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Spacious Family Home in Alabama

An Alabama couple open their hearts and home, embarking on a spiritual (and worldwide) journey of generosity

Written by Amy Elbert
  • Tria Giovan

    Remember the nursery rhyme about the old woman who lived in a shoe? She had so many children she didn’t know what to do. Joy and Cole Portis can relate. The Montgomery, Alabama, couple has nine children—six of whom are adopted. That’s 11 people, including five teenagers and a child with Down syndrome, plus two dogs and two cats, all sandwiched into their previous four-bedroom home. But, unlike the old woman, they knew exactly what to do.

    In the stair hall, concrete stair treads and pavers by Peacock Pavers simulate an old stone floor.

    Photography: Tria Giovan
    Produced by Jennifer Kopf

    Interior designer: Phillip Sides, Phillip Sides Interior Design, 407 Cloverdale Rd., Montgomery, AL 36106; 334/240-3333.
    Builder: Hufham Farris Consruction, 13924 Wares Ferry Rd., Montgomery, AL 36117; 334/215-4495,  

    Custom cabinetry: Deal’s Cabinetry,
    Draperies, custom bedding, pillows: by Susan Daves, through Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333.
    Drapery hardware; custom ironwork: Phillips Metal Works,
    Custom upholstery: A-1 Custom Upholstery, 334/834-4339.
    Framing, custom lighting, mirrors and leafing: Stonehenge,

    Stair hall—
    Wall paint (“Muskoka Trail” #974): Benjamin Moore,
    Rug: custom design by Phillip Sides Interior Design for Tamarian,
    Drapery (“Kendra”/Moth #2298-42): Dogwood Fabrics,
    Drapery trim (“Chalfort”/Stone #T229): Pindler & Pindler,
    Bell jar lantern: Charles Jacobsen,
    Banquette (“Esther”): Marcali,
    Banquette fabric (“Heritage”/Metal #1360, discontinued): Pindler & Pindler,
    Chair (walnut, 17th-century): Robuck,
    Art (Venice-Rio S. Barnada, by Roger Baker, c. 1960): Gardner and Barr Gallery,
    Marble-and-iron table (18th century): Fleur,
    Pair of wood urns: Zentique,
    Mirror (French pier mirror, 19th century): Nicole Maleine Antiques,
    Antiqued mirrored wall: Olde Good Things,
    Concrete stair treads and pavers: Peacock Pavers,

  • Tria Giovan

    New Home

    “We needed a larger house—for our kids now and in the future. Can you just imagine how many grandchildren we’ll have someday?” Joy asks with a chuckle. “In our old house we had four very small bedrooms. We had wall-to-wall beds in one bedroom. The laundry room was tiny, and the kitchen wasn’t functional for a family this size,” she adds. 

  • Tria Giovan

    Family Home

    And just how did Joy and Cole come to have a family of this size? A spiritual journey is how they describe their mission to help neglected and disabled children from around the world. In addition to adopting six children, Cole, who is an attorney, and Joy frequently welcome foster children in need of immediate assistance.

    With a bigger house on their agenda, the couple struggled for a couple of years with various architectural plans. Finally, Montgomery interior designer Phillip Sides helped them pull everything together. “The Portises stressed that the house, while beautiful and sophisticated, should be a place where the children would be comfortable,” Sides recalls, and that meant providing not just more bedrooms but a flowing floor plan and shared spaces where the entire family could eat and hang out together.

    Four of the children and their dogs, Dr. Pepper, the French bulldog, and Ellie, the golden retriever, gather in front of the house.

  • Tria Giovan

    Serene Retreat

    “Cole wanted a grand home befitting the setting (they share a 30-acre lot and private lake with one other home), but he didn’t want anything ostentatious or sprawling,” Sides says. Although the house is quite large—about 15,000 square feet of finished space—Sides incorporated gables and dormers to break up the expansive roof and diminish the house’s mass. The dormers are functional as well, providing interior space on the third level.

    The designer clad the exterior with a rough-face stone, creating a look that is reminiscent of an English manor home. “We spent a lot of time choosing the stone colors, mostly browns and grays—no red tones,” Sides says. Large paned windows and doors are trimmed with cut limestone lintels and sills that give the house stature and a sense of age. “It’s not a pure or period house but a more playful take on an English style,” the designer says.

  • Tria Giovan

    Family Room

    Interior spaces reinforce that aesthetic, with waxed wood ceiling beams, intricate wall paneling, and thickened door casings that replicate old-fashioned plaster. Paneling in the stair hall and some of the wood doors were made by milling antique oak beams. “We didn’t want a stodgy dark-brown oak look, so we used a Belgian technique of applying soap onto the wood,” Sides says. “It’s very easy to touch up and gives the wood a beautiful sheen.”

    The TV is concealed behind glass doors above the fireplace. The door to the right of the fireplace leads to a game room with a pool table, and the door to the left goes to a screened porch. The family room and breakfast room open to the kitchen so Joy can monitor the kids’ activities. 

