been remade into a single, but it still contained too many walls for Meeks' taste. She wanted to reorient the layout without changing the footprint and create open living areas featuring her signature contemporary, art-centric look. She also planned to create outdoor green space and bring it into view inside.
"I love maintaining the integrity of a space but altering it to become clean, light, airy and modern," she says. "Light is so important to me."
McCollam suggested reversing the locations of the private and public areas, adding a wall of steel and glass in the great room and increasing the room's volume by extending its ceiling height to roof level, incorporating the space formerly occupied by an attic. "I wanted an open living and kitchen space," Meeks says. "But there were things I would not have done if it weren't for (McCollam). It was my eldest daughter, Katie Grace, and (McCollam), who encouraged me to go into the attic."
"Jamie's not afraid to take a risk," McCollam says. "It takes somebody with a vision to be able to go there. She has that vision." With longtime employee Pedro Yanez as foreman and engineer Chuck Mintz providing structural advice, Meeks plowed through many challenges, occasionally reworking designs until she achieved the desired effect. She modified the design for the wall of steel windows, using a small California-based company to customize the windows. In typical hands-on fashion, Meeks found the front doors at an Atlanta salvage supply and outfitted them with glass panes that echo the rectilinear pattern of the great room windows and continue the contemporary perspective.
Freshened up with an all-white palette and new landscaping, the exterior maintains the property's historic quality, as do the wood floors (now stained with a rich, dark polish), rustic pieces and carefully chosen antiques. Equally important are the personal touches and spirit of fresh modernity that reflect the artist-in-residence. "I took my own aesthetic further with this home," says Meeks, who views her houses as giant canvases for her creative expression. "In this house, I've accomplished that more. I thought very methodically about placing art on walls and creating openings that wouldn't interfere with the placement. The spaces seemed to fill themselves.
"I think the choice of how you fill the space around you is crucial," she says. "'Less is more' can definitely be part of that. But within that method, the things you include become even more important. I surround myself with items that have intrinsic emotional value to me. Things my children made, art I admire and things I've collected throughout my life. I believe people build their world this way. The construction doesn't end with the structure of the house. Things are always changing."