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Holiday Whispers in an Alabama Home

This Alabama home ushers in Christmas with a soft, refined Southern accent

Written by Candace Ord Manroe
  • Jean Allsopp

    Antiques rub elbows with contemporary art. Magnolia leaves star in holiday garlands. Neighbors all along the gently looping street share friendly Christmas greetings and mugs of steaming hot chocolate as they usher in the season with their annual “Santa on the Circle” celebration. Southern comfort lives here—in the Birmingham, Alabama, home of attorney Rita Dixon and her 15-year-old twins, James and David—during the holidays and every day.

    Sporting a crisp magnolia wreath that mimics the geometry of a small iron-and-glass window, the front door was custom-made from old oak by a local artisan. 

    Photography: Jean Allsopp

    Architect: Chip Gardner, Gardner Architects, Mountain Brook, Alabama; 205/871-7188; gardnerarchitects.com.
    Interior designer: Melanie Pounds, Melanie Pounds Interior Design, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9802; melaniepoundsinteriordesign.com.
    Builder: Keith Russell, Russell Building Co., Inc., Birmingham, Alabama; 205/967-6878; Facebook: Russell Building Company, Inc.

    Door custom: through Gardner Architects, Mountain Brook, Alabama; 205/871-7188; gardnerarchitects.com

  • Jean Allsopp

    Living Room

    To create this special vibe, Rita had some help from interior designer Melanie Pounds, who paired rich, warm tones of the past with lighter top notes of modernity to shape a home with refined Southern style.

    “I’ve always loved the old Tudor homes of Birmingham, and I wanted to keep this new house, which we built on the footprint of an earlier one, true to the historic character of the city,” Rita says.

    As new construction, the Tudor-style architecture presented an opportunity to embrace the past with more than antiques: Glorious salvaged woods—some with interesting histories—compose its walls, ceilings, and floors. The old Atlantic cedar has the most distinctive past. Showcased on the living room’s dropped ceiling in front of the bay window and on the dining room’s built-in shelving, it came from the forests in which the Campbell Soup Company grew the mushrooms used in its recipes. So naturally, “we call it mushroom wood,” Rita says. 

  • Jean Allsopp

    Bay Area

    The floor plan also nods to the past, particularly the Southern heritage Rita grew up with in Florida. “I wanted a formal living room, a separate formal dining room, and a more informal den,” she says. “Although the rooms aren’t open, they flow.” 

    The separate spaces multiply the opportunities for seasonal decorating. A towering fir tree bursting with Rita’s favorite crystal and glass ornaments stretches to the ceiling in the living room, positioned so perfectly in the bay between a pair of wing chairs that it might have been sketched into the floor plan. Although new, the German leaded glass in the bay window connotes a storied past.

    The living room’s inviting bay window makes the ideal spot for a Christmas tree outfitted with warm-hued ornaments that complement the nook’s cedar ceiling. A pair of antique wing chairs maintain their history wearing a Nancy Corzine fabric. Antique oak floors are beautifully imperfect.

    Wall paint “Slipper Satin”: Farrow & Ball; 888/511-1121; farrow-ball.com.
    Wing chairs, Christmas wrappings and ribbons: homeowners’ collection.
    Fabric for wing chairs discontinued, similar available: Nancy Corzine; nancycorzine.com.
    Fabric for drapery “Bechamel” in Sultana: Rogers & Goffigon, Ltd., Greenwich, Connecticut; 203/532-8068; rogersandgoffigon.com.
    Drapery rods custom: through Melanie Pounds Interior Design, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9802; melaniepoundsinteriordesign.com.
    Antique oak flooring: Donnie James, James & Co., Collinsville, Alabama; 256/997-0703; jamesandcompany.com.

  • Jean Allsopp

    Dining Room

    In the dining room, magnolia-leaf garlands spill down elegant fluted doorway pilasters, and an arrangement of amaryllis, magnolia, pine, and juniper in an antique bronze vessel continues the holiday mood. The subdued colors serve as a soft complement to the antique French table. “My mother is an antiques dealer,” Rita says, explaining her love—and her home’s abundance—of antique furnishings. 

    Many of the pieces in her predominantly French collection were purchased on shopping trips with her mom or Pounds to New Orleans. “We didn’t find everything at once,” Pounds says. “In each room, we waited to find the truly special piece.” 

    In the dining room, that signature piece is a gilded French mirror with highlights of verde green. For a striking counterpoint, Pounds custom-designed the dining room’s wall of open shelving. Built from the old “mushroom” wood, it makes a compelling background for Rita’s collection of china. 

