Donna and Michael Coles downsized with the help of interior designer Bill Stewart — if you call a 5,000-square-foot paradise with a surround view “downsizing.”
“Donna and Michael were fun to work with because they are enthusiastic and adventurous from the inside out … just like their fondness for the American West,” Stewart said. “When we transitioned from their traditional home, it was like exploring new territory in a high-rise.”
Coles is razor-sharp and has made a reputation for himself in Atlanta as a superkinetic businessman, philanthropist and community leader. A former candidate for the U.S. Senate, Coles eschewed college and, after a career in the clothing business, started The Great American Cookie Co. and never looked back.
In 1994, he and Donna endowed the Michael J. Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University and the Donna Novak Coles Georgia Women’s Movement Archives at Georgia State University. His current community passion is serving as the president of Hillels of Georgia and planning its major annual fundraiser, “Night With the Stars,” set for Tuesday, March 29, at the Buckhead Theatre.
Coles also was scheduled to speak to the AJT-sponsored Jewish Breakfast Club on Thursday morning, March 10.
The Coleses, who have another home in Montana, took us on a tour of their confident yet serene space, which is captivatingly off-script — just like Coles himself, who sports contrasting cuffed shirts, flamboyant eyeglasses and alligator cowboy boots.
Jaffe: What attracted you to this high-rise?
Michael: The obvious lack of house and yard maintenance. We love the 270-degree view. Stone Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, the king and queen buildings, downtown — even the Appalachians on a clear day. It took us about a year to get settled here. Except for the bed, everything is new.
Donna: The views have the ability to bring the outside in with us.
Jaffe: What drew you to this eclectic creature in your entrance?
Donna: It’s “Birth Spirit,” which we bought in Sarasota. I find the crystals make it primordial and spiritual like the phoenix. Michael finds it strong and uplifting. The artist’s face is imbedded in the interior column. It’s a collaborative effort by Susan Gott and Polly Holt. It’s the first piece of glass we acquired.
Jaffe: You have a penchant for glass?
Michael: The Chihuly, “Orange Persian Set,” in the dining room was created in Seattle at the Pilchuck institute (founded by Chihuly). Our most important Chihuly is “Oxblood Spotted Venetia,” a collaborative piece with Lino Tagliapietra. The tallest piece is pure cobalt blue and faces the north view: “The Watcher III” by Bertil Vallien.
Jaffe: Describe this vignette in your master bedroom.
Jaffe: The wine hall is quite abundant. You are an oenophile?
Michael: When we downsized, I had a 1,000-bottle wine room, which I did not want to relinquish. It meant giving the wine away or drinking a lot (laughing). We created this wine room from the hallway closets. I collect mostly reds — domestic and South American. My favorite is a California cabernet sauvignon, Poetry.
Donna: I surround myself with geological things: quartz, amethysts, opals and rocks. I love trees … thus the sapling wallpaper.
Jaffe: You have some sentimental objects throughout. I see mezuzahs on every door. What are the most meaningful?
Michael: I have framed my mother’s original immigration documents. My father’s 90-year-old tallis and prayer book are in this Lucite box from his bar mitzvah. His name was Kolsky before Coles. This black-and-white photograph by Frederic Brenner tells quite a story. In Billings, Montana, a white supremacist shot a bullet through the window of a Jewish couple who were displaying their Chanukah menorah. The local newspaper printed a menorah graphic, and hundreds of residents posted it in their windows as a show of support.
Donna: When we were first dating, Michael was into chess, so I bought this rare set of antique ivory pieces. The delicate carved circles are contiguous, receding inward.
Jaffe: What is the most unusual piece you have?
Michael: We were invited to a friend’s 25th anniversary party where artist Jean Francois astounded us by creating huge paintings with his hands. We all watched, not understanding what he was painting because it was upside down. He would then flip the painting over to reveal the image: the Statue of Liberty, which has always had a special place in my heart. … When I rode my bicycle across the U.S. and stood at the top of the George Washington Bridge overlooking the river and the statue, I became quite emotional, realizing my team had won the Race Across America, and just five days before we were in Los Angeles.
Jaffe: You are an athlete and artist?
Michael: My photography is mostly driven by nature, Montana and scenes from Idaho. I’ve risen before 5 a.m. to capture many a sunrise. In the hall is a colorful photograph I shot of fabric bolts at a Seattle flea market. Adjacent is a MacDonald statue, “Eurydice,” as Orpheus begged to get her out of Hades. He went back on his word to not look back, and she got snatched back to the underworld.
After a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1977, I was told I would never walk again unaided. I used cycling as part of my rehab. Like most things, I really got into it by setting two world records: solo, from the coast of Savannah to San Diego in 11 days, eight hours and 15 minutes; and later, with a four-man team, from Los Angeles to New York, the fastest crossing of America ever and the fastest 3,000 miles ever covered under human power — five days, one hour and eight minutes. The records still stand.
Jaffe: I bet those last eight minutes were really tough.
Photos by Duane Stork