Visitors to the Dewberry, a buzzy hotel in Charleston, S.C., equipped with a massive, curved brass bar, 1960s-style globe lamps and timeworn Poul Kjaerholm sofas, might assume that the developer was a devotee of midcentury modernism. That wouldn’t be exactly right.
John Dewberry, who collaborated with the architecture and design firm Workstead on the Dewberry’s interiors, likes modernism well enough. But he is more interested in creating spaces that appear true to their context.
“I try to be authentic,” said Mr. Dewberry, 55, the founder of Dewberry Group, an Atlanta-based developer of commercial and residential real estate. If you’re reimagining an older building, he said, “you should embrace that particular era.”
The Dewberry inhabits a former federal office building from 1964, so an interior design scheme with midcentury modern-inspired elements was appropriate, said Mr. Dewberry, an architecture buff who peppers his speech with references to Richard Meier, Thomas Jefferson and Andrea Palladio. His house in Charleston, however, dates to 1770, so it has an older vibe, with many antiques.
Still, he is no period purist. Once the design direction for a project is set, he said, he follows his gut and often ends up with an eclectic mix of furniture and art. “Because I didn’t go to school for it,” said Mr. Dewberry, a cigar-smoking former Georgia Tech quarterback and quail hunter who has survived cancer and a plane crash, “no one’s told me what I ain’t supposed to do.”
In 2013, he began looking for an apartment to buy in the Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta, where his company has been amassing land for two decades with the intention of eventually building a community with “an Upper East Side look,” he said, and “an Upper West Side mentality.”
It didn’t take him long to settle on buying in Reid House, a 1924 neo-Classical condominium designed by Philip T. Shutze of the architecture firm Hentz, Reid & Adler, where Neel Reid was a partner. “Reid and Shutze are probably the two most famous architects in Atlanta,” Mr. Dewberry said. “So we had something to work with.”
When he learned that a friend was selling a 2,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit in need of updating, he bought it for $500,000, sight unseen. Then he set about remaking it with help from Studio Dewberry, Dewberry Group’s in-house design wing, and his soon-to-be wife, Jaimie — now Jaimie Brown Dewberry, 30, a principal at Studio Dewberry and the director of Dewberry Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm. (They married in 2017.)
The couple was impressed with the intimately scaled architecture of the apartment, which included a series of smaller rooms for specific functions, including a formal dining room, a study and a sunroom, rather than the wide-open spaces seen in more contemporary homes. So they left the walls as they found them.
“The bones were there,” Mrs. Dewberry said. “The crown molding is original. The hardwood floors were beautiful, so we just re-stained them.”
The dated kitchen and bathrooms weren’t quite so charming, so they gutted those spaces. The new kitchen has stainless-steel base cabinets, shelves made with wood reclaimed from an old Georgia icehouse, and walls and counters of Vermont Danby marble. The master bathroom has more Danby marble and the claw-foot soaking tub that came with it.
Mr. Dewberry insisted that they paint the walls gray, to create a feeling of coziness. But rather than choosing just one shade, they chose seven, using them in different rooms. They also added velvet and damask curtains, some of them finished with Samuel and Sons trim.
To complete the décor, the couple collected furniture and art during their travels, from an 18th-century Hepplewhite sideboard found in Charlottesville, Va., to a vintage Turkish rug bought in the south of France. They added those to pieces Mr. Dewberry already owned, including a 19th-century mahogany dining table.
“Many of these pieces might not naturally fit together in a project for someone else’s home, but because they’re a part of our story they seem to magically fit,” Mrs. Dewberry said.
They completed the renovation in phases, and continued to use the apartment as construction progressed. By the time they were finished, in 2016, they had spent about $700,000, including the furniture and art.
The resulting design mixes traditional and contemporary elements to create a home that honors the past, but isn’t stuck in it.
“So many people want new, new, new,” Mr. Dewberry said. “But I’m kind of an old soul, and Jaimie is too.”
“When we do high-rise residential projects, they’ll be clean, crisp, white, brand-new,” he said. “We get that. But that’s not what Reid House is. It’s got age. It’s got patina.”
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