    Salvaged Atlantic cedar on shelving creates a warm backdrop for Rita’s collection of Herend “Rothschild Bird” china. 

    Wall paint “Slipper Satin”: Farrow & Ball; 888/511-1121; farrow-ball.com.
    Fabric for drapery “Bechamel” in Sultana, fabric for end chairs “Bechamel” in Tsunami: Rogers & Goffigon, Ltd., Greenwich, Connecticut; 203/532-8068; rogersandgoffigon.com.
    Drapery rods custom, shelving design custom by Melanie Pounds: Melanie Pounds Interior Design, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9802; melaniepoundsinteriordesign.com.
    Antique cedar for shelving: Donnie James, James & Co., Collinsville, Alabama; 256/997-0703; jamesandcompany.com.
    Shelving fabrication: Russell Building Co., Inc., Birmingham, Alabama; 205/967-6878; Facebook: Russell Building Co., Inc.
    End chairs by Verellen: through Patina, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9805; melaniepoundsinteriordesign.com.
    Side chairs: homeowners’ collection.
    Antique chandelier and buffet: Tara Shaw; tarashawmaison.com.
    Large gilt-framed mirror: Hen House Antiques, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/918-0505; henhouseantiques.com.
    Lamps flanking mirror: Circa Interiors & Antiques, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/868-9199; circainteriors.com.
    Dining table antique: homeowners’ collection.

  • Jean Allsopp

    Well Traveled Tree

    The theme of old meets new continues in the den, where the Dixon family loves to gather. “The boys and I listen to Christmas music while we decorate the tree in the den,” Rita says. “We fill this tree with ornaments from our travels, the boys’ handmade ornaments, and ornaments from our favorite college teams—one son is an Auburn fan and one roots for Alabama. We’re a house divided,” Rita says with a laugh. 

  • Jean Allsopp

    Cozy Den

    Equal parts rustic and refined, the den is warmed by an all-wood coffered ceiling of salvaged pine. Though more rugged than the Atlantic cedar of the formal rooms, the old pine is no less beautiful. 

    To blend old with new, historical and contemporary—and to keep the mood of the room light for this young family—Pounds designed a wall of white-painted shelving as a clean contrast. Handily, it camouflages the TV behind sliding glass doors. 

    The original tapestry on the wooden antique chair launched the den’s design. Rita and her mother, antiques dealer Mary Chavers, scored the antique sofa, end tables, and floor-to-ceiling mirror on a trip to New Orleans. 

    Wall paint “Slipper Satin”: Farrow & Ball; 888/511-1121; farrow-ball.com.
    Reclaimed wood for ceiling: Donnie James, James & Co., Collinsville, Alabama; 256/997-0703; jamesandcompany.com.
    Brown chairs: Margaret D. Jones Interiors, LLC; Birmingham, Alabama; 205/224-0097, ext. 2.
    Fabric for chair “Mohair”: Latimer Alexander, available through Fabric Carolina; fabriccarolina.com.
    Gray chair by Verellen: through Patina, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9805; melaniepoundsinteriordesign.com.
    Small tripod table: Circa Interiors & Antiques, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/868-9199; circainteriors.com.
    Fireplace service set: homeowners’ collection.
    Shelving design by Melanie Pounds, basket under side table: Melanie Pounds Interior Design, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9802; melaniepoundsinteriordesign.com.
    Shelving fabrication: Russell Building Co., Inc., Birmingham, Alabama; 205/967-6878; Facebook: Russell Building Company, Inc.
    Antique lamps flanking mirror, sofa, ottoman, end tables, floor-to-ceiling mirror: Tara Shaw; tarashawmaison.com.
    Ottoman, wood-framed chair: Circa Interiors & Antiques, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/868-9199; circainteriors.com.
    Fabrics for ottoman, sofa, bolsters, and pillows: Rogers & Goffigon, Ltd., Greenwich, Connecticut; 203/532-8068; rogersandgoffigon.com.

  • Jean Allsopp

    Antique Mantel

    At Christmas, the room’s antique French limestone mantel nods to the South with a magnolia-leaf garland. It’s fitting flair for this house, filled with a balanced mix of refinement and fun for a family that savors plates of pastries on Christmas morning before tearing into all those prettily wrapped packages. And maybe topping it off with a bite from the big gingerbread house they decorated using the boys’ favorite candies. “Life,” Rita will tell you, “is sweet here.”

    The painting above the antique French limestone mantel in the den is by local artist Michael Marlowe, a good friend of homeowner Rita Dixon.

    Wall paint “Slipper Satin”: Farrow & Ball; 888/511-1121; farrow-ball.com.
    Mantel: Architectural Heritage, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/ 322-3538; architecturalheritage.com.
    Reclaimed wood for ceiling: Donnie James, James & Co., Collinsville, Alabama; 256/997-0703; jamesandcompany.com.
    Artwork: Michael Marlowe, Gallery Marlowe, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/515-4313; gallerymarlowe.com.
    Lidded urn on mantel: Hen House Antiques, -Birmingham, Alabama; 205/918-0505; henhouseantiques.com.
    Brown chair: Margaret D. Jones Interiors, LLC; Birmingham, Alabama; 205/224-0097, ext. 2.
    Fabric for chair “Mohair”: Latimer Alexander, available through Fabric Carolina; fabriccarolina.com.
    Gray chair by Verellen: through Patina, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9805; melaniepoundsinteriordesign.com.
    Tripod table: Circa Interiors & Antiques, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/868-9199; circainteriors.com.
    Fire-place service set: homeowners’ collection.

  • Jean Allsopp

    Powder Room

    A wreath of magnolia leaves hung in front of the mirror brings holiday spirit to the powder room where a vintage table turned bathroom vanity adds rustic charm. 

  • Jean Allsopp

    Master Bedroom

    Another painting by Michael Marlowe hangs above the bed in Rita’s room. A simple swag of lemon leaf celebrates the season without disrupting the room’s serenity. 

    Wall paint “French Gray,” cut 50 percent: Farrow & Ball; 888/511-1121; farrow-ball.com.
    Artwork: Michael Marlowe, Gallery Marlowe, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/515-4313; gallerymarlowe.com.
    Antique mirror on bureau, bedding custom, rug: through Melanie Pounds Interior Design, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9802; melaniepoundsinteriordesign.com.
    Fabrics for bedding: Rose Tarlow Melrose House, Los Angeles; 323/651-2202; rosetarlow.com.
    Antique chandelier: Tara Shaw; tarashawmaison.com.
    Bureau: homeowners’ collection.

  • Jean Allsopp

    Master Bathroom

    Walls painted Farrow & Balls' "Slipper Satin" set the stage for the soothing master bathroom.

  • Jean Allsopp

    Festive Bathroom

    The panels of a tub screen reach their potential at Christmas, bedecked with eucalyptus wreaths. 

    Wall paint “Slipper Satin”: Farrow & Ball; 888/511-1121; farrow-ball.com.
    Screen custom: Melanie Pounds Interior Design, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9802; melaniepoundsinteriordesign.com.
    Fabric for screen: Delany and Long, Ltd., Greenwich, Connecticut; 203/532-0010; delanyandlong.com.
    Small tripod table: Richard Tubb Interiors, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/324-7613; richardtubbinteriors.com.

  • Jean Allsopp

    Boys’ Room

    Beds that designer Melanie Pounds upholstered in linen continue the home’s antique French style. Here, the holidays are observed with a medley of pinecones dangling from ribbons at the window, along with magnolia leaves on the chandelier. A slipcovered chair from Verellen is a comfy spot for reading or surfing the Web. 

    Wall paint “French Gray”: Farrow & Ball; 888/511-1121; farrow-ball.com.
    Antique bed and chandelier: Tara Shaw; tarashawmaison.com.
    Fabrics and trim for bed headboards and footboards: Rogers & Goffigon, Ltd., Greenwich, Connecticut; 203/532-8068; rogersandgoffigon.com.
    Chair by Verellen: through Patina, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9805; melaniepoundsinteriordesign.com.
    Drapery fabric, Roman shade fabric “Andros” from the Cyclades linen collection: Rogers & Goffigon, Ltd., Greenwich, Connecticut; 203/532-8068; rogersandgoffigon.com.
    Rug, lamps custom: through Melanie Pounds Interior Design, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/802-9802; melaniepoundinteriordesign.com.
    Framed artwork above beds, table between beds: Circa Interiors & Antiques, Birmingham, Alabama; 205/868-9199; circainteriors.com.
    Small table beside chair: homeowners’ collection.

  • Jean Allsopp

    Guest Room

    A velvet panel hung behind the upholsthered headboard adds warmth and texture to the guest room.

  • Jean Allsopp

    Family

    Rita and her 15-year-old twins, James and David, enjoy Christmas and every other day with their golden retrievers, Dixie and Ally. 

  • Michael Partenio