Private Quarters: Druid Hills home blends old with new

Mike Dorsey, left, and Yovy Gonzalez live with their twin boys Llewyn, left, and Locke in a Druid Hills home designed by by architect Leila Ross Wilburn. (Jenni Girtman/Atlanta Event Photography)

caption arrowCaption
Mike Dorsey, left, and Yovy Gonzalez live with their twin boys Llewyn, left, and Locke in a Druid Hills home designed by by architect Leila Ross Wilburn. (Jenni Girtman/Atlanta Event Photography)

Story by H.M. Cauley. Photos by Jenni Girtman.

The first time Yovy Gonzalez saw the salmon-colored house on North Decatur Road six years ago, he immediately thought, “It’s abandoned.” After creeping through the overgrown grass and climbing under some sticky briars to peer through the dining room’s darkened French doors, he found he was right.

Gonzalez and his spouse, middle school history teacher Mike Dorsey, wasted no time getting a real estate agent to show them around properly. “We loved it,” recalls Gonzalez, who manages the Paramount in Buckhead. “And then we found out it was a Leila Ross Wilburn house, and we loved it even more.”

Wilburn, an Agnes Scott alumna who had her first design commission at 22, put her classical stamp on several houses in the Druid Hills neighborhood. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, she is the only woman to put together collections of floor plans for builders and to have them published in home design magazines.

The property, dating to the early 1920s, needed a lot of TLC. Fortunately, a carriage house behind the main structure provided a place to live during the massive makeover.

Along with replacing basic systems, the project included breaking down walls and doors in the boxy kitchen area to make one open space with one exit to the back yard. The area is anchored by a butcher block table the couple uncovered at a restaurant supply store and brown leather pub chairs from West Elm. A six-burner stove with double ovens below is covered by a stainless-steel hood. Original triple windows sit high above the marble counters and sink area, accented by a gray, subway tile backsplash. A flat screen TV is mounted on one wall above a set of matching high chairs – dining accommodations for the couple’s year-old twin boys, Locke and Llewyn.

The classic layout centers around a formal entry with a staircase that sweeps up to a landing lit by a wall of windows. To the left is the formal dining room where those French doors Gonzalez first gazed through now overlook a circular drive and manicured lawn. The room boasts two showpieces: a three-tiered, cast bronze chandelier dripping in cut crystal prisms, and a round jupe table with pie-shaped leaves that can expand to seat 12. A marble fireplace has a twin in the formal living room on the other side of the foyer.

The living space aggregates antiques and other finds the couple has collected over the years. “We have little new furniture and like to mix stuff,” says Gonzalez. One of his favorite pieces is a table, now used as a sideboard for books and a few pieces of African sculpture, that morphs into a dining table for six. “We found it at an antique shop but didn’t buy it immediately,” Gonzalez recalls. “Then Mike surprised me and gave it to me as a birthday present.”

The room also holds matching antique chests, a wall of different-sized mirrors, two comfortable mohair club chairs and an 1800s French daybed they spotted at Mimosa Hall in Roswell.

The arrival of “the boys” brought major changes to the former veranda that runs parallel to the living room. Now the main play area, it’s dominated by piles of pillows, toys, two daybeds, built-in bookcases and a piano below a vaulted ceiling.

Upstairs, the boys share a room with matching gray cribs, two tiny rockers, a gray armchair and a menagerie of stuffed animals piled on the fireplace mantel and clothing chests.

Nearby, the master bedroom is filled with a king bed they found at Scott Antique Market and loved for its frame designed to look like tree limbs. The master bath is a gleaming oasis of white marble counters, black-and-white basket weave floor tiles, a white soaking tub and a white-tiled double shower.

Across the hall, warmed by light fixtures of slag glass that the couple discovered in the basement, is a guestroom where another artifact was found. A massive mirrored armoire, almost as tall as the eight-foot ceiling, occupied the room when the couple moved in, and they kept it in place, which left just enough space for a four-poster bed.

And each room still boasts a functioning radiator. “They all work, and the best part is, they don’t produce a dry heat,” Gonzalez says. “They also don’t blow dust around, and they maintain a constant temperature.”

Keeping those charming elements of lights, furniture and heating fixtures adds to the already historic nature of the house. And Gonzalez and Dorsey can tell visitors all about it: They devoted hours to researching the property by digging through old phone books at the Atlanta History Center.

“We know the lot was bought in 1919 and that the owners lost it during the Great Depression,” Gonzalez says. “But we have found the previous owners from the 1960s who gave us some photographs, and we found the plan in one of Leila Ross Wilburn’s books.”

The old photographs assisted with another project: getting rid of the salmon exterior and repainting it a grayish white. “We had to show the neighborhood architectural committee that we were taking the house back to something original,” Gonzalez explains, “and those photos gave us what we needed. That’s also a good thing about this neighborhood: You can’t really tear anything down, and protecting what’s here is important.”

Though the work on an old house never seems to end, Gonzalez and Dorsey aren’t daunted by the idea of ongoing repairs.

“Yes, things do break and have to be fixed, but we love living here so much,” Gonzalez says. “We plan on being here until the kids take us away.”

Insider Tip

See the Gonzalez-Dorsey house, four other classic homes and six gardens during the 50th anniversary Druid Hills Tour of Homes and Gardens, April 20 to 22. Tickets and information are online at druidhillstour.org.

5 things to know about Druid Hills

1. The layout of the neighborhood, noted for its linear parks, was the creation of noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also masterminded New York’s Central Park and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

2. In the 1970s, about 1,400 acres of the neighborhood were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

3. One of its most well-known sites is the Lullwater Road “Driving Miss Daisy” house, used in the 1989 film starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy.

3. The Callanwolde Fine Arts Center on Briarcliff Road offers a variety of artistic performances and classes throughout the year, and during the holidays draws crowds who wander the gardens and the lavishly decorated mansion built in 1920 by the eldest son of Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler.

5. Another not-to-be-missed attraction is the Fernbank Museum of Natural History on Clifton Road, where visitors will find exhibits devoted to dinosaurs and Georgia’s natural history, as well as a giant-screen IMAX theater.