James Farmer Gives a 100-Year-Old Carolina Farmhouse New Life

A young family embraces an old home and calls on designer James Farmer to give it an updated yet traditionally Southern makeover.

Photos: Jeff Herr

When a young couple and their children decided to make a nearly 100-year-old home their full-time residence, they knew it would require a special kind of redesign—one that would honor its unique history while also giving it a more functional layout and modern conveniences.

Nestled in rural South Carolina—on land primed for producing peaches, pecans, and peppers—Stately Oaks is a family-run farm that exudes classic charm. From the Spanish moss swaying from the towering trees and the creeping fig running along the steps to the wide front porch and prominent columns, the house fits in perfectly among the landscape the deep South is so widely known for.

The home’s architectural style can be described as a revival of Southern Federal and, like so many historic houses, had a few quirks and a tricky layout not suitable for today. The homeowners entrusted interior designer James Farmer to address these issues and completely update the interiors.

“We started with the kitchen,” says Farmer.

“Older kitchens used to be smokehouses or would have been detached from the main house—they were not the comfortable hearts of the home we enjoy now.” Once the modern kitchen was added on, the design team also rearranged the entire floor plan to a more traditional style. “When a homeowner asks for a big kitchen, I always remind them that the bigger the kitchen the bigger the mess,” he adds. “Scale is very important, and by keeping a space proportional to the rest of the home, it forces everyone to spill out of the kitchen and into the other rooms.”

Carolina Calling

The house is a revival of Southern Federal style and is nestled on a sprawling family peach farm.

Carolina Calling

The family room sofas are covered in stunning velvet, and the variety of patterns used throughout the room complement each other.

Carolina Calling

The foyer frames a lovely view into the dining room. The natural sunlight streams in and highlights the well-curated pieces.

Carolina Calling

The kitchen features a butcher block-topped island and rattan barstools.

Carolina Calling

A former passage and pantry was transformed into a wet bar.

The new floor plan includes a wide center hall with the parlor on the left and dining room on the right. The dining room now opens into the sunroom, foyer, and family room and gets natural light coming in from four sides. The flow of the home perfectly represents what Farmer refers to as an “unapologetic mix” that Southern décor is famous for. “I love that it’s a formal dining room, but the furniture includes a painted table and upholstered seats, and it opens up to a room filled with wicker. That’s what I love about the South,” says the designer. “We mix the high with the low, and it gives it what I call the ‘salt on the chocolate chip cookie’—that extra kick.”

For the color palette, Farmer knew from the beginning he wanted to use a blend of greens and creams. The neutral yet bright combination allowed him to select shades that ranged from ivory to olive and created a gentle backdrop for the bolder furnishing selections, like the twin terra-cotta sofas in the family room. The two main colors are used throughout the entire house—whether it’s the wall, ceiling, or trim color—and that, as Farmer says, represents the magic of interior design.

“I loved that these clients really trusted us, because it allowed us to have a really wonderful collaboration,” says the designer. “That trust, combined with our attention to scale and space, made everything work out beautifully. I always joke that interior design is a lot like football—it’s just a game of inches and yards. If you take a foot here and a yard there…next thing you know, touchdown.”