The Henleys’ Home in North Chattanooga
Built in 1912, this North Chattanooga home has seen the neighborhood change many times over. The home was once the site of dances and revelry enjoyed by cavalry from Fort Oglethorpe, and a photograph taken almost a century ago shows a horse and carriage waiting on the dirt road right outside the front door. Today, a detached garage is all that remains of the original carriage house. Over time, as layer after layer of wallpaper was added, and two families moved in and out, the years took their toll – until Tom and Ave Henley bought the house, two years after their wedding, in 1978.
By Hannah Vanbiber | Photos by Med Dement
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“It was in terrible shape! Tom took one look at the house and said, ‘Absolutely no,’” Ave remembers. “But I was new to this and all I knew was that I’d married into a family of amazing builders! So I said to Tom, ‘Well, your brothers can fix this, and this, and this, right?’”
Fortunately, her faith in the family was well-placed. Over the next 34 years, the house was both restored and transformed by Henley Brothers Construction, owned and operated by Tom’s twin brothers, Clint and Clay. The home’s timeless original features, like the ruddy heart pine flooring and mahogany trim, now seamlessly blend with all-new wiring, plumbing, updated appliances, and modern comforts.
Now Tom and Ave’s home sits elegantly on a corner plot of land, nestled among a few of the area’s largest white oak trees. A sloping lawn leads down through simple landscaping to a sheltered front porch, with aged brick columns and a glowing iron lantern. The original red tile is still in perfect condition, giving a warm touch to the covered space. Dominating the porch is the wide multi-windowed mahogany door, its original wood polished and scrubbed back to life.
The front door opens straight into the long living room, anchored by a fireplace and wide-screen TV at one end. At the other end, original built-in mahogany shelving with glass-paned doors houses Ave’s Christmas village collection, which it kept alight all year. Glass-paned doors are repeated in the design of the front door and throughout the house in shelving and doorways. Both doors off the living room, to the dining room and to the hallways, are the original fixtures: glass-paned mahogany with folding panels.
A wide bay window along the front of the house lights up the open living room, casting sunlight up to the mahogany beams that cross the 10-ft-high ceiling. All throughout the house, wide windows look out from almost every wall, allowing in light and pretty views of the neighborhood. Electric candle sconces add layered lighting to the living room.
Through the glass-paned double doors opposite the bay window, the living room opens to the hallway and, straight across from it, a cozy, oak-trimmed study. A desk centered squarely in front of the window is flanked by two symmetrical oak bookshelves. A matching oak crown molding wraps the room. Two magnificent sea sculptures by Wyland placed in front of the mirrors add a splash of color to the bookshelves.
Down the hall, opposite the staircase, the Henley’s have one carpeted room—a plush, white, relaxing space used as Tom’s reading room. Originally a porch, the room was converted into an apartment space before the Henley’s owned the home, and eventually, it became a cozy sitting room filled with natural light from a wall of windows. Memorabilia from Tom Henley’s parents are displayed on a side table and oversized chairs and a couch are grouped throughout the space. A gilt mirror from Tom’s mother’s home leans against the wall, waiting for a permanent hanging space. From the outside, brick columns matching the front porch frame the room.
Through the other side of the living room and another set of double doors, guests can enter the dining room. With sage green walls and brown accents, the room balances a formal setting with a warm, lived-in quality. A stately dining room armoire sits opposite a side-table displaying family photos and an ornate hand-painted glass piece. Layered lighting pours in from the room’s three wide windows, two striped classic lamps, and a chandelier above the table. In the corner, a tall china cabinet displays Ave’s wedding china.
A heavy mahogany door leads into the bright farmhouse kitchen. “The kitchen used to be a butler’s pantry long ago,” Ave says. The family remodeled it about 10 years ago. A washed brick backsplash gives texture to the kitchen’s updated farmhouse feel, while dark granite countertops contrast the lighter colors. Under-cabinet lighting warms the brick and gives the kitchen a comfortable glow. A substantial stainless steel gas range anchors the kitchen and a portable island provides extra space for food preparation and storage.
Continuing the space, past a heavy brick fireplace, is a small breakfast area. The natural wooden table and chairs emphasize the stylish country comfort of the home. The brick fireplace is part of the original cook stove. Ave uses it now for a display and for storage.
The house is full of little surprises – like the brick cook stove – straight from an era that is long gone. In the small hall off the breakfast room an antique doorbell ringer hangs in an alcove a few feet up the wall. Miniature brass hands move to indicate which door is being rung. A little further down the hall, on the first landing of the staircase, an enormous, heavily framed mirror fills the space from floor to ceiling. “It used to be in the house next door,” Ave says, “which was built long ago for the daughter of our home’s builder/owner. A past neighbor living there informed us the mirror was an original from our home and gave us the mirror to be placed in its original spot.”
The second floor houses a master suite, three guest bedrooms, and two extra baths. The rooms are outfitted with familiar comforts like wooden rocking chairs, chunky armoires, and plenty of quilts. At the top of the stairs, the heart pine continues, in slightly wider slats than downstairs. The warmly colored walls rise to 9-ft. ceilings, giving the upstairs a closer, more intimate feel.
The hall opens first onto two corner guest rooms, the larger of which was the Henleys’ son’s room – a room he still uses when he visits. The wide room spans the front corner of the house, with a broad bed settled between two expansive front windows. Outfitted with a Victorian divan, two large dressers, and a wide-screen TV, the bedroom is a perfect retreat for guests.
A narrow bathroom with floor-to-ceiling tile connects this room with the smaller guest room at the back of the house. A bed draped with a cozy quilt sits in the corner below two windows with a wooden rocking chair nearby.
Halfway down the hall, their daughter’s old room functions as a third guest room. It is decorated similarly to the other small guest room, with a cozy country feel. The wide bed is topped with a thick white quilt and plump pillows. Natural wood pieces like the rocking chair and seven-foot armoire compliment the feel, while artwork on the walls features simple landscape scenes and still life. In the closet, a small high window lights up the built-in shelves. “When our daughter lived here, these shelves looked like a GAP store!” Ave recalls with a laugh.
Across from this room, a larger bathroom connects to a hallway outside the master bedroom. Original built-in mahogany shelving in the hall provides storage space, in the same style as the shelves in the front entryway downstairs. For years, Tom and Ave used this bathroom as their own. Five years ago, they decided it was time to upgrade. “There was a small bedroom between our daughter’s room and ours – I think it used to be a nursery,” Ave says. “We put a shower in one of the doorways and had the whole space converted.”
Henley Brothers Construction designed the whole room. The master bathroom is now covered in sparkling black and white tile, with black marble countertops at the wide sink and a separate vanity area. A freestanding ceramic soaking tub sits in the corner beneath two wide windows and a wicker shelving unit. The shower, all tile, features a bench across the back and a glass door. Recessed lighting and fixtures above each mirror cast a warm glow enhanced by the yellow walls.
The master bedroom features a sitting area with Victorian chairs below a set of windows ten panes wide. A gentle sage green – repeated throughout the house – gives this room its relaxing touch.
Their outdoor spaces include an accessible rooftop area off the second floor and, downstairs, an expansive deck wrapping around the back corner of the house under “the tallest tree on the North Shore.”
This charming home north of the river has seen a century of change in the Chattanooga area, stolidly holding down its sloping plot of land. Ave and Tom Henley have lovingly restored the historic features while adding their own artistic touch and state-of-the-art features – making the home well-prepared for another century to come.