Atlanta couple turns antebellum Madison house into beautiful second home

When pondering the idea of buying the perfect getaway place for weekend leisure and vacations, an easygoing drive makes it that much more appealing. It’s even more ideal, when cozy quarters are discovered in quaint towns and rustic locales.

Seven years ago on the drive back to Atlanta from Lake Oconee, interior designer Jimmy Stanton and his partner, Patrick Greco, stopped for lunch in Madison, a Morgan County town established in 1809. They were considering buying a beach home in Rosemary Beach, Fla., on the panhandle’s scenic state route 30A, but Madison suddenly seemed like a better fit.

This  story originally appeared in the July/August issue of Living Intown Magazine.

Morgan and nearby Greene County, just over an hour east of Atlanta, offer a mix of small-town life with antebellum homes and country farms.

“We just knew it was so far to get down there [to Florida],” says Stanton, owner of Stanton Home Furnishings in Virginia-Highland and west Midtown. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to experience it like we would with this [home in Madison]. We just saw all the old homes [and] said, ‘Gosh, this is so great. It’s so close.’”

Greco is region developer for The Joint chiropractic clinics and owns Midtown Place Chiropractic, as well as two Massage Envy locations.

Stanton and Greco decided to buy Madison’s oldest house, built in 1818. They renovated the interior, expanded its outdoor entertaining space and started spending days off work in Madison, just an hour from their White Provision condo in Midtown.

When the couple realized they wanted a roomier residence, they sold the home in favor of a columned Greek revival estate, circa 1851, that they recently purchased. The larger house is located just down the street and sits on 5 acres that once belonged to Atlanta’s legendary Candler family, the founders of the Coca-Cola Company. They added a modern fiberglass pool, rustic pool house, seating areas with furniture from Lee Industries and Stanton’s store, two fire pits and hammocks. They also planted a hedge with 200 Leyland cypress trees and remodeled rooms, including the kitchen.

Stanton says he and Greco can host friends more comfortably in the larger home, and have the choice of taking a walk with their guests to restaurants and shops in the downtown district, or lounging poolside or by the fire.

“With our first house, we loved it, but it was so small,” he says. “Now we’ve really got this space that we can entertain.”

‘Country roads, take me home’

Rural farms offer second home options beyond the Southern downtown districts of Madison and the Greene County town of Greensboro.

In 2000, Bill Pahl, senior vice president of investments for UBS Financial Services in Buckhead, bought a former cotton plantation turned horse farm in Greene County, as a getaway for family and friends. Pahl, who grew up on a farm in South Georgia, rebuilt the 100-year-old farmhouse with a stone fireplace, pine floors and a shake exterior. Pahl says he enjoys staying busy with upgrades and maintenance on the nearly 500-acre property.

“To me, riding a tractor or running a chainsaw is literally like therapy,” Pahl says. “It’s so opposite of what I do all day during the week. Once my truck hits that dirt road, everything else kind of turns off.”

Southern living in North Georgia

Although Georgia has several well-known mountain communities in Blue Ridge and Ellijay, there are some alternative North Georgia locales like Cloudland Station. The 450-acre community in Chicamauga near Chattanooga has a mix of turn-of-the-20th-century and Colonial-style homes, as well as boxy 1940s cottages with pitched roofs and rustic cabins. It even offers plans for a two-bedroom treehouse.

The handcrafted and nature-based community has another plus, it’s about 18 minutes south of downtown Chattanooga, developer John Tatum says.

“It’s truly a back door into downtown,” he says. Using the back roads, the drive from Cloudland to downtown Chattanooga for restaurants, shops and such attractions as the riverfront and Tennessee Aquarium is less than 20 minutes.

The community is designed for up to 300 homes. So far, about 55 lots have been sold and 20 homes are completed or in progress, says Tatum, CEO and president of Firefly Communities. Most homes are between $400,000 and $700,000.

Tatum says he’s also introducing another option, which he calls a “not-so-tiny-house,” which features a large common space called a hearth room, and smaller bedrooms, and could start selling for under $215,000. The size ranges from 500 to 900 square feet with three different floor plans.

“Build small, live large,” he says. “It’s all about taking advantage of every nook and cranny in a functional way. It’s fun. It’s cozy.”

Community amenities include an Italianate farmhouse (which has been used for weddings), green space, an Amish barn, an infinity-edge pool, fire pits, a coffee shop and a sweet shop.

“I want to sustain a culture of simpler times,” he says. “We have a great place where they can make memories with their kids.”

River relaxation

The tranquility of Georgia rivers can entice second homebuyers interested in river cabins.

Marilyn Bowman, developer of the Flint River Preserve community in Warwick, sees folks enjoy the river every year when they rough it for Paddle Georgia’s “Fall Float on the Flint River” event. In October, the three-day, 56-mile journey from Albany to Bainbridge will draw metro Atlanta paddlers on kayaks and canoes.

“The Flint River is still very private,” Bowman says. “You can go for long distances and not see anybody on the river.”

Flint River Preserve is a new gated development about 22 miles from Albany. More than 70 percent of its 376 acres is preserved as green space, including five stocked fishing lakes, nature trails, a pavilion, a community orchard and a wildlife habitat.

The Warwick neighborhood, about 160 miles from Atlanta, has been approved for 130 homes and has generated interest from prospective fulltime residents and second homeowners. Sites range from $39,000 for a 3-acre property within the community to $195,000 for riverfront lots.

“You can go down the highway and you would never even know we exist,” Bowman says. “If you want to get away and relax and enjoy the rural South, there’s lot of quaint little towns with antique shops. It’s not commercialized. It’s not like Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.”

Flint River Preserve. 825 Warwick Dam Road, Warwick, Ga.; Cloudland Station, 9862 Chicamauga, Ga. 404-297-4350.

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