    Wall and trim paint (“Muskoka Trail” #974); ceiling paint (“Silver Sage” #506): Benjamin Moore,
    Area rug: Tamarian,
    Chandelier (“19th-century Painted Iron”): Robuck,
    Over-mantel/TV cabinet: Deal’s Cabinetry, 334/215-3600.
    Antique mirror on cabinet doors: Olde Good Things,
    Floor lamps (“Petal Floor Lamp with Bronze Mirror Base” #BBL1025, by Barbara Barry for Visual Comfort): Circa Lighting,
    Gray wing chairs (“Gundersen Chair” #H428C): Mr. & Mrs. Howard for Sherrill Furniture,
    Pair of side tables (“Silhouette Spot Tables” #BST 1263, discontinued): Baker,
    Upholstered ottoman: custom.
    Lounge chairs (“Relaxor” #7924-01R): Lee Industries,
    Coffee table: Sarreid Ltd.,

  • Tria Giovan

    Living Room 

    Furniture pieces sport clean lines, and much of the upholstered seating in the family’s living areas is covered in indoor-outdoor fabrics that resist staining and are easy to clean. But even though it’s designed to stand up to the antics of nine kids, the house has an elegant and refined sensibility. A mix of fine antiques and original art complements the classic architecture.

    Wool and wool-and-silk custom Tamarian rugs soften and define main-level rooms. A lavender-blue rug with a Moroccan-inspired ivory border sets a serene tone in the living room, where chairs and a sofa—all upholstered—face a cast-stone fireplace.

    A large abstract painting from Charles Harold Company complements the more historic details such as the beamed 11-foot-high ceilings and an antique chandelier. 

    Wall paint (“Muskoka Trail” #974); trim paint (“Pale Moon” #289): Benjamin Moore,
    Rug (custom): Tamarian,
    Drapery (“Brockham”/Old Blue #F3803-03, by Colefax and Fowler): Cowtan & Tout,
    Tassel tiebacks (custom): Stonehenge,
    Chandelier (“Late 19th-century Italian Chandelier”): Robuck,
    Center table (English Empire, mahogany): Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333.
    Stool by table (“Walnut and Caned Directoire Stool”): Nicole Maleine Antiques,
    Art (The Duality of the Bright Star, by Marks): Charles Harold Co.,
    Pair of lounge chairs (custom design by Phillip Sides Interior Design); French settee (custom design by Phillip Sides Interior Design): Joshua Jones Furniture, 334/202-2277.
    Chair fabric (“Silk Denim”/Alabaster #2515-01, by Larsen, discontinued); settee fabric (“Memory”/Opal #8686-10, by Larsen, discontinued): Cowtan & Tout,
    White pillows with Greek key trim (“Stockholm”/Porcelain #2118/08, by Villa Nova): Romo,
    Yellow silk pill ows (“Bellini Silk,” colorway discontinued): Schumacher,
    Coffee table (“Marbella” #9018CT): Gray Morrell Designs,
    Console (“Period LXVI Lucchese Fruitwood Console with Marble Top”): Robuck,
    Desk and chair (“Regence Writing Desk” and “Jacobean Chair”): Nicole Maleine Antiques,
    Pair of lamps (18th-century Italian urn cutouts) Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333.
    Artwork on desk (by Clark Walker): Stonehenge Gallery,  

  • Tria Giovan

    Dining Room 

    Plaster tracery on the dining room ceiling and deep bay windows further accentuate the home’s historic feel. The staircase with concrete treads and a custom metal railing is kid-proof and looks like stone stairways found in old English manor houses.

    Phillip Sides designed the dining chairs and table. The console is made from a salvaged iron gate. 

    Wall and trim paint (“Muskoka Trail” #974); ceiling paint (“Wickham Gray” #HC-171): Benjamin Moore,
    Rug: Tamarian,
    Drapery (“Bellagio” #400C): Libas Ltd.,
    Drapery trim: discontinued.
    Chandelier (“Late 19th-century Italian Chandelier”); sconces (“Pair 18th-century Italian Iron Sconces”): Robuck,
    Dining table (custom design by Phillip Sides Interior Design); dining chairs (custom design by Phillip Sides Interior Design): Joshua Jones Furniture, 334/202-2277.
    Chair leather: Rose Tarlow-Melrose House,
    Crystal spheres (#8.1202, 8.1203, 8.1204): Global Views,
    Console (custom, from 18th-century iron gate, with limestone top): Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333.
    Lamp on console (bronze lions heads with rings): Randall Tysinger Antiques,
    Art behind console (Back Story-Amalfi Coast): by Doug Foltz,

  • Tria Giovan

    Dining Room Bay Window

    “I tried to refrain from too much heaviness as far as trim and detail,” Sides says. “My whole approach was to treat this like it was an old house we were bringing up to the 21st century. That drove the way I furnished the house as well.”

