When Laura Hilgenfeld and her husband Brian wanted to build a home in Norman that would accommodate their family of four boys, ages 4 to 16, she knew right away she wanted to bring the South – where she grew up – to Oklahoma.
After moving here, she missed Charleston, South Carolina: her home, the water, her friends and her sense of place.
“You probably see it everywhere, in all my stuff,” Hilgenfeld said, referring to the Southern touches found throughout the house’s details. “I want it to feel like home to me.”
She decided she wanted to build a Federal Colonial style home in the tradition of the stately houses from South Carolina. She researched plans and architectural details online for accuracy, and sketched out the rooms she wanted, aiming to keep it authentic enough to the style she was seeking, while remaining livable and modern enough for her family to enjoy.
“It was hard to find anybody who could do what I wanted to do stylistically. So I drew everything out myself, like floorplan-wise,” she said, noting that she brought plans from online sources such as a University of Virginia architecture site to meetings with a local architect. “People always talk about this house because it feels different. It feels very like the Deep South, but it’s very stylistically different from anything you see around here.”
The Hilgenfelds hired David Williams, a longtime family friend, to build it. Gretchen Clark with Gretchen Clark Interiors helped her with materials, marble, countertop, trims and other design ideas, including the door casing that separates the stairway hall from the foyer. Nina Wadley with No Coast Designs helped her, too. Hilgenfeld’s brother, who still lives in South Carolina, drew up the landscape plans.
“It was a fun challenge to have these beautiful spaces created with kids in mind,” said Clark, who described the home’s accents and decor as “neo-traditional” and classic. “We had fun creating a sense of history, while obviously it was a new build.”
The Hilgenfelds moved into their home four years ago, and it’s overflowing with items that make Laura and her family – and any guests – feel right at home.
The Federal Colonial style often is two rooms deep with a lot of natural light, Hilgenfeld said. Her home has six-over-six-pane windows – double hung – with sashes reminiscent of Southern residences. It has a larger kitchen than is typically found in classic colonials. The walls are smooth, with some grasscloth wallpaper – another very Southern tradition – and rectangular dental molding throughout.
“It’s funny, I’ve had a couple of my friends tell me that I ‘do old lady well,’ and so for me, I’m like, it’s not ‘old lady.’ I think it’s classy and endearing,” she said. “I am not a trendy girl … I would rather pick something that’s timeless and elegant and classic.”
Hilgenfeld said she wants to use pieces and touches that are beautiful now and will be beautiful 50 years from now, no matter what the trends are.
When you first walk past the boxwood shrubs leading up to her front door, you’ll see wooden shutters with the traditional hardware known as “shutter dogs,” gas lanterns and a door knocker that remind Hilgenfeld of Charleston homes. She ordered these special touches from Southern companies.
“I wanted it to be right,” she said.
The home has five bedrooms and an extra one that they use as a playroom, along with five full bathrooms and two powder baths. She wanted everyone to have their own spaces where they can gather and enjoy having friends over. Her 16-year-old said he loves hanging out in the room with the pool table.
An outdoor room by the pool includes a comfortable seating area, a grill and bar area, and heavy shutters that you can open or close to block weather elements.
White Italian marble tops the kitchen island; other counters are granite. Her cabinets are glazed. Much of the paint she used is from Farrow & Ball, known for its hues based on historic color palettes.
She also used antiques throughout, many of which mean something to her. The wheat back chairs in her kitchen nook came from a family for whom she nannied in Charlotte and are more than 100 years old. She has her grandmother’s armoire, which her great-grandfather built by hand with wooden dowels. He used to put his boots in it, many years ago.
On one wall of the dining room hang photographs of different scenes in Charleston taken by Hilgenfeld’s friend, photographer Kim Graham. They show the I’On Club, where the Hilgenfelds had their wedding reception, and the Sword Gate House. Another is of a street named Legare, pronounced “Legree,” which is also the name as the Hilgenfeld family golden doodle. An updated crystal chandelier hangs over the dining table, and in the entryway are sketches of architectural plans from old Southern buildings.
“She loves and appreciates all of the little details. She is a great hostess, so we definitely thought through ways for her home to be hospitable. It was a super fun project to work on in Oklahoma,” said Clark. “It is very unique and personal, with a historic feeling toward her roots.”
Clark said the Hilgenfelds even painted the outdoor ceilings on the porches with “haint blue,” another Southern tradition. Haint is a variation of the word “haunt,” and the blue, according to tradition, warded off ghosts and evil spirits.
In the game room upstairs, another Southern touch – handmade bricks from the Old Carolina Brick Co. – provides the backsplash for the bar area, which is stocked with a jug of moonshine that her dad made and cans of Cheerwine Soft Drink, a Southern staple Laura Hilgenfeld orders from North Carolina. Right off the game room is a workout room.
The family has enjoyed the home the last four years, and its Southern charm has made Laura Hilgenfeld feel more at home. But she’s also already planning her next one, to be built on a larger lot a couple doors down. She’ll keep the same homey, classic Southern feel, but she already knows what the style will be: Georgian.