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Heaven on the Hill

Philip Trammell Shutze built Pleasant Hill in 1937, and it took the love of one couple to ensure his vision was painstakingly preserved.

When building all exterior decks, the pool and the grand tented pavilion—projects the homeowners took on after purchase—the exact limestone quarry Shutze specified was used, as well as the design from his original blueprints. Dupree Lynch custom-designed the porcelain tiles on the pool and the identical swan motif on the home’s weather vane. 

The home’s original weather vane at the top of the house was recovered and restored before being placed back in its spot on the apex of the home. Dupree Lynch and husband Helvie recreated the original landscape plans with indigenous plants that were first planted by architect William C. Pauley in 1946. 

The spherical wine cellar

All the Murano glass chandeliers in the estate—four total—were commissioned and custom made by Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice, Italy, and an Italian consultant was hired to manage the shipping and reassembling of each one in the home. Oversize artwork sits on custom-made Lucite easels to easily rearrange the foyer for entertaining. 

The kitchen is the only room in the house that has been remodeled, mostly to open it up. However, the room’s original footprint was not changed, and all the millwork detail Shutze specified for the cabinets and flooring was done to match his exact specifications. A chef-designed La Cornue range was commissioned; Carrara marble was brought in; as well as new faucets, an island and sinks. An elliptical staircase (off camera) was also recreated in the kitchen for symmetry to the foyer. 

The sofas in the living room were custom-made by Studio LA and covered in oversize mohair from Jerry Pair with trim from Ainsworth-Noah. Almost all the artwork in the home is European and was acquired at auctions abroad. The handpulled plasterwork throughout the house is quite extraordinary. 

The bar on the third floor is actually from cruise ship SS Normandie. The original linoleum was replaced with custom 4-inch walnut planks made with extruded brass to echo the feeling of an actual ship’s deck.

Benches with orange mohair fabric from Travis & Company and a gold leaf Giacometti-inspired base from Ainsworth-Noah help bring out the warmth from the ceiling. 

The loggia overlooking the back of the home’s rolling greens and manicured lawns, which completely obscure the street. The aluminum furniture from Kreiss includes custom slipcovers that Dupree Lynch designed.

The throw pillowcases were custom-made by Antonia Sautter from Venice and handembroidered with antique fragments
and tapestries. 

The dining room, complete with Shutze’s original handpulled plasterwork, also houses a working wood-burning fireplace. 

This is our home. It is full of love, laughter and beauty. Every piece of artwork, sculpture and furniture was chosen by me and my husband, Dr. William W. Helvie; therefore, every piece inside has a beautiful memory or experience attached to it.

My husband and I are the fourth owners of the home, and upon our purchase of the property in 1997, the third owner gave us only three photographs and a business card: They were pictures of the original swan weather vane that was designed and placed on the top of the roof, and the name and number of where he dropped it off years ago. We contacted the company and were very fortunate to retrieve the weather vane—we discovered it weighed 2,000 pounds and was made of cast iron. It took us hiring two French master water gold-leafing gilders to prepare it for its new finish. It was completely restored with gold leafing and the empire green enamel that echoed the Prince of Wales feathers architectural detail on the rest of the house. It required a massive crane to lift and place it in the original location on the house. This was the beginning of a long journey of discovering the house’s hidden secrets and, most importantly, how to impeccably restore and maintain her in the style to which she was accustomed.

But it also belongs in spirit to its architect, Philip Trammell Shutze, and it’s first owner, Mrs. Ben T. Smith, aka “Piggle.” Piggle was instrumental in helping us discover, uncover and eventually love our home on the hill. A petite woman, at 4 feet 11 inches, Piggle was truly a grande dame of the Old South and in complete control of her senses. It was truly an honor to meet her and two of her grandchildren at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead one afternoon for tea and have her share special moments together. She told us: “You will never know how happy you have made an old woman’s heart to know that you and Dr. Helvie are living in our home. I can die a happy woman knowing it is in your hands and being loved by both of you.”

Piggle told us that Shutze wanted “the home to be open to the light” and for “everyone to enter through the front door.” This explains why the windows are double or triple the size of a typical Regency house and there is a grand entrance with the elliptical staircase. Piggle and her family desired the symmetry of the classic Regency-style home, but they also wanted a more modern style added to the architecture, which clarifies the art deco influence seen on the second and third floors.

My husband and I did not fully understand the extent of the restoration project and repair required when we first started—though we did know a house like this deserved only the highest level of skilled craftsmanship from all over the world. We took it on with a passion and did the necessary research on how to accurately restore the house and grounds. To begin, we visited the Atlanta History Center to investigate the history of the house before commencing projects—some that would take 20 years to complete.

Miraculously, the home had been kept as it was originally for almost 100 years. The only room that has been completely renovated is the kitchen. It was a typical 1930s kitchen when we bought the house. Carefully, we took every design element from Shutze’s original millwork for the kitchen cabinetry to mirror exactly his specifications in the dining-room panel details.

We were fortunate to have Shutze’s original blueprints with all the specifications detailed. The pool and tented pool pavilion are now located exactly where he originally envisioned them being placed (he was unable to complete them). Design firm Bill Ingram Architect and I carried out that project for him. We used Shutze’s preferred limestone quarry for the cutting of all exterior decks in the building of the pool and surrounding decks. Piggle’s grandchildren also gave us the original landscape plans designed by architect William C. Pauley in January 1946. Shutze believed in using only indigenous plants on his gardens and projects, including boxwoods, magnolias, camellias, hollies, cherry trees and dogwoods, which we abided by in our own plans.We decided to triple-plant the bushes and trees, using layer upon layer of green texture to create a totally private-park-like setting. You can’t see the house from the road, so once you approach our gated entrance, you know you have arrived at a special place. This was very intentional on our part: My husband and I wanted you to feel like you could be anywhere in the world when you enter the estate grounds.

The house is painted in varying shades of white, conveying a neutral palette, which is perfect because it allows the artwork to shine on the large walls with high ceilings. There is also a natural flow to the house, which allows for entertaining throughout the main level, the south-facing loggia; and on the third floor, which has exterior decks for dinner parties and dancing. We also love to host dinner parties alfresco in the tented pool pavilion. The third floor features the SS Normandie influence with its art deco aspect—the architect’s vision comes through in the Normandie cruise ship bar.

My husband and I both feel like it has been a real honor to be given the temporary guardianship of this magnificent house and gardens over the last two decades and to restore her into an even more beautiful home.