Wagner makes Emorys presidential residence her own
Paige P. Parvin 96G
the formal living room at Lullwater, one wall is lined
with shelves that hold an eclectic assortment of bric-a-brac:
a collection of jade pieces that Emory President Jim Wagner
brought back from Thailand is displayed near Oriental
ginger jars and china vases belonging to the house, while
a marble sculpture of a horned Moses that has also been
at Lullwater for years shares space with the hammered
brass sailboat recently arrived from the Wagners
former home in Cleveland, Ohio. The objects are illuminated
from above and reflected in mirrors behind the shelvesa
new design element that brightens the entire room.
she came to live at Emorys presidential residence
last spring, Debbie Wagner had to find ways to blend her
old world with her new one. She has approached life here
much as she arranged the shelves in her living room (left)by
treasuring the best parts of her past, embracing the unique
qualities and quirks of her new home, and adding her own
touch to the merging of the two.
Wagners transition from Cleveland to Atlanta began
many months before she walked through Lullwaters
doors for good. After her husband was appointed Emorys
nineteenth president in the summer of 2003, Mrs. Wagner
and their younger daughter, Christine, stayed on in Cleveland
so Christine could finish her last year of high school
while President Wagner lived at the Clairmont Campus from
September until early last year.
even from a distance, Mrs. Wagner prepared for the move
by working closely with Beth Royals, former manager of
interior design in Campus Planning and Facilities Management,
to update and reconfigure the interior of Lullwater, planning
for the integration of her own beloved belongings with
those already in the house. The result of this confluence
can be seen and felt throughout Lullwater, which over
the past year Mrs. Wagner has gradually come to call home.
her diminutive size, when she opens Lullwaters tall,
heavy front door to greet guests on a summer morning,
she fills the foyer with an air of easy graciousness that
speaks of comfort and hospitality. Naturally warm and
friendly, Mrs. Wagner has a bit of the South in her: she
offers all her visitors iced teasweet or unsweetenedor,
of course, a cold Coca-Cola.
the wife of the president, entertaining guests will be
a central role for Mrs. Wagner, and its one she
embraces. A home economics major at the University of
Delaware, Wagner enjoys cooking and creating a welcoming
atmosphere for visitors.
parents entertained a lot when I was a kid, she
says of her childhood in Silver Spring, Maryland, where
her husband grew up as well. Im not afraid
of entertaining, I dont find it intimidating. When
we had breakfast with President and Mrs. Carter, the first
time was a little daunting. . . . But I just try to be
myself, thats how Ive always lived. Most people
like it when you are genuine.
Mrs. Wagner has welcomed dozens of guests to her new home,
including the 2004 Richard Ellman lecturer Salman Rushdie;
the editors of the student newspaper the Wheel; former
presidential couples the Chaces and the Laneys; and the
Universitys Administrative Council.
Cleveland, Mrs. Wagner worked in Christian education at
their Presbyterian church and devoted time to raising
her children. Before that she taught school for several
years. She has not yet decided to take a job in Atlanta,
nor have the Wagners decided on which church to join.
job was hard to leave, she says. But the cool
part about this move was that I had a whole year to transition.
This one has been fun.
the advice of a former University presidents wife,
Mrs. Wagner has decided she will not take on any significant
commitments, such as serving on boards or heading committees,
during her first year at Emory. She is instead allowing
herself a discovery year to get to know Emory,
its people, and its work.
day starts with a walk around Lullwater, where she meets
dozens of other walkers, joggers, mothers with strollers,
and dogs. Thats about the only consistent part of
her schedule, which might include a tour of the libraries
one day and a luncheon with the Emory Womans Club
the next. I dont really have a typical day
yet, she says.
one part of her life is certain: both she and President
Wagner have expressed a desire for what he has called
a continuum of personal life and University
work, in which the two are almost seamlessly joined.
feel I am an ambassador for the University, and I will
look to what I can do for Emory, she says. Emory
is our first focus, thats why were here. Of
course, its important to do other things toobut
Emory has to become part of our family. The amount of
time you have to give as a presidential couple means it
has to be a labor of love.