    An antique French bench and a pair of eggplant-hue chairs from Julian Chichester are framed by lush silk draperies tied back with heavy braid and silver-leafed wooden tassels. The marble pedestal is an antique that Sides found in London. 

    Drapery (“Bellagio” #400C): Libas Ltd.,
    Drapery trim: discontinued.
    Tieback tassels (custom): Stonehenge,
    Painted settee (antique): Balzac Antiques,
    Settee fabric (“Stockholm”/Porcelain #2118/08 by Villa Nova): Romo,
    Yellow silk pillow (“Bellini Silk”/Forsythia, colorway discontinued): Schumacher,
    Damask pillow (“Brockham”/Old Blue #F3803-03, by Colefax and Fowler): Cowtan & Tout,
    Antique tea table with mirror top: Travis & Co.,
    Pair of chairs (“Virginia”); fabric (purple velvet): Julian Chichester,
    Marble pedestal (from London): Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333.
    Glass vase (discontinued): Arteriors,
    Side table (19th-century, French): Nicole Maleine Antiques,

  • Tria Giovan

    Spacious Kitchen 

    Daily life revolves around the kitchen, which opens to the family room and a breakfast room.

    Pecky cypress cabinets are finished with a lime wash. The island is actually a freestanding table with cabinets beneath. The iron-leg base is topped with Zodiaq quartz edged with wood. 

    Wall and trim paint (“Muskoka Trail” #974): Benjamin Moore,
    Drapery (“Formosa”/Silver and White #8138, by Harlequin): Zoffany,
    Cabinetry: Deal’s Cabinetry, 334/215-3600.
    Countertops (“Zodiaq”): Dupont Zodiaq Quartz Surfaces,
    Faucets: Waterworks,
    Range: Wolf,
    Backsplash tile (“Studio Moderne Ecru Gloss”): Walker Zanger,
    Chandelier (18th-century French): Nicole Maleine Antiques,
    Table for island: Phillips Metal Works,
    Bar stools (“Rustic Wooden Barstool” #9055, by Go Home Ltd.): Arcadian-Home,

  • Tria Giovan

    Spacious Kitchen

    Adjacent to the kitchen is a large walk-in pantry with 200 linear feet of floor-to-ceiling shelving. “It’s like a grocery store,” Sides says with a laugh. The kitchen features two islands for ample work space and counter-height seating, two dishwashers, two trash cans, two refrigerators, and one large freezer. “I love the two dishwashers. While one is running, we can load the second one,” Joy says. 

  • Tria Giovan

    Breakfast Room

    An antique chandelier from Robuck hangs above the custom table. Chairs are from Baker.

    Wall and trim paint (“Muskoka Trail” #974); ceiling paint (“Silver Sage” #506): Benjamin Moore,
    Striped paint treatment: Thomas Eubanks, 334/462-0461.
    Area rug: Tamarian,
    Chandelier (French Baroque Style, iron, 19th century): Robuck,
    Dining table (custom design by Phillip Sides Interior Design): Joshua Jones Furniture, 334/202-2277.
    Dining side chairs (“Breton” #MR4040, Milling Road Archives); armchairs (“Breton” #MR4041, Milling Road Archives): Baker,
    Bench at window (“Elwynn Bench”): Currey & Co.,
    Art (antique etching); floor lamps (antique): Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333.
    Console tables (“Triangle Console”): Julian Chichester,
    Pair of white tall jar lamps (#L4977L): Zentique,

  • Tria Giovan

    Smart Mudroom

    Sides plotted a floor plan with a back entry hall that directs traffic from the garage to a “drop zone” with cubbies for each of the kids and then onward to the family living area. Joy can work in the kitchen while overseeing her children’s many activities in the adjoining rooms. “I really needed to be able to have the kids within earshot when I’m fixing meals or packing lunch boxes,” Joy says. 

  • Tria Giovan

    Laundry Room

    A super-size laundry room—one of Joy’s favorite rooms—is equipped with two washers and two dryers to handle the endless stream of dirty clothes. In the middle of the room is a large laundry-folding table that doubles as a place for kids’ school projects. 

  • Tria Giovan

    Blue Master Bedroom

    A soft blue palette makes this Joy and Cole’s favorite room. Sides designed an upholstered leather headboard unit that encompasses the two side tables. A special design allows the TV to drop into a chest at the foot of the bed and below floor level so the chest remains relatively low, the designer says.


    Wall and ceiling paint (“Wickham Gray” #HC-171); trim paint (“Linen White” #912): Benjamin Moore,
    Drapery (custom screened silk): Nomi Fabrics,
    Chandelier (18th-century Italian): Robuck,
    Area rug (antique Oushak): Vintage Persian Rugs,
    Pair of commodes (Italian Restoration Period): Robuck,
    Bed (custom, Pompeian); headboard unit (custom): Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333.
    Bed leather: Spinneybeck,
    Headboard unit fabric: Christopher Hyland,
    Marