Once shrouded behind invasive species likes bamboo, ivy and honeysuckle, sunshine now peters through the grand casement windows of the one-room deep, English Tudor style mansion, still the largest home in Greensboro. Aligned north to south so sunlight always plays through the windows, and a gentle cross breeze could flow in the days before air-conditioning.
Architect Charles C. Hartmann designed and developed the 9, 200-square-foot, 27-room mansion known as the Hillside Estate in a single year, 1928-29, for then-prominent insurance executive Julian Price. The sprawling homestead, which sits on 1.6 acres overlooking the western hemisphere of Fisher Park, entered the national consciousness last January when it became the site of an episode on “Hoarders,” an A&E television reality series about people who fill their homes with relics and artifacts. Previous owner and well-respected interior designer Sandra Cowart lived there for more than four decades before Eric and Michael Fuko-Rizzo purchased the home from Bank of America last September, which foreclosed on Cowart after a prolonged court battle.
This Saturday morning, they open massive, hand-forged doors on strapped hinges to the public through at least the end of the month. Those craving a richer immersive experience can schedule unscripted evening tours with owners Michael and Eric. Proceeds will benefit Preservation Greensboro.
The couple coordinated with Preservation Greensboro board member and Project Chair Linda Lane to vet designers and architects tasked with restoring and reimagining the estate into a designer showhouse and the Fuko-Rizzo’s new residence, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Guilford County’s list of historically significant properties.
They sent away thousands of pieces of small metal hardware — door knobs, screws and all — and 876 panes of glass to Texas for restoration, but stone cut from the Blue Ridge Mountains, buttressed by brick-and-mortar, holds strong. Hartmann’s workers likely forged building materials on-site.
The façade features coarse stucco, herringbone brick, huge chimneys and a stair tower; outside, low stone retaining walls and winding flagstone walkways are surrounded by bespoke landscaping, the most expensive facet of the makeover: The excavation of a “bamboo forest” took a week, revealing mature trees, some original to the property such as the colossal Chinese fir.
A porte-cochére at the back entry covers the octagonal entryway that now features four silver panels, salvaged from a folding dressing partition, mounted on the walls.
Bobbi Jo Engelby of Domain Interiors designed the grand foyer with the help of painter Niki Miller of Charleston Fine Finishes, who pasted iridescent sheets of mica to the foyer’s ceiling leading into the vast abode’s largest room — the drawing room. The original mantel of decorative terra cotta on the opposite provides a rare example of a cast plaster ceiling with eye-catching cornices in North Carolina, let alone Greensboro. A piano from the late 19th Century rests on birch floors that are arranged in a peg and board style, eliciting a rustic hunting lodge. Audrey Margarite of Bunny Williams Home lined original books and encyclopedias in built-in bookshelves between window seats.
In all, 21 design firms participated in the redesign, including a group of UNCG students. Interior architecture professor Khoi Vo led a class of 8 seniors as they restyled what is now an in-law suite upstairs.
“This was definitely an eye-opening experience and one we might never get again,” student Bailey Chu said. “Everything here was donated or borrowed and being students and not having previous relationships or accounts with vendors. It was a really hard process.”
Many Greensboro-based design firms are represented in the show house, including Laura Redd Interiors, Vivid Interiors and Jessica Dauray Interiors, which designed a playroom for the couple’s twin daughters, the guest room and the first-floor library, respectively.
Dauray, who describes her style as “curated whimsy,” fashioned a charming, petite library with clean lines and tasteful gold accents. Vibrant teal walls demand attention in the sunny room in contrast with built-in bookshelves Dauray painted with black lacquer. She commissioned several works from Greensboro abstract artist Amy Gordon and installed a playful, walk-in dry bar featuring a vision-exam chart and a trompe l’oeil with two facing mirrors.[pullquote]Learn more at julianpricehouse.com and see the home at 301 Fisher Park Circle (GSO).[/pullquote]
In contrast, master bedroom designer Leigh S. Jones of Burlington-based design company The Very Thing Ltd., balanced contemporary elements with traditional ones. Bright paintings from North Carolina artist Sherry McAdams adorn the walls while Jones insisted upon preserving the portero negro marble that encircles a fireplace opposite the bed. She specializes in antique bedding and her signature, luxurious Hungarian goose down pillows ornament the bed, styled with a rich golden fabric backboard.
Despite the designer’s upgrades, the class dynamics of Price’s day still live in the floorboards. Where the bottom floor splits between family space and areas where staff would have spent most of their time, floorboards switch to unfinished pine and steel window frames on the family’s side switch to wooden frames.
Upstairs, five bedrooms lodged family and guests and another three housed live-in help. A telephone nook rests in an inset in the wall at the top of the winding staircase, convenient to the daughter who lived across the hall — with a long cord she was able to bring the phone into her room for privacy. It’s now a serene guest room splashed with lavender, matching Kohler purple bathroom pieces in the original Kohler colors, including a pastel green and yellow.
See a slideshow from Carolyn de Berry here.