Kandie and Patrick Wright were living a perfectly content life ..in the gated King’s Grant neighborhood in 2009. Their home had been decorated by Christy Edens of Verve Interiors to meet the needs of their busy lives. Suddenly, however, things began to change in rather abrupt ways. At the beginning of 2009, Patrick’s mother in Virginia unexpectedly needed knee surgery, requiring him to leave his family in Columbia to help with her recovery. One day, while he was gone, Kandie went for a drive through Melrose Heights — and it altered everything.
Upon pulling up to a badly neglected Prairie-style home, Kandie immediately called Patrick and told him to Google the address. “It was this mammoth structure, sitting up here with plywood over every single one of the windows, and Patrick just thought I had lost my mind,” she says.
What happened next was nothing short of an obsession. Kandie spent the next two years convincing Patrick that they needed the dilapidated house. “It was abandoned. I checked the tax records to see who owned it, and I called the woman, who let me in to look around.”
Kandie found that the home had been completely gutted. There was no way to tell what the original layout had been, and no signs of the grandeur that had once filled the home.
The house on the hill in one of Columbia’s most notable historic neighborhoods originally belonged to Mr. and Mrs. J. Davis Powell, who had built the home in 1917 when they owned the surrounding 40-plus acres. The home’s low-pitched hipped roof, sharp proportions and elongated one-over-one windows were based on a design by Floyd A. Denier that had been featured in the March 1916 issue of Ladies Home Journal.
“The Powell House is a remarkable Columbia landmark — the city’s truest example of Prairie-style architecture, which was popular in the United States during the 1910s to 1920s,” says John Sherrer, director of cultural resources at the Historic Columbia Foundation.
During its heyday, the property boasted stables, pergolas and lavish garden beds. Columbia’s first residential in-ground swimming pool was built in the backyard, along with five garden pools, some of which contained breeding tanks for the variety of fish the Powells kept. There was a pool house that contained separate dressing rooms for boys and girls, which were connected by a clubroom, where the children played checkers and other games in between swims, according to a 1930 article in The State newspaper about the home.
For many years, the main house was used as an apartment building. By the time Kandie happened upon the Powell House, it had withered from many years of repurposing and neglect, and what remained of the backyard was overgrown and, at times, a workspace for criminal activities.
Kandie brought Christy Edens and architect Jeff Lewis in on the project, and they were both astounded. “I loved the house when I saw it,” says Christy. “But I walked to the back to look at the outbuildings and pool house and all I was thinking was that this is a major, major undertaking.”
Jeff felt an immediate connection with the project that eventually earned him a 2013 Preservation Award from the Historic Columbia Foundation. When he first saw the house he realized the challenges that lay ahead, but he also saw the potential in the special Columbia home. “It was a rare opportunity to restore a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired project,” he says. “But the most difficult part was figuring out how to make it up to date.”
“It was clearly very Prairie-style on the outside,” says Kandie, “but we never had any sense that the interior ever was.”
As a result of the gutting over the years and a lack of congruent design, the only original features of the home’s interior were the front door, floors and a stained glass window that was discovered in the home’s front closet. With missing walls and an addition that didn’t match, the first task to be accomplished was to decide what rooms would go where.
“We had to figure out where to put a modern kitchen, and then we had to figure out how to make the newer additions work with the structure,” says Jeff.
The architect drew an island into the kitchen plans and sectioned off spaces in most of the rooms. The result was a floor plan that drew in sunlight and tossed it around the high ceilings and reflective surfaces.
As the group delved deeper into restoring the home, they realized that its history required them to work with the city’s Design/Development Review Commission to keep it in line with its architectural integrity. This brought unexpected restrictions to the surface, such as a requirement to match the brick in the structure’s addition with the rare firebrick from the 1917 construction.
The group’s thoughtful process paid off, as the home was eventually placed on the National Register of Historic Places. “This project was bigger than any of us. It took on its own progress. It was like perpetual motion,” says Patrick.
Once construction was complete, it was time to make the project a home, but that did not mean just a transfer of Kandie and Patrick’s current style from one house to the other.
“I think this house very much dictated what to do with the design style,” Patrick says. “It has a very strong presence, and you don’t try to mess with that.”
While some pieces, like the sofa and electronics in the den, came from the modern-traditional home the Wrights left behind, many of the home’s new features seemed to evolve organically.
“The fireplace, like everything else in this house, was condemned,” says Kandie of the 13-inch deep coal-burning structure in the living room. “We had to get someone to go on the roof and close it in because we couldn’t have real fires.”
As Patrick was considering what to do with what would now be a gasless, ventless fireplace, Christy had an epiphany — round FireBalls. The high-heat resistant ceramic balls create an eye-catching juxtaposition to the square fireplace and the square proportions of the house. Touches like this accrued to create a contemporary décor almost without anyone realizing it was happening.
“Kandie and Patrick’s house in King’s Grant wasn’t contemporary at all, but this just started taking on a look of a more contemporary setting, without us trying do so,” says Christy.
As the interior of the home came together with semi-gloss walls and edgier furnishings, everyone involved in the Powell House restoration realized that they had taken part in a dream project. “Going back, I’m sure the house came out of Frank Lloyd Wright’s studios, so this really was one of those dream-type projects,” says Kandie.
As her family moved into the house in 2011, Kandie gave many of the historic materials she had found on the property to the Historic Columbia Foundation.
“Kandie and Patrick Wright view themselves as stewards of a local treasure and approached its rehabilitation in a manner that was informed and committed to ensuring its future while preserving its historically important features,” says John Sherrer.
With such a varied history, it’s a wonder that the Powell House still stands. The careful restoration of the home was a practice in intuition from the start, as the structure’s personality gave off a distinct presence that led the Wrights to a home life full of happy surprises.