Towering pine trees, large aged hardwoods and well-manicured lawns accompanied by gardens displaying plants of various shapes and hues all laze away in rural-like quiet in an urban neighborhood. This snippet of Blossom Street lies hidden, unknown and unseen by most Columbians, yet somehow it became the new home of Tara and John Blair of Portsmouth, N.H.
But how, and why? When the Blairs decided to retire, you might say, they threw a dart at a map. “We did online research for two years and decided on Columbia,” Tara explains. “I had never been to Columbia before, but John had come through once on business. He wanted a compact neighborhood with a smaller house, and we both just wanted to escape the New England winters.” So the Blairs purchased a 1,700-square-foot home built in 1938 in a secluded section of the Sherwood Forest subdivision. The house and yard were both in desperate need of a revamp, and the Blairs were ready to take on the renovations.
The living room’s neutral wall color allows the Blairs’ collection of Oriental, needlepoint and sisal rugs to enhance the furnishings, such as a pair of antique Baker chairs and a sofa that was purchased on a trip to the wine country.
Antiquing is a favorite pasttime of the pair, and they arrived in Columbia with a collection of antique furniture, rugs and artwork, ready to begin their renovation. “Our original plan was to renovate just a little bit of the house at a time, because we had decided to live in the house during the renovation,” says Tara with a shake of her head.
Unbeknownst to them, living across the street was Don Danford, a decorator and designer. Don says, “The house had been vacant for quite a while, and we hoped the new owners would give this house with so much potential the attention it deserves.” Don had assumed they already had a decorator when the renovations began. However, he became concerned when he saw that the demolition had begun and all of the Blair’s beautiful belongings were exposed to the dusty mess.
Being neighborly, Don went over to help cover furniture, bag up pillows, and whatever else needed doing to protect their belongings. “I even had to bring over a coffee cup for Tara, who was drinking her coffee from a flower pot!” he says.
When Don learned of the Blairs’ plans to renovate the house a section at a time, he was surprised. “Don strongly suggested we not do this and urged us to go ahead and do all of the renovations at one time,” John says. “We were nervous about this at first, but now we’re so glad we took his advice. We ended up gutting the entire house, replacing blown ceilings with sheetrock, and totally rewiring everything.” The Blairs proceeded to build a new house from an old house, as Tara says, and filled it with a New England feel.
“Tara and John had already gutted the kitchen by the time I came on board,” says Don. “I turned her on to a cabinet company that ended up doing not only the kitchen cabinets, but also the cabinets in both bathrooms. Tara chose the kitchen hardware, granite countertops and wall tiles, and I helped her arrange the space.”
Tara Blair chose the kitchen’s hardware, granite countertops and wall tiles, and Don Danford helped her arrange the space.
“Throughout the house, the Blairs wanted a neutral palette in order to show off their collection of art,” Don says. The New England landscape paintings and other artwork offer a refreshing change of pace for Southern eyes. The neutral wall color also allows the collection of Oriental, needlepoint and sisal rugs to enhance the furnishings, such as a pair of antique Baker chairs in the living room and a sofa that was purchased on a trip to the wine country. With needlepoint pillows and stools accessorizing the living room, the overall effect is described by Don as the marriage of Tara’s love for French decor and John’s love for traditional old world.
The master bath, which had been an old porch that a previous owner had converted into a bath, presented a challenge. “The decor was out of style, and John and I wanted a bath that would accommodate us as we get older,” Tara says. Don adds, “The space was small, and they wanted two sinks, a free standing shower and a whirlpool tub. Everyone said it couldn’t be done, but Tara and John found a contractor, and we drew out plans and made it work.”
Now the bath opens into an area in which a large, whirlpool style tub is set into an alcove, giving the feel of a separate space. To the right is a glass-enclosed separate shower sporting two different showerheads and built in seating, while “his and hers” sinks occupy the wall across from the shower. A piece of framed tin featuring cherubs hangs on the wall above the tub. This was a gift from Don that masterfully finishes off the bath with the flair it deserves.
The renovated master bath, which had been an old porch that a previous owner had converted into a bath, now features two sinks, a freestanding shower and a whirlpool tub.
The whirlpool style tub is set into an alcove, and above it hangs a framed tin featuring a cherub.
The Blairs also decided on the addition of a traditional Southern screened porch, but it’s nothing like your grandmother’s. The Blairs removed 35 pine trees from the yard, and the very large porch that took their place made John say, “Oh my gosh!” when it was finished, laughs Don. Don showed the contractor, Mark Ward, a copy of a porch that featured a vaulted tongue-and-groove ceiling with exposed beams and beadboard half walls, and he did an incredible job copying the photograph. The porch’s wide plank wood floor meets with beadboard half walls from which screening ascends to the vaulted tongue-and-groove and exposed beams ceiling. Two ceiling fans descend from the ceiling over each end of the porch. One end of the porch features a seating area with cushioned wicker furniture, while a dining table and chairs grace the end closest to the house. A handsome wood and wrought iron buffet from Cottage and Vine in Forest Acres begs to be covered in food and dishes for outside dining entertainment.
The yard surrounding the house was totally transformed as well. Don’s purely self-taught love for creating outdoor spaces started at a young age, he says. “My grandmother had formal gardens and loved beautiful things that bloomed, and she would have me up at 5:30 in the mornings helping out when I was with her.” A fountain in the midst of the gorgeous backyard and garden is remotely controlled. “Don also suggested we use the same device to control our outdoor Christmas lights,” laugh John and Tara.
Don says, “This was a wonderful working situation. I could go over at night, have a glass of wine and work with the Blairs. It was never a question of should we do it, they just wanted it done right. They added a great deal of value to our neighborhood.”
The Blairs praise Don for his efforts and input, saying, “Don really knew what we wanted, and he was great at putting in the foundation for us to do our fluff work around.”
This situation sounds like the perfect neighbor/work/friend balance that we all wish we had.