Wagners are the fifth couple to live at Lullwater since
1963, when Sanford S. Atwood, Emorys sixteenth president,
took up residence there. Originally built in 1925 (for
more than $200,000) by Walter T. Candler of The Coca-Cola
Company, Lullwater was a kind of woodland retreat situated
on 185 acres of virgin forest. The property once included
tennis courts, stables, a hunting lodge, a blacksmith
shop, a concrete swimming pool and bathhouses, and a private
half-mile horse track (where the Veterans Affairs Medical
Center now sits).
7,500-square-foot English Tudor-style mansion was designed
and constructed by architectural partners Lewis E. Crook
and Ernest D. Ivey, who went on to design a number of
other Emory buildings including Candler Library and the
Administration Building. Fieldstone for the houses
stone walls was quarried on the Lullwater grounds.
natural surroundings remain largely untouched, making
the estate to the University community what Central Park
is to New Yorkers. Although the home itself is huge and,
like any old house, riddled with maintenance challenges,
it is also a place of majestic beauty and repose.
Lullwater grounds provide a beautiful park-like setting
for the house and are well used by Emory faculty, students,
and staff as well as our neighbors in Druid Hills,
says President Wagner. Runners and those enjoying
a weekend picnic are common visitors to the property.
What a treat it is for Debbie and me to be able to live
in this setting and to be able to invite others to enjoy
Wagners arrival coincided with a time when Lullwater
was in need of considerable repair. The manor had suffered
significant water intrusion in preceding years, which
caused damage and mold problems in various parts of the
house. So Emorys Facilities Management Division
took the opportunity to fix the numerous leaks and repair
the damage to the structure, and it was determined that
the house could use some some general sprucing-up on the
inside as well.
began a working relationship between Mrs. Wagner and Royals
that proved valuable in the months leading up to Mrs.
Wagners arrival last June. Relying heavily on the
telephone, e-mail, and Federal Express, Royals included
Mrs. Wagner in every step of the process, from determining
how to configure the rooms to choosing paint colors and
fabrics. The house needed new paint throughout, as well
as window treatments, reupholstered furniture, and some
new wiring and lighting. Many of the old hardwood floors
needed refinishing. At the same time, Mrs. Wagner took
stock of her own house and sent Royals photos of the pieces
she wanted to incorporate at Lullwater.
said, well place things, and then the house will
talk to you, Royals says. It will tell you
what it wants and where things should go.
the design was highly collaborative, Mrs. Wagner says,
she quickly learned to rely on Royals talent and
instincts. The biggest thing was just getting a
feel for the house, and then letting Beth use her gifts,
she says. She would convince me of things and they
were always right. You begin to trust the person. It was
really fun and very intense because we had so little time
working mostly in academic environments during her six
years at Emory, Royals, who previously designed high-end
residential interiors, says the Lullwater project was
refreshing. Her goal, as she put it in a letter
to Bob Hascall, senior associate vice president for the
Facilities Management Division, was twofold: to provide
the president of Emory with a public space for receiving
guests that is warm and inviting, with fine appointments
but without being ostentatious and overdone; and to provide
a healthy and appropriately furnished private space for
the president and his family to live in during their tenure
was a privilege and an incredible opportunity to work
on a Coca-Cola mansion, says Royals who has since
left Emory. It was really kind of a dream.
into the foyer at Lullwater, guests can see, hanging in
the stairwell, the silk batik of the estate grounds created
by artist Mary Edna Fraser for President Wagners
inauguration. They might then proceed to the anteroom
off the front hallonce a small bedroom, this space
is now a sitting room with a specially constructed free-standing
closet that can accommodate dozens of coats.
Two bathrooms, comfortable chairs, and a telephone make
this room a useful receiving area for guests. The closet
structure, which has a dramatic full-length mirror on
one side, is fastened to the floor with a total of seven
screws, so that it could easily be removed if future residents
wish to reconfigure the room.
the hall, the bedroom that formerly served as the Chaces
den has been made into a guest bedroom and redecorated
in Emory colors: rich blue and gold. Several of the objects
that are part of Lullwater reside here, including a plantation
desk that belonged to Osborne Smith, President of Emory
College from 1871-1875. After the desk left Oxford, an
Emory alum bought it and gave it back to the University.
tried to keep it authentic, to make things look like they
fit, Mrs. Wagner says.
the guest room and bathroom, a bright summer bedroom
with windows on three sides has become an exercise room.
The adjoining bathroom has a shower, originally fitted
with a luxurious ten faucets, and striking olive tile;
all the old tile in the eight bathrooms remains, including
tile with bright colors, odd patterns, and even inlaid
animals and boats.
entire first floor of Lullwater is now considered public
space for gathering and entertaining, while the second
floor is the Wagners private space. The Wagners
daughters, Kimberly and Christine, helped choose the colors
for their rooms: a soft blue-grey for Christine and a
lighter ice blue for Kimberly. Although the young women
are away at college, personal touches (a stuffed Eeyore
in Christines room, the bed and chest handmade by
her father in Kimberlys) already mark the rooms
as their own, as if they might walk in at any moment.
imagine Christine will be coming home more than Kimberly,
Mrs. Wagner says. Christine is a freshman at Clemson University
while Kimberly is a senior at Miami University in Ohio.
I miss my girls, but they are in good places too.
And its been easier for me to let them go because
I have this whole new life to figure out.
upstairs is a cozy den, President Wagners office,
and the Wagners bedroom. Mrs. Wagner chose a rich,
deep red as the primary color for this room, which she
says was a departure for her but now she loves. Royals
and interior designer Melissa Brown applied a warm, champagne-hued
faux finish to the walls themselves and designed heavy
window treatments that show off the high ceilings and
huge windows while still allowing light to flood in. In
many rooms, sheer curtains are the only part of the drapes
that can actually be pulled across the windows, offering
both privacy and plenty of natural light.
the real showpiece is also the primary gathering placethe
thirty-one-foot-long, narrow living room immediately off
the foyer. Here a new rug and gold-toned sofa bring the
room in line with current design styles while still maintaining
the slightly woodsy, hunting lodge atmosphere of the original
home. The heavy doors were removed and stored upstairs
to create a more welcoming flow. The room has windows
at only one end, but Royals managed to lighten it considerably
by installing glass, mirrors, and lights in the shelves
that line the wall and using them for decorative objects
rather than books.
change is the raised alcove at the far end of the room.
For years, a grand piano resided there, but now a table
and chairs form an intimate space for socializing, holding
small meetings, or playing cards. The piano has moved
into the more formal music room (left) next door.
the refurbished living room was complete, Royals and Brown
were so pleased with the result that, on Mrs. Wagners
next visit, they asked her to close her eyes before unveiling
the finished space. It just took my breath away,
at the other end of the living room open onto the dining
room, where the reupholstered chairs surround a new, round
table of solid mesquite wood. I love round tables
because you can see and talk to everyone so easily,
Mrs. Wagner says. It supports this sense of community
Jim is striving for.
the dining room, the breakfast room offers another touch
of the Wagners former home: the china closet, sideboard,
dining table and chairs are theirs, and the wallpaper
is the same as in their previous dining room.
the basement level, which one reaches by descending stone
steps that feel as if they might lead to a dungeon, the
billiard room is a pleasant surprise. Its floors are freshly
covered with cork, the same material as the original flooring,
which had rotted away because of water intrusion and mold.
house also was wired throughout for Internet access. Mrs.
Wagners office, where she spends a great deal of
time keeping up with correspondence, event scheduling
and planning, and household matters, is just off the spacious
restoration process took nearly a year, beginning six
months before Mrs. Wagner arrived and winding up around
Christmas. In all decisions, Royals and her team sought
the right balance of elegance and economywhat she
calls the premise of enlightened frugality.
She also tried to create a healthy environment with natural
fibers, allergy-free linens, and superior air quality.
best stage of any renovation is when the people you are
doing it for are happy, Royals says. I was
trying to create a home for them that would enable the
Wagners to live comfortably and have the lifestyle they
the formal dining room, above the elaborate European sideboard,
hangs a painting that looks as if it were created expressly
for the space; its color tones blend with the room perfectly
while its lines draw the eye up to the gorgeous beamed
ceiling. The painting is a testament to Royals commitment
to the Lullwater project: calling on the full range of
her creative skills, she painted it herself because she
just couldnt find a work of art that would suit.
tend to mother homes, Royals says. Houses
like Lullwater are fragile and historical. I felt we would
take better care of it ourselves than an outside design
Wagner agrees. Thats really the beauty of
the whole thing, she says. Lullwater became
part of the people who worked on it. Thats how it
should be, because this is Emorys house. It was
here before we came, and it will be here when we are gone.
We are just happy to be able to call it home.