The Landers' living room is shown with a wall of windows in the background overlooking the woods. The ceiling above the living room is reclaimed wood from a railroad depot in North Carolina.  PHOTO / JASON GETZ
Photo: Jason Getz
Photo: Jason Getz

Family finds comfort in Roswell historic mill district home

Tony Landers and Jodell Ayers don’t have to leave home to get their daily aerobic workout.

This story originally appeared in the April/May 2016 edition of Living Northside Magazine. 

The couple’s elegantly rustic, 5-level house on the edge of the Roswell historic mill district is built with interior and exterior stairs that join Jodell’s art studio on the lowest level to their sitting room at the very top. Steps abound inside and on the porches outside, and a separate stretch descends to the edge of Vickery Creek at the bottom of their yard.

But it was more the home’s location on a heavily wooded lot than its built-in exercise that appealed to Landers, who found the cedar-shake contemporary when it was under construction in 1983. The timing allowed him to make personal changes to the design, such as incorporating reclaimed heart pine beams from an old railroad depot into the ceilings and railings of the living area.

“We love it because it’s a mix of things,” says Landers, a retired executive from the Atlanta Regional Commission who now chairs Roswell’s Historic Preservation Commission. “It’s a modern house with some architectural aspects that are old.”

One of the most striking elements of the house is the way it blends into the steeply sloping, heavily wooded lot, where former Christmas trees are replanted and mixed among towering pines and hardwoods. The mix of house and woodland is first apparent along the plank walkway to the front door, where a careful cut-out allows a tree trunk to grow unobstructed. Beyond a small brick entranceway, a kitchen, dining area and living room are finished with wood beams and posts. A wall of windows, a set of French doors and a skylight let in the natural light as well as views of the woodlands beyond.

The smallest space on the main level is the kitchen, designed with a counter overlooking the dining room brightened by a skylight.

“This was the weakest part of the house for us because we both like to cook,” Landers says.

Eight years ago, the couple renovated it, adding granite counters, double ovens, heart pine cabinets, hanging racks for pots and plenty of shelving for their cookbook collection, but the workspace still requires a bit of coordination between two chefs.

Standing by the massive windows of the living room and looking straight up, visitors have a clear view to the fourth and fifth floors above. The fourth floor holds the master bath with a circular tub and the main bedroom, where a rustic wooden rail marks the edge of the open space. A narrow circular staircase winds up to the fifth level — a sitting area with a sofa, TV and a few antique accents. “It’s a nice place to read a book and a really fun place to be when it rains,” Landers says. “You can hear the rain hitting the roof.”

The couple also made changes to the lowest level. Ayers, a retired human resources executive who has actively taken up painting, wanted a studio, so they turned a crawlspace into her work area. The original white clapboard that was part of an exterior wall is intact, forming the rear wall of a room now outfitted with a sofa, desk and wheeled work table that holds Ayers’ supplies. A cast-iron sink with four taps, discovered on a hunting trip to the Scott Antique market, anchors one end of the room. The only entrance to the space is a set of French doors that open to a deck and a flight of stairs heading up.

Landers took on another project a few years ago when he created a family room and wet bar on the second level and did most of the work himself. The open space, which added another 1,000 square feet to the house, is accented by glossy heart pine floors, a stone fireplace, a wine cabinet, a corner with a card table, and a recessed bar area with granite countertops. The room sits below the concrete driveway and garage — a configuration that took some serious structural engineering to pull off. The results are still apparent in the steel beams and metalwork across the ceiling.

“We created a poured concrete and steel bridge to the garage, and then used that as the roof for this new space,” Landers says. “It has a kind of industrial feel, but the wood and stone connect it to the rest of the house. It was a huge project, but I worked construction all through college, so it was fun for me.”

Sliding doors from the addition lead to a wraparound porch with a set of Adirondack chairs and a swinging sofa — built by the couple together — suspended from the ceiling. Doors also lead back into two bedrooms and a bath for guests.

In every room, the effort to mesh the house with the outdoors is apparent. Landers even took an extra step to ensure the view won’t change: He bought the two vacant lots next door to maintain the natural beauty of the area. “Being here really is like living in the woods,” he says.

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