The 1920s North Main cottage of painter Joseph Bradley and his wife, pastry chef Rachel Bradley, is a study in mixed media. Furnishings and wares in the downtown abode echo decades past, but their home’s artwork is much newer—produced by a host of regional painters.
It makes sense when you meet the Bradleys. There’re five of them including three young sons. Boys tear through the house, often with several neighbors in tow. No room is off limits, so in turn they are raised among the things their parents collect and value.
“A very clean style—though I think it’s aesthetically beautiful—is unrealistic,” says Rachel. “Minimalist just wouldn’t work for our family.”
Instead art peppers the home, often hung in striking ways. Joseph thinks it’s important to identify what he calls impact walls. He instructs: determine the first place the eye goes to when upon entering a space, and that’s where you hang the biggest, most significant piece of art.
Their living room features three large works including a monochromatic Liz Rundorff Smith above the mantle. The Bradleys traded a painting for it, not knowing at the time how it would work with their interiors. “It’s soft and moody,” says Joseph, “and smart in the way it doesn’t demand attention, so the viewer’s eye lingers on it.”
Joseph says his personal work is about art you want to live with. “When I wake up and see a painting I expect it to bring me joy. Not all art has to be challenging or counterpoint décor. When I paint I ask myself, ‘Would I want to see this every day?’”
Many of his paintings are hung throughout the house both in common spaces and in bed-rooms; nearly all depict southern fauna. Many feature his signature silver leaf.
Rachel and Joseph are both 37 years old with birthdays just two weeks apart. They shopped for furniture and art together even before they married.
A second-hand desk purchased on a date remains in Joseph’s West Greenville studio. “What you are drawn to changes over time, but you can see the journey,” he offers. “It’s like the tattoo of a home.”
Rachel agrees. “We nudge each other a bit when something resonates. I don’t think the house would look like this without the both of us.”
Mid-century furniture is also a midpoint for their family’s style, appealing to Rachel’s fondness for vintage and Joseph’s affinity for industry. A cocktail hutch in the dining room is a favorite; it houses sets of period cocktail glasses and decanters next to a bentwood dining set. The home is garnished with good rugs, and the dining room is no exception. Though walls remain neutral, the Bradleys don’t shy from color. A sizeable tribal-print rug displays a diamond pattern in pinks, golds, charcoal, and blue bridging the living room with the back of the house.
“Kitchens have to be the right balance of utility and design,” says Rachel. The trained pastry chef and owner of Desserterie, a freelance baking company for independent restaurants, has worked in her share of commercial kitchens, large and small.
Though they built a large deck and trellis off the back of the house, the couple chose to keep the original footprint of their kitchen intact. The challenge was to create directional flow for a cooking space bookended by doorways.
First to go was an awkwardly shaped island, replaced with a vintage French kitchen table. “It was a traditional eat-in kitchen before and it’s still an eat-in kitchen,” says Rachel. “It’s just more functional now. The long table united the space without the need for a breakfast room.”
An upper bank of cabinets was removed to add light and visual space. The rest were painted a Georgian blue that leans a bit teal, a color Rachel intuitively knew was the right hue. Their Bertazonni convection stove was moved in and a new hood installed above it. They added pot lights and replaced the sink, countertops, and tile.
Rachel remarks that kitchens, like bathrooms, are a more permanent expense. “It’s not like a living room where you can replace a rug and a couple of pillows. We wanted the kitchen to be of good design and feel a bit timeless.”
A post-modern cupboard defines the boundary of the space and offers display storage for some of Rachel’s favorite serving pieces. “Once it was placed, I knew the kitchen was complete.”
Up the Stairs
The brick cottage was likely built as a two-bedroom and one-bath, single-level home. A past owner expanded into the attic adding a bachelor-style master bedroom and bath. The Bradleys saw the possibility to reconfigure the upstairs to create a bedroom for each of their sons, but the first step was to do the unthinkable: remove the master suite.
The bath alone was so large that the couple joked a yoga class could be taught in it. Rachel had the vision to see it as a pair of bedrooms. Changing the roofline raised the eight-foot ceilings, creating more physical space as well as interesting peaks overhead, some reaching 11 feet. A Jack-and-Jill bath was added for the boys. And, the master bedroom was redefined with its own adjacent bath and walk-in closet. Rachel worked hard to keep finishes consistent with the original architecture. They purchased 15 solid-wood doors from salvage stores in the various sizes needed. She scoured Ebay for matching escutcheons, the correct hinges, and glass doorknobs.
Rachel and Joseph’s bedroom is a place to see some of his past work (Joseph keeps one painting from each of his major series). A notable early abstract landscape sits over a mid-century double dresser, and a duo of pattern-heavy goldfinches hang over the bed.
The new en suite bath is resplendent in black and white with a cast iron clawfoot tub, glass-enclosed shower and double-faucet sink with black under bowl (a salvage piece shipped from Vermont). A picnic bench the couple found at Oddfellows in Asheville nearly runs the length of the wall, cleverly affixed to the floor. Period windows are operable, and new black matte penny tile contrasts simple white subway. Brass fixtures were located in town by Hughes Supply. “They found us exactly what we were looking for without the Chicago showroom prices,” says Joseph.
A central landing anchors the upstairs renovation with a custom bookcase built solidly floor to ceiling. It’s a foot deep with eight shelves filled with books and family memorabilia.
The baby of the family, Levi, may have the home’s most unique space. His bedroom was crafted from closet storage in a dormer-like recess. “The ceiling does it for me,” says Rachel. “It’s a camp bedroom, like a little escape.” A nest unto itself. Perfectly suited for them all.
Decorating with Art
The Bradleys have a large and growing art collection but struggle to display it all. They shared with atHome their best design tips for maintaining an artful home.
- Identify: What does your home convey? If you want to feel calm, look for pieces that are monochromatic or pattern-oriented. If you want to make a statement, seek out color or art that has a focal point. Find rooms on Instagram or Pinterest and use them as a rule of thumb.
- Edit: Spaces need to work together. Joseph’s mentor Carl Blair instilled in him that the whole is more important than its parts. What you take away can be as significant as what you add.
- Splurge: When you feel strongly about a piece of art, buy it.
- Store: Putting things away doesn’t mean you love them any less. Simply changing out art can make it feel like you’ve redecorated.
- Restrain: Homes with a lot of windows create lots of little walls. Resist the urge to fill every space.
- Group: If you have a collection of art, group it together. A salon wall can make a singular statement when installed effectively
Greenville’s Best-Selling Artist
Joseph Bradley grew up poor in rural South Carolina in a ramshackle farmhouse. The small drab structure was blue on the front and grey on the sides. He developed an affinity for nature, seeking beauty outside his home. “I fell in love with the wild South, when a fox pops his head over the tall grass, watching goldfinches devour seed pods. It colored my world.”
His large-scale paintings depict deer, fox, birds, owls, and fish all evidently southern and often repeating in pattern. He says he uses pattern to capture the slow rhythm of natural surroundings and, of late, favors exaggerated symmetry. His work is highly layered; each piece can have thirty or more applications of metal leaf.
Bradley has painted full time for nine years and employs two studio assistants to keep up with orders. He believes his style has evolved slowly, but takes note of its evolution. “I feel like I get better as I get older because my voice has gotten clearer,” says Bradley, “though as I enter my mid-career as an artist, I realize I’m identified for a certain type of work—I’ve created a brand per se—so I make lateral moves because I’m grateful for my following and for customers who connect with my work.”
Galleries in New Orleans and Charleston represent Joseph Bradley. His work can be purchased locally solely at his studio in the Village of West Greenville. He tours select art festivals nationally, this year selling out at the Denver Cherry Blossom Festival.
What’s next for Joseph Bradley? A line of fabric and home goods is in the works for 2017.