By Christian Lee – March 20, 2018
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TINA SARGEANT
When it comes to deciding upon a home’s interior style, “modern” can be sorely misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, not all modern homes are cold, just as not all overly adorned homes are actually “homey.” Modern can, in fact, be inviting, cozy, and warm. And we can offer no clearer execution of this concept than the home of Leigh Harris.
Mid-century modern, a widely recognized and significant design movement, is one of my favorite design periods. It is poetry without the words. It was a design movement for a change in where we live, the way we live, and how we see the things around us.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw Leigh Harris’ home. It represents everything I love about mid-century modern: large windows, living space flowing into the next room, a large kitchen, and the outdoors truly feeling a part of the home. I asked Leigh a few questions about choosing their home, the neighborhood, the renovation, and design choices made along the way. Leigh and her family graciously opened up their home to share with The Lakelander.
The Lakelander: You moved fairly recently. Your new house is relatively close to your previous home. Were you focused on staying in the neighborhood?
Leigh Harris: Each of our previous homes have been around Lake Hollingsworth, and we wanted to stay in the area. The location is so convenient for us during our busy everyday lives.
TL: How did you choose your current home and location?
LH: This house was unique because it sits on an acre lot. We also loved the street, and the house had a layout and floor plan that we could work with.
TL: What are some of the things that you like about your neighborhood?
LH: We loved the area already, but the dead-end street was a bonus. There are 15 kids in just the few homes around us. There are always kids running from house to house and playing outside in the yard.
TL: Were there certain things you absolutely had to have in your new home? Things to fit and improve your growing family and lifestyle?
LH: We were looking for a house on a bigger lot, with a kitchen that was open to the family room, or in this case, that we were able to open up. We were also looking at a split plan or with extra bedrooms upstairs, a game room, bigger closets, and last but not least, a larger master bathroom.
TL: Have you made changes or renovations to your house since you purchased it?
I’m not sure there is anything we didn’t change.
Exterior – siding, paint, new A/C units, roof, windows, driveway, landscaping
Interior – kitchen, bathrooms, flooring, paint, master addition
TL: Is this your first foray into the often difficult business of home renovation, or have you done others?
LH: We remodeled our previous home also, but not to this extent. Being in real estate for over 16 years, I’ve been in thousands of homes, and when looking I only see what a house could be, not what it currently is.
TL: Were you both looking for a project house, or was it just one of you that was drawn to what I occasionally think of as self-imposed suffering?
LH: We didn’t specifically want a project, but we weren’t opposed to one. My husband really wanted to look at this house. I was more hesitant because I knew that it would take so much time, money, and energy to update, but I have thanked him for being persistent on us pursuing this house because it is where we need to be.
TL: Let’s talk about the dreaded “B” word: budget. Without revealing a number, did you have a budget in mind to accomplish your goals, and how did it work out? Which one of you would best be described as the “budget police?”
LH: We had a budget. We were initially only planning to do a partial remodel, but one thing leads to another in construction, and we ended up doing the entire house which benefited us in the long run. It was stressful during the project, but I’m glad it is done and that I’m not dealing with never-ending projects that need to be completed. By the end of the project, neither one of us were policing the budget; we just wanted the house finished.
Hickman Homes did the renovations. Mike Hickman is a great guy and very patient with all of our changes and ideas.
TL: Occasionally, there is one of those “oh no” moments of buyers’ remorse after you buy a new house. Did either of you have one of those?
LH: We both knew that we would ultimately have the house we wanted, but I got nervous from time to time as issues would arise.
TL: Was everything a “gotta do it” issue, or did you allocate and prioritize based on a selection process?
LH: Some of the best advice we got from Becky Cox, our former next-door neighbor, who is an extremely talented designer and loves this style of home, was not to skimp on the finishing touches as people often do when budgets get tight at the end. This is the first house I didn’t think of resale. We made decisions that were good for our family and picked things that we would enjoy for years to come.
TL: What aspect of the construction and renovation process did you find to be the most challenging? The most rewarding?
LH: The most challenging was absolutely the scheduling. We were grateful for our contractor, Mike Hickman, for handling all of those details. Opening up the wall from the kitchen to the family room was the most rewarding, and we enjoy that part daily.
TL: What aspects of design and decorating process were the most challenging? The most rewarding? Did you hire a designer to help you through this entire process?
LH: This house has a completely different style than the traditional ranch we were in for 12 years prior. Thankfully, Becky had the ultimate vision and saved us from making numerous costly mistakes. It was initially hard to have such a different style after so many years, but now I love it. Becky had the vision, and Mike executed that vision.
TL: Were you able to incorporate your furnishings, art, fixtures into your new home, or did you need to make some changes/substitutions?
LH: We ended up keeping very little of the furniture and décor from our former home. Becky found several pieces at Scout & Tag that fit the era and style of our home. The two chairs that I had re-covered that were in my house growing up are my favorite pieces. I also love the fireclay tile around the fireplace. We now both find ourselves drawn to mid-century construction and décor.
TL: Sometimes house hunting can result in a kind of “kismet” experience — the feeling that this is the house that’s destined to be a part of your future. Did you have that feeling when you found this house?
LH: I think, because I sell homes, I don’t get that feeling. Too many things can happen before you close, so I’ve learned not to get attached. I knew that we could make this house ours and make it work for our family.
TL: What do you love about your new house?
LH: It’s cozy and livable for our family and also great for entertaining which we enjoy. This house is open but also has several living areas to sit and talk.
I think the sunroom is my favorite room. Riko Ramos with No Boring Concrete did a polished concrete on the floors which turned out great.
TL: Knowing what you know now about the whole process, would you do it all over again?
LH: It’s brutal, but the payoff is worth it. I’d like to live here forever.
Christian Lee is a Mississippi native who moved to Lakeland in 1992. After spending several years raising her family, she re-entered the design and decorating industry in 2004. Today, she works with contractors and clients to remodel homes and commercial properties. Christian is passionate about spaces that have soul, and she loves to find ways to make that soul come to life. She is skilled at interior decorating, repurposing antique and vintage furniture, and has designed a line of clothing for the home as well. In her spare time, Christian runs marathons and volunteers on the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Leadership Council. She is also a 20-year member of the Junior League of Greater Lakeland. For more of Christian’s works and services, go to christianleedesign.com. Follow her on Instagram at Christianleedesigns.