If these walls could talk, what would they whisper through the layers of wallpaper, paint and plaster? Older homes have a history of their own. From the laying of the foundation, to the latest coat of paint, each element is a piece of a larger story and a marker for that particular point in time. Like the rings in a tree or strata in the soil, the choices made in building a home speak volumes of the history and hands that shaped it as such.
Katie Nichols is the owner of such a home on University Drive in Athens, Georgia. If she is the metaphorical artist, shaping and molding the property to match her vision, Duke Gibbs would be her hands.
Duke of Gibbs Capital, LLC., is a real estate developer based out of Athens. Through his connections with various realtors, Gibbs finds and buys homes with what he calls “good bones” and character. He utilizes his network of contractors to add modern touches and personal details, bringing his vision of a restored masterpiece to life.
Raised by educators, Duke Gibbs attended Georgia College & State University, where he graduated in 2004 with a degree in Business Management. It was at that time that he began his journey into real estate development, when the “barriers to entry were low.” He, with his two partners, started purchasing farms in high-growth areas, where they would negotiate contracts with 6-month due diligence periods. They would then sell the farm to a developer. He worked in land development until the recession, where he began work on the Heritage Motor Coach Resort and Marina in Orange Beach, Alabama, a project that has been featured on the Travel Channel.
In 2010, Gibbs started Gibbs Capital. He bought foreclosures, which he would then rehab and resell.
Before the property on University Drive was even listed, Gibbs had a realtor alert Katie Nichols, who fell in love with it. As the owner of Entourage, a successful boutique clothing store in Athens, mother of two children, and owner of three dogs, Katie wanted a warm and welcoming home for her family and guests. “I want the trick or treaters to come to my house,” she laughs.
She certainly found the right house for that. With a sloping front yard and huge front porch with columns that almost hug you as you climb the front stairs, 140 University Drive draws your eye and ignites your imagination. As you walk through the elegant home, built in 1917, you wonder what families have lived there, whose hands have been warmed by the fireplaces or whose shoes have scraped the hardwood floors over the years.
We do know the story started with a doctor, who built the home next door. He then had a house built, one on either side, for each of his daughters. Our featured property was one of those houses.
Everything old is new again with this renovation. The old granite retaining wall is being re-purposed into a welcoming walkway down to the street. The brick on the front porch, which had been painted green, has been soda blasted to expose the original yellow brick. Nichols had always had the notion that her home would be a yellow brick house. Needless to say, her ties to the property were all the more solidified when the yellow brick revealed itself.
As you cross the threshold and enter the house, your eyes are drawn to the decadent chandelier suspended from the coved ceiling. Your gaze crosses over the fireplace as your heels click across the stained wood flooring through to the kitchen. It is a beautiful blend of old and new, with reclaimed heart pine flooring and mixed fixtures of bronze, silver, and wood, and a pantry that was part of the old porch, with customized shelving.
The master bath utilizes the best of history and modernity. The custom glass shower stands proudly beside the original, refinished bathtub. Duke Gibbs and his team reused the old, original trim and they took the 100-year-old windows from other places in the house to create one large window. The mixture of brass and stainless steel, natural and artificial light and old and new features give the space a welcoming, but functional feeling. As Nichols says, “It’s a new space, but it feels like it’s not.”
The master closet is something of which dreams are made. It, too, has a chandelier, and a table in the center for folding or organizing, as the washer and dryer are housed here. The window fills the room with natural light, and the vanity beneath is perfectly positioned. There is shelving from floor to ceiling, with some interesting additions, such as the spiral-shaped, spinning vertical bar upon which shirts can be hung or house pull-out drawers for jewelry.
You make your way through a hallway with star-shaped chandeliers to see a second floor that never existed before. That’s right – there was no second story before. Even the buckshot landing has a story to tell, as buckshot is re-purposed wood, where the top layer has been cut off because of rusted nail holes from its original use.
The upstairs is as interesting as the rest of the house. The bath has hand-painted cement tiles and marble countertops. There is a laundry room with a pull-out ironing board and super white quartzite marble sink with herringbone tile. The bedroom is the same Tiffany blue paint color as downstairs, but as Nichols puts it, it “shadows differently” upstairs. There is also a theater room, with recessed ceiling lights and soundproofing insulation.
There are five types of floorings throughout the home: quarter heart pine, maple, poplar, oak, and new pine. To obtain the perfect shade, the team would stain that type of wood to see how it turned out before installing it. They ended up going with two colors.
Equal effort has been put towards the outside space as well. The beadboard soffits on the outside of the house were matched in the carriage house garage, which has a studio apartment space above it.
Duke Gibbs and his team have helped Nichols achieve her vision for her home. According to Gibbs, Nichols has the “vision” and “design eye,” while Gibbs is the “visionary and coordinator.” He casts the vision, and his people execute it, including Kevin Lamb, his project manager. This team works so closely with the owner that Lamb can now finish Nichols’ sentences.
These enterprising people are the memory-keepers for properties that might have otherwise been lost to history. “New construction is so much easier than doing this,” Gibbs says, but the character that comes with older homes cannot be matched.
It is those who speak that same language, those renovation whisperers like Duke Gibbs, who help a home learn the newest tongue of these modern times. These are the artists of each restoration. They are our memory keepers.
Katie would like to thank her mother and J. Hoover for Interior Design assistance, photographer C. Goodman, as well as H. Wilson, J. Miller, and Taylor-Made Landscaping for all of their dedication and hard work.