When sailing on beautiful Lake Lanier in North Georgia, anyone who didn’t look carefully could easily mistake Tommy and Chantal Bagwell’s home for a lakeside resort. With their 100-ft. houseboat Amistad moored at the dock, the tennis courts, the swimming pool whose surplus waters cascade to another pool below, and grounds landscaped with gardens and ponds and pergolas, the Bagwells’ home has so many amenities that the mistake is an easy one to make. But, while the stately home and grounds may look like a resort to others sailing by, for Tommy and Chantal and their four children, it’s home.
“we told our girls that this is where they’re going to be married...”
THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR
In 1993, when Tommy and Chantal first discovered the old 12-acre lakeside farm, complete with a family cemetery still intact, they purchased the property and contracted with a builder to build a house next door so they could be nearby while he was building their current home. “We asked him to build a house that we could live in temporarily while we were building this one. Our older twins were toddlers at the time, and we were expecting another set of twins, so being right next door was much easier and more convenient. We also told him that we wanted that house to suit the market well, so it would sell quickly when it came time for us to move into this one.
“When we met with the architect to design this house, we asked him for a sprawling house with lots of exterior interest — balconies and terraces, a really interesting roofline, a widow’s walk, a tower off to one side, and a generous entryway.” In 1998, when the Bagwells moved in to their new house, it had all of those features and so much more.
An Old World feeling welcomes guests as soon as they open the 3″-thick walnut front doors, which are mounted on swivels instead of hinges for added support. Just inside is the generous entrance hall that has, embedded in the floor, a 12′ x 8′ design made from four different kinds and shades of granite.
The floors and walls in the entryway and living room are unfinished Italian marble, which makes an ideal backdrop for the antique tapestries that hang above the twin staircases as well as the fireplace. The fireplace pilasters and scrolling wrought ironwork of the twin main staircases were specially designed by Jacques Brunet of Atlanta.
But Chantal herself designed the elaborate chandelier that hangs in the living room. Like all of the other chandeliers in the house, the fixture raises and lowers via remote control for easy access when cleaning. They installed discreet lighting low in the walls along the staircases to illumine the steps at night.
To create a warm, cozier feeling in the living room area, their architect modified the original plan to include a double-barreled ceiling, which lowered the overall height of the room. The fireplace chimney was then set inside the wall so as not to interrupt the flow of the graceful, curving lines of the ceiling.
SPECIALIZED DINING PLACES
Because the couple entertains frequently, special attention was given to dining areas. The main formal dining room has walnut floors for added, rich warmth and mechanized doors in the butler’s pantry for greater ease when serving or clearing.
The dining table, which seats 16 comfortably, has armed chairs all around. “Tommy felt strongly about that,” says Chantal. “He wanted everyone to have arm chairs, not just those at the head and foot, so they would know that everyone seated around the table in our home is equally important.”
The design on the walnut doors that open into the dining room was created by affixing to the glass a piece of lace, whose design was traced, then etched into the glass. The twin chandeliers of amethysts and antique gold are hung over the custom-made table.
“There’s an interesting story about this table. Right after we moved in, our families were coming for Christmas, and we didn’t have a table big enough to seat everyone. So we asked our carpenter — our really good carpenter, that is — if he could make us one to use just for that time. The table he made was so beautiful that we asked him to put some additional finishing touches on it, and it’s the table we use to this day. I’m sure that makes it one of a kind!”
Off of the main dining room, there is an equally formal, but smaller dining room. “On those occasions when we’re having fewer dinner guests, we didn’t want them sitting at a 18-ft. table with 16 chairs, so we decided to have an additional, smaller dining room that seats only six. It’s a much more intimate room. It’s cozy.”
“When we told the architect that we wanted a widow's walk, we had no idea he would design one that is 27' x 30'!”
For the kitchen and breakfast room, the couple chose Downsview cabinetry and ceramic tiling for the floors. “We didn’t want to continue the unfinished marble into the kitchen and family room areas, because it stains. We have four active children, and ourkitchen is the heart of our home. With our kids and their friends coming and going all the time, we wanted something really practical on the floor that wouldn’t absorb spills.”
On the top floor of the house, the Bagwells have a second kitchen, though they didn’t expect to have one when they first started building. “When we told the architect that we wanted a widow’s walk, we had no idea he would design one that is 27′ x 30′! It has a beautiful view of the lake, and it’s really great space, so I’ve designed it to be an open-air dining and living area with a fully equipped kitchen. In the spring and summertime, it’s our favorite room in the house. We call it The 4th Floor Grille.”
“LAKE VIEW” ACADEMY AND MORE
As their twins were reaching school age, Tommy and Chantal converted 3,000 square feet of the lower level of the house into a school where Chantal and her associate home-school the children.
“We made the space into classrooms, learning areas, and places where they can take music lessons or other classes. There’s a terrace just outside for eating lunch and a playground right off of the terrace. Our children are active in community and sports programs with kids from other schools, and we knew our kids wanted to feel like they were a part of a school, too. So we gave our school a name — Vista del Lago Academy.”
“As our family grows up and interests change, we’ve tried to accommodate those interests and changes in our home. Every year we’ve lived here, we’ve taken on a new project. We’ve added something new, like the playground, or the kiwi orchard, or the pergola gardens. It’s usually been something outside, like the pond. After we put it in and our kids loved it so much, we had Gregory Johnson, a sculptor here in Forsyth County, cast in bronze a statue of each of the four children playing around the pond.”
AMPLE SLEEPING QUARTERS
The second floor of the house has eight bedrooms with baths, and each of the children’s bedrooms has an accompanying balcony. The master suite is on the first floor and is comprised of the master bedroom, a reading room with a marble and walnut fireplace, an exercise room, and a circular bathroom that is 25 feet in diameter.
Custom-made cabinets in the master bath encircle the room with its central shower and steamer. Chantal smiles as she refers to it as “our beam-me-up, Scotty shower.”
All of the 24-carat, gold-framed mirrors and lighting fixtures were imported from France, and three different shades of marble were used to finish the floor. The encircling drapes over the tub are mechanized so they are easy to open and close.
A PLACE TO SHARE
“Anyone who knows us knows that Tommy and I like to entertain. And we enjoy hosting events on our houseboat, or we let others use the boat, to benefit the Boy Scouts, FOCUS, or the other educational and environmental organizations we support.
“We’re fortunate to have plenty of room to host or entertain groups of just about any size. It’s nice to be able to share what we have with others. It’s such a good feeling.”