By Kelsey Conner
Photography by Morgan Nowland
The vision of a modern farmhouse came to Dawn D. Totty in a dream, and the New York-born, Chattanooga-based designer conjured her new home into being within four months. The farmhouse sits in the Jasper Highlands development, 25 minutes west of Chattanooga. Opening the chartreuse door to Totty’s personal residence offers visitors a glimpse into her mind.
“I love the warmth and charm of a farmhouse. I think most Americans do. It’s a timeless, classic design that’s hard to go out of style,” she says. “Farmhouses are a clean, simple design… you can do just about anything with it.”
Totty’s take on the farmhouse is overflowing with custom features, all derived from her imagination, all melding seamlessly into the house’s clean aesthetic. Walk across the custom designed 11-inch wide wood flooring with marine grade white coating, and see what appears at first glance to be huge picture windows lining the far wall. A panoramic view of the Cumberland Plateau and Tennessee River stretches out just beyond the deck.
The windows, however, are retractable doors. Totty’s utilization of typically commercial features help to create the unique atmosphere of the home. “I used commercial grade coating on the floor, but more importantly than that, I have what you would typically see in a commercial space, primarily a hotel: I incorporated a retractable door,” she says. “These are the things that the public doesn’t know that they can do, things that they don’t know they can think outside of the box and incorporate into their home.”
Thinking outside the box – and the big box store – is the attitude that Dawn took to the entire project. “Most designers frequent the same big box stores… I do on occasion, but it’s very rare. The local-owned shops, in Nashville and Chattanooga, I’m there twice a week.”
Many of the items that Totty points out within the home are reclaimed or antique pieces. Steel orbs, found at a small store in Chattanooga, became the light fixtures hanging from the high ceilings. Vintage recliners are recovered with black and white, phoenix-like print and a Victorian sofa stands out in bright pink. Shopping at local stores not only yields truly unique pieces, but also supports the community.
“You’re supporting the store that you bought the chairs at. You’re supporting the upholsterer, you’re supporting the local fabric stores,” she adds.
Totty’s custom elements extend throughout the home. The L-shaped staircase leading upstairs was a collaboration between Dawn and her husband Kirby, and deemed impossible by her architect. However, with specially-designed steel beams, they were able to achieve it. In the loft, an open-concept closet reveals a multitude of colorful clothing, and a tucked away bathroom offers a quiet retreat. Swarovski crystals adorn hand-poured brass hardware on drawers and cabinets as well as a floral-patterned spherical light fixture that hangs above a freestanding bathtub.
When picking the location for her home, Jasper Highlands was a clear choice. “I’m close to Huntsville, I’m close to Nashville, I’m close to Chattanooga… I’m at the center of a hub. And it’s like being on vacation every day… there are natural waterfalls all around us, and the neighbors are the best I’ve ever had.”
The decision to move from her previous residence didn’t take long to make, either. “It’s not easy for a designer to purchase a home that someone else has put together,” she says. “The changes are usually so radical, that I decided to build my own. We got an offer on the house on Friday and bought the [Jasper] lot on Sunday.” The quick turnaround between the lot purchase and the completion of the home happened because “I wanted to prove that a girl could go toe-to-toe with male contractors and builders. And I made a point, alright – I love it!”