“We started collecting art when we first got married,” recalls Dr. Margaret “Kenny” Offermann. “A small collection — we couldn’t afford much then. But we made it a tradition to buy each other a piece of fine art each year on our anniversary. We’ve continued that tradition.” She is sitting on a woven leather bench at Artetude, the Asheville gallery of contemporary fine art and sculpture that she owns along with her husband, Dr. Russ Medford. Clearly, they’ve come a long way.
It doesn’t seem all that unusual for long-time art collectors to find themselves as gallery owners, but it is an ambitious project — particularly when one considers that Doctors Offermann and Medford also lead very busy lives as medical researchers and partners in Salutramed Group, an Atlanta-based consulting firm. But Margaret Offermann doesn’t see any contradiction in the two endeavors.
“With both art and science there is an inherent creative spirit … trying to discover the unknown and to do things that others haven’t done before,” she explains. “With medicine and art, there’s a healing element. We apply our technical knowledge and skills to use medicines and procedures that help people live longer and better. Art addresses the spirit … the soul.”
Finding a restful place for their spirits — and their art — was a key element in the couple’s decision to establish a getaway home in Asheville. Offermann had come to the area several years ago to act as interim director of Mission Hospital’s SECU Cancer Center, and the couple became enchanted with the city. A thoughtfully renovated Mid-Century home with breathtaking views, just off Town Mountain Road, provided the ideal setting. “Russ walked out on the deck and you could see all the tension melt away,” his wife remembers. “It had all the perfect elements, and the bones of the house were such that we thought we could turn it into something very special.”
To help them create a space that would seamlessly accommodate both their treasured art works and a casual mountain lifestyle, they turned to Talli Roberts and Sharon Allard of Allard & Roberts Interior Design. “In many interiors, art tends to be incorporated as accent pieces to the main event, which is the design,” observes Medford. “To add art that makes a statement in itself is often a challenge to an interior designer, because they have to master a strong element, but that can’t detract from what they’re trying to accomplish from a design standpoint.
“Talli and Sharon are not afraid to do that,” he continues, “and it shows a great deal of confidence in their ability to create space using all the available tools, not just a palette of tools that is limited to the design structure, texture, colors, etc. I think that’s why we had a particular affinity with them … they weren’t afraid to embrace the challenge of integrating an artistic vision as well as a design vision.”
The designers began by installing a built-in wall of shelving to define the living-room area and provide ample display space for three-dimensional art, such as sculpture and raku pottery, while framing wall space to highlight a specific piece of two-dimensional art: a commissioned painting by Jeanne Bessette.
“With Talli and Sharon, the first imperative was form and function,” says Offermann. “The furnishings had to be the appropriate size and proportion for the space. Then there was the choice of the fabrics, keeping in mind that we were going to have so much artwork in the home.”
“We decided on a palette of neutrals,” explains Allard. “Warm tones … golds and grays throughout.” But neutral certainly does not mean bland. The designers selected a subtle interplay of patterns and textures that create movement and interest, an amuse-bouche of sorts, to provide context and whet the appetite for the artworks themselves.
In a particularly deft turn, the fabrics — and many of the furnishings — refer not only to the Mid-Century sensibility of the architecture, but also to the surrounding landscape. Stylized leaf and bark patterns appear repeatedly, establishing a comforting sense of place. The cherry wood dining table features an organic “live” edge. A rug in the guest bedroom recalls a random scattering of pebbles.
“Whether I’m on the deck or sitting inside, I feel like I’m in the mountains,” notes Offermann. “It’s modern and Contemporary, yet there are playful elements in the house. The rug in the guest bedroom combined with the stripes in the headboard … I would never have been that bold. But it works beautifully.”
Indeed, the home’s design perfectly suits the couple’s purposes. “The house had to be spiritually uplifting for us from an aesthetic sense and easy to live in,” notes Offermann. “We’re really happy with how Talli and Sharon guided us through the process.” Dr. Medford agrees. “When we come up, the house is always ready for us. It has a clean aesthetic — it isn’t a heavily detailed house with objects that need to be maintained. It invites you to reflect and relax and enjoy your life. At the end of the day, it’s a living space.”
It’s a balanced space, where art and life are co-mingled — a calm yet energizing center from which Doctors Offermann and Medford can pursue their passions for creativity and healing. An unusual combination of attributes — not unlike doctors themselves.