With December almost here, it’s time to deck the halls all the way to one of the grandest staircases in Atlanta.
That’s the task students from Brenau University’s interior design program were set to as they traveled to the city this month to help decorate the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. The center is based in a historic home once owned by Charles Howard Candler, whose father, Asa Griggs Candler, founded The Coca-Cola Co.
Each year, Callanwolde is lavishly decorated, and Michael Kleeman’s students have been a part of it for the past three years. Now an associate professor of interior design at Brenau, Kleeman was able to lead its students on their first trip to the 12-acre property.
“Previously, I had really tried to inject Coca-Cola hints here and there,” Kleeman said. “This time, we had the grand staircase, which is sort of iconic … So we really wanted to honor the architecture of the space.”
Callanwolde is a Tudor Revival-style home, completed in 1920, so the design throughout is elegant and ornate. For Kleeman and his students, it was important to draw attention to the handrail on the staircase and the design on the ceiling.
The history of the home and its architecture are the main reasons Karen Baker volunteered to take the trip to Atlanta. She said she loves history and was happy to finally get her hands on an actual space and practice everything she has learned “surrounded by history” in the iconic property.
“It was a little bit more than I anticipated,” said Baker, a senior in interior design. “I knew the space was big going into it. It was a little daunting when we saw this massive space that we had what seemed like all these small elements that we had to bring together."
But the day and all of its details were “invigorating,” she added, and that’s what drew her to interior design in the first place. While other kids were doodling, she grew up drawing floor plans for fun in elementary school and into middle school.
Baker’s passion began with sketching her dream home, and now has taken her to Callanwolde.
“The whole aspect of a project, from start to finish, I really enjoy,” Baker said. “With interior design, it gives me the ability to work with a project from inception with designing to end, even the decorating of it.”
Kleeman said the students wanted to be sure to “make it a little youthful,” too, so they added different touches of more modern items to go with the classical touches of the home. He said they had a Pinterest board where students could post ideas and talk about the things they liked and didn’t like.
“We had a couple of wreaths on the side that are in a more modern fashion, not your traditional ones,” Kleeman said. “They’re the ones that are trending right now, kind of like a wire with greenery on one part of it.”
Dominique Wagner said most of the decorations they used were handmade. Students spent an entire class of decorating and designing ornaments for the tree they had to decorate. They also spent time bending wire clothes hangers to go around the railings on the staircase.
Even though they wanted to add some modern touches, Wagner said they had to be careful with what they decided to use.
“It’s so old and antique and it’s not like a modern house where you can just put anything in there and it’s going to look OK,” said Wagner, a sophomore interior design major. “You can’t put modern things in an old house entirely with it looking OK.”
That was the biggest challenge for them. But she said her love for interior design helped, and getting to bring all the weeks of planning to life, just like she did when she helped with her friend’s home — something that inspired her to become an interior designer — was worth it.
“I was with my friends for the holidays and I helped decorate their living room and they brought out the boxes and I realized I was bossing everyone around,” Wagner said. “It was more about: I had the vision and I knew what I wanted it to look like.”You can find the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center at 980 Briarcliff Road NE in Atlanta. The property is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. It now serves as an educational center for the arts and an event venue.