McInturff spent about a year-and-a-half working with project designer C.W. Parker on The Center for Integrative Medicine at The Oaks, also in Johnson City. The center, founded and directed by Dr. Robert C. Allen, focuses on a combination of traditional and alternative medicines and uses a holistic approach to achieve optimal health.
Known as The Oaks, the center was sometimes referred to as The Castle Project because the massive 1918, 10-room mansion is built entirely of native limestone and features Italian-inspired architecture resembling a castle from an even more-distant era. The home sits on 24 beautifully landscaped acres surrounded by garden terraces. The estate's location offers a 180-degree vista of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Oaks project took so long for two important reasons. First was the desire to maintain the estate's historical integrity while trying to design a modern treatment facility that would lend itself to the health and comfort of its patients as well as allow the first floor of the mansion to be used as a facility for weddings, seminars and social functions. The second was trying to follow current city guidelines with the property falling within its limits and jurisdiction. The property spent nearly a year-and-a-half in city commissions before final approval was granted.
Fortunately, McInturff and Parker had worked together before on several residential and commercial projects, which gave them a good idea of what they were getting into. The aim on this project was a little different. As a result, the Oaks had to maintain its historical residential atmosphere and be functional while not looking cold and commercial.
So perhaps a third lesson to learn from McInturff is to carefully think things through. "Take your time and don't rush into any selections," McInturff advises. "In this particular project there was a lot of thought and we had a lot of people involved."
The first step was to do extensive research on the estate. It was discovered the home was originally built for Judge Thad A. Cox and his family. Cox was one of eastern Tennessee's most prominent Democratic leaders in the early 1900s. He commissioned the estate in 1918 to be built in the same fashion as the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. However, completion was delayed until 1922 because of building materials shortages following World War I.
When McInturff first got involved in the project, she found the home in less than pristine condition. Some of the things that were there were extremely aged such as heavy draperies and heavy cornice boards as well as other furnishings from previous years. Because this was once a family home, some of the chandeliers and lighting fixtures were kept by family members as heirloom pieces. During the renovation, fixture replacements were made with careful consideration in order to give the same period look.
"Everything had to be repainted and the floors had to be refinished. It was just a matter of everything had to be done," she continues. Several local craftsmen were brought in on the project.
Absolute historical accuracy could not be maintained in every detail of the project—partly because of budget, and partly because the estate's intended use required durable, heavy-duty furnishings that needed to be practical, such as seating, interior textiles, floor coverings and window coverings. "For the dining room tabletop we commissioned a local cabinetmaker to do that out of a synthetic marble," McInturff explains. "We purchased tapestries because we needed to soften some of those high ceilings and walls."
FLATTERING WINDOW COVERINGS
McInturff quickly learned how important the appropriate choice in window coverings would be to maintain The Oak's historical integrity. She had to find treatments that would hearken back to the estate's historical time period, yet remain fully functional and practical.
McInturff specified solid wood Delta Woods blinds from CACO, Inc. Window Fashions, Johnson City, TN. "They were used because they lent themselves to the look without taking away from the home's time period interior," she says. "Because the sun beats so heavily through the home's extremely large window areas, we had to have something to block the glare and the light."
In addition, cloth tapes were ordered to work with the flow of colors used throughout the home, picking up the hues of the tapestries and area rugs. Cord tilts were specified on all the blinds.
McInturff knew that a medium to dark toned wood stain was essential to flatter the Os De Muton and Louis XIV style chairs with distressed wood arms and legs, which she found to highlight The Oaks interior. She chose two-inch blinds in CACO's pecan stain color as a near-perfect match with beige cloth tapes. "They offer a color in their line that worked wonderfully with the colors that we had used, so it was not a custom color match. The Delta Woods work in so many different situations," McInturff says. "They lend themselves to a practical use, plus they add a beauty and definition to the areas we put them in."
As a final touch, McInturff created soft cornices to top off the kitchen windows and added sheers on a couple of other windows. In a few areas, the home's original true divided light leaded glass windows were left untreated.
There were several other important considerations when it came to choosing the Delta Woods blinds. One was the home's antique woodwork trim, which McInturff felt needed to be left exposed. Another was permitting a generous view of the grounds and surrounding mountains. A third, and just as important consideration, was the look of the home from the outside. "We needed something that would not look so out of place from the exterior. Could you imagine this mansion with white lining or other color blinds from different windows on the outside?" she asks. "You don't want to start making things look unpleasant from the exterior."
In the end, McInturff's design and selections pulled together the charm of the estate's historical period while still permitting a generous view and the healthful, practical use of its new owners.