Coming Home Again

Home may be where the heart is, but interior designer Meg Thornton has created a home, a haven both charming and nostalgic, that any heart could easily fall for.

photography by Tina Sargeant

Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, “I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once.” Our hometown is often just like that. We grow up there but often don’t see it until we’ve been away a while.       

Meg Thornton was born and raised in Winter Haven. She attended Winter Haven High School her freshman and sophomore years. After graduating from All Saints Academy she moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she earned a degree in sociology. Later, Thornton received a BFA in Interior Design from Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta and somehow found the time to live in Connecticut and Washington, D.C., too. She has experienced life outside of the idyllic parks and sparkling waterways of The Chain of Lakes city but always knew where home would ultimately be.

“I knew I’d come back some day,” Thornton told me. “My whole family is here, but I also knew I wanted to try living in other areas. That experience really shaped both my aesthetic and who I am as an adult. Moving to Winston-Salem was a great midway point between leaving Winter Haven and living alone in a city.” After living in Washington and Connecticut, she found Atlanta, with its rural feel, to be refreshingly Southern.

“People actually smiled at you in the grocery store,” she said. “Everyone was so invested in moving the city forward, which led to some incredible changes in the five years I was there. The range of designs and styles I was exposed to heavily influenced my personal style.”

Thornton compares what is currently going on in Winter Haven to what she experienced in Atlanta. “Winter Haven has changed so much in the last 10 years, it’s hard to grasp the progress it’s made. The revival of downtown has created an incredible gathering place for people to shop and socialize. It also has opened the door for young entrepreneurs to bring their experiences and interests into the community. Winter Haven is thriving because of that same push to move forward that was happening in Atlanta.”

Thornton moved back to Winter Haven several years ago and now works for Saddle Creek Logistics Services as a marketing coordinator with a primary focus on associate relations. Her grandfather started the business 51 years ago, so, like Winter Haven itself, it’s part of her life and heritage. Thornton grew up listening to her grandfather talk about how incredible the people at Saddle Creek are. “It’s been such a pleasure to discover how right he was,” she recently told me.

Part of moving back to Winter Haven was finding a house in the right neighborhood to make into a home. She wanted to be close to downtown, but the search was more about the house itself. It needed to have character. So did the neighborhood. She had grown up on Lake Howard and wanted a place near the lake. She found the right house near Lake Howard, and across the street from the house in which her mother grew up. Thornton’s mother even found an old photo of herself, Thornton’s uncle, and some friends, with the house Thornton bought in the background. “It’s such an incredible treasure. The best part is seeing the newly planted oak tree in the front yard that now provides afternoon shade for the whole house,” Thornton said.

The house she found was in need of some tender loving care. Translation: the house simply needed some renovation to better fit her expectations and lifestyle. She knew whatever house she ended up buying would likely require some work, but since this would be her first project, she didn’t want a major restoration. Her house ended up being a good compromise.

I have found that sometimes home buying and decorating can be a sort of kismet experience. And that is exactly what Thornton found. Both the house and the neighborhood are part of her family’s history. The original owner had a bridal luncheon in the house for Thornton’s mother. The navy bookshelves from her grandparents’ nearby house were found as somehow the perfect fit for her living room. Fate definitely has played a role in her home.

Thornton’s inspired design aesthetic is influenced by things she finds, not necessarily by things she needs. “For the most part, I look for things that I love and then find a place for them.” She has a massive 1920s’ drafting table in her living room she found several years ago at an antique show. It may have been too big for previous living areas (“It felt like the world’s biggest piece of furniture”), but it’s the perfect piece for the space now. The sofa in her den was her grandparents’ and, later, her uncle’s. It is both comfortable and perfect for the location. She hopes to pass it on some day.

The kitchen walls and cabinets received fresh paint, and Thornton installed new countertops, backsplash, and appliances. She replaced the wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom and gave the space a roomier feel by constructing a glass shower wall. The upstairs master bathroom received a lot of heavy lifting. It was original to the house, and Thornton found it was an inefficient use of space. She rearranged the room and installed a lovely claw-foot bathtub under the window. Double windows in the dining room were replaced by French doors, providing convenient access to the back yard and additional light for the room. The original front porch was replaced by a larger, more modern one. The interior paint palette consists of a blends of white and blues, creating a relaxed, welcoming feel.

Thornton likes to think of her house as a living thing, always growing and changing. After moving in, it took a few days of arranging and rearranging, installing and reinstalling furniture and things to transform the house into her home. One of her transforming possessions is a frame containing the beautiful needlepoint belts her mother made for her grandfather every few years. Each of the five belts represents a part of her grandfather’s life and legacy. Thornton’s grandmother gave the belts to Thornton’s mother who, in turn, framed them and gave them to Thornton for her home. “They are my most treasured possession,” she told me.

The house has a tailored, chic, artistic look and feel, layered with charm, intrigue, and texture. Her hard work, extensive planning, and care are obvious in the beauty of an inviting finished product. I love her home and her interior design. Renovations are always taxing and require patience and time. When I asked Thornton, “Knowing what you know now about the process, would you do it all over again?” Her reply, “Absolutely.”

Who says you can’t go home again?