Photo by Briana Brough.
Originally published January/February 2012
Tommy and Marty Mitchell’s lives don’t imitate art. They’re saturated in it.
The husband and wife make their living creating it. During their free time, they scour estate sales and antique stores for pieces to add to their growing personal collection.
In fact, they treat their home as a canvas – which goes beyond hanging paintings and placing furniture. From the faux finishes on the walls to the dents in the wooden floors that they made by beating them with logging chains, they are artists, their house is the subject, and the work is never finished.
The considerable amount of attention the Mitchells give their Greenwood home is just as the previous owner would have wanted.
Although it was built in 1948, the Georgian white brick home that sits on nearly two acres has never been on the market and has only had two sets of owners. The property was out in the country when Dr. Maurice Newton, a dentist, and his wife commissioned brothers Jim and John Webb of California as architects and built the home. Newton stayed for nearly 50 years.
The Mitchells always admired the home, which has four bedrooms and five bathrooms, while living on Christopher Road. “We always wanted this house,” says Marty. They were friends with Newton’s neighbors, who made the Mitchells aware when he was ready to sell in 1997.
After the sale was final, Newton, then a widower, came by every day for six months – just to sit in the office, which was once his master bedroom.
“Talking to him for five minutes, clearly he love the house deeply,” says Tommy. “And we feel the same way about it.”
Upon moving in, the Mitchells completed renovations on the kitchen – replacing the floors, countertop and appliances and inserting glass into the original cabinets.
They also oversaw an addition, building a gallery and master suite off of the living room. They changed the exterior by installing a wall, pool and pergola.
In all, the home is more than 5,000 square feet and filled with art, European antiques and collectibles – from a drawing by the late actor Tony Curtis to an Italian wooden statue of the Angel Gabriel that dates back to the 1740s to six etchings by Salvador Dali.
The collection has accumulated over the Mitchells’ 26-year marriage. They believe in acquiring things that add value – to their bank account and to their lives.
“Every single piece we have in here we bought together or separately in hopes of enhancing our everyday life,” says Marty.
Even the story of when they met involves a collectible. Tommy and Marty both grew up in Pittsboro. She first spotted him when he was in high school and she was in middle school. “He came driving up in this 1968 Mustang he’d restored,” she says. “And that’s what he did. He was creative. It was red. It was beautiful. He’d dyed the seats. I thought he was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.”
As it turns out, Tommy was picking up another girl. But their paths crossed again. “We always came back to each other,” she says. Soon after high school graduation, they married, and son Kyle, now 25, was born a year and a half later.
Tommy taught himself to do art and antique restoration. Today, he does all restorations for Whitehall Antiques and a number of private clients.
About 15 years ago, he started a new endeavor. He saw an old botanical and decided to make one, shaping metal and then painting it. Soon, he was showing his colorful creations to people and word of mouth spread. Today, his botanicals are sold in Bergdorf Goodman and range in price from $450 to $5,000. He also does custom work upon request.
Marty, who previously worked in development for UNC, is heavily involved in the Tommy Mitchell Company on the marketing and operations side. The couple work from their home office; Tommy generally cranks out one botanical a day with help from his sister, Midge, an artist who lives down the street.
The home is the perfect setting, the Mitchells say, for working, living, sleeping and even vacationing.
“The greatest thing is working for hour and hours – and you’re stressed,” says Tommy. “And you say, ‘Let’s go swimming.’ It’s a different world. That’s therapy.”
To read more of this article, pick up the January/February 2012 issue of CHM.