Life in Atlanta brings unbeatable amenities, including world-class shopping, one-of-a-kind restaurants and a cultural scene that attracts international names. But the advantages can come hand-in-hand with challenges, such as crowds, stressful jobs and unavoidable traffic. Sometimes we just want to get away from it all.
For some fortunate folks, escaping the daily grind is so important that they’ve established secondary residences for a calmer way of life. Whether on mountaintops, near beaches or in quaint little towns off the beaten path, these second homes offer a respite from the unrelenting pace of metropolitan life. Pay a visit with these Atlantans who made second homes as their ideal getaways.
Lisa Drake and Brian Thomas
Primary home: Buckhead
Second home: Hiawassee
As physicians, both Lisa Drake and her husband, Brian Thomas, juggle intense work demands. As parents, they manage baseball schedules for their two young sons. For a reprieve from the rush of their Buckhead-based lives, the couple decided to buy a mountain escape.
“We wanted a true vacation spot, away from everything,” Drake says. “So we drew a circle around Atlanta and decided to be within a two-hour drive. We toured several lakes, even some in North Carolina and as far east as Lake Oconee, but a lot of them were just like our life in Atlanta.”
Then they discovered Hiawassee in Towns County, and Drake flashed back to her days growing up in Athens.
“It was a real getaway from everything,” she says. “A small town, relatively undeveloped. And in the 14 years we’ve been there, it has maintained that Southern charm that we really need when we take a break from the cosmopolitan life of Atlanta.”
The couple built a home to contrast with their primary residence. “Here, our home is very traditional, old-world European,” Drake says. “In Hiawassee, we opted for a mountain look, with lots of wood, cedar, glass walls and stone. It’s elegant, but a bit rustic.”
The lakeside house has five bedrooms, four baths and a large common area. There’s also a boat dock for the pontoon and sea boats. Drake especially enjoys the large windows that extend from floor to ceiling in the living area on the home’s lake side. “They afford expansive views of pristine Lake Chatuge and the Blue Ridge Mountains, including Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak,” she says.
The only thing missing, now that their sons are 11 and 14, is enough free time to enjoy it as much as they’d like.
“We do try to be there for holidays, especially Fourth of July when there’s a boat parade on the lake,” Drake says. “But sometimes it can be six months until we get away. One weekend this spring, we were there for less than 24 hours. We just don’t get there often enough.”
Tony Conway and Steve Welsh
Primary home: Buckhead
Second home: Clarkesville
As owner of one of the city’s premier catering companies, Legendary Events, Tony Conway’s schedule can be frenetic. For years, Conway and his partner, Steve Welsh, recharged their energy levels with a visit to Sutton Mill, a 100-year-old inn on the outskirts of Clarkesville in Habersham County. Then one fateful night over drinks, he said to the owner, “If you ever want to sell it, let me know.”
A year later, the owner took Conway up on the offer. In 2010, the partners bought the 5-acre, river-bordered property with three outbuildings and a grist mill that Welsh and his father restored. The deal included all the furnishings — china, glass, silver, beds, lamps, etc. — in the main house, with its nine bedrooms and 13 baths.
“We’ve gradually added our own touches with art,” Conway says. “We go up about once a month, and during our off-seasons in the summer and January, we may spend a few weeks there. We often have guests come, too, and we let our staff use it for a relaxing stay. My past is in the hotel world, so this is like having my own little hotel.”
Clarkesville gave the property another plus. “It’s a hidden treasure, with great little restaurants,” Conway says. “And it’s 15 minutes to Lake Burton or Helen. But we really love our Peach Pass that gets us through traffic and up 85 so we can be there even after an event. By 11:30 that night, I can light a fire, open a bottle of wine and enjoy the property. It’s a great way to recharge.”
Michele and Blair Caplinger
Primary home: Vinings
Second home: near Rosemary Beach, Fla.
For about 16 years, whenever their schedules allowed, Michele Caplinger and her husband, Blair, have made the five-hour drive or one-hour flight from their home in Vinings to the pristine Florida coast near Rosemary Beach. “The whole area from Rosemary Beach to Seaside is just amazing,” she says. “The beaches are stunning, with unspoiled dunes. I’ve traveled my whole life, but I’ve never seen sand like this. It’s like sugar, and so white. It’s really breathtaking.”
In February, the couple took the plunge and purchased their own home in the area. The one-level townhouse has two bedrooms, a one-car garage and a patio that runs the entire length of the structure. Michele says the furnishings reflect who they are. “We’re upbeat, colorful people,” she says. “We especially love showcasing our favorite original Georgian artwork — our Ronnie Land, James Booth, Craig Bromley, Patti Krohngold.
“And we finished it with accents so you know you’re at the beach. When you come in, it feels like you’re on vacation.”
The townhouse also has an enviable location near the water, just across Florida State Road 30A (known simply as “30A” by the locals) and near Gulf Place shopping area. The road links small communities along the coast that are dominated by palatial estates. “But ours is not a million-dollar mansion,” Michele says. “We’re in a new community that’s right across from a new retail area that’s not as commercial as some, but has nice outdoor restaurants and little boutiques.”
She particularly appreciates the area’s creative climate. “I love that this area is artsy, and the music scene is wonderful,” says Michele, who by day directs the Atlanta chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the people who put on the Grammys). “There’s a music festival each January that draws big names. It’s odd, but this area of Florida is dominated by singers from Georgia and Tennessee.”
Ed and Ann Neubaum
Primary home: East Cobb
Second home: Blue Ridge
Owning a second home not only provides a refuge for Ed Neubaum and his wife, Ann. The East Cobb couple wanted a mountain retreat that wouldn’t be a financial drain when they weren’t enjoying it themselves.
“It’s a very nice home that we use anytime we can,” says Ed, a real estate agent. “It has a great mountain view and is kind of secluded. We love it up there, and the nearby town of Blue Ridge has really come along in the last five or six years with shops and places to eat. We love to go up there for a week or 10 days in the fall, and we always spend the week before Christmas there.”
Ed bought the rustic cabin, called “Long View,” about nine years ago. It boasts a massive stone fireplace, log siding, three bedrooms, an extensive deck and a hot tub where the owners and guests can unwind while taking in the mountain views. But when they’re not in residence, their investment is available to rent.
“We were looking for a getaway place, but didn’t want to assume all the expenses,” Ed says. “As a real estate agent, I’m comfortable with owning homes and getting mortgages, and I knew renting it when we’re not there made sense.”
The couple bought the cabin at auction, and though it was in good shape, it needed a little attention. “It had one wine glass and one fork — not much else,” he says with a laugh. “It took a lot of trips to Target to get crock pots, plates and things that would make it a home.”
The Neubaums made an interesting discovery about their home. “We found a path that led off our property to a small, overgrown cemetery,” Ed says. “We cleaned it up and added a bench. Most of the gravestones had the family name ‘Long.’ The most interesting was Mary Long, whose stone reads: ‘Killed by lightning November 11 1911.’ On November 11, 2011, we had a Mary Long memorial party with about 20 friends. We lit the cemetery with candles and raised a toast to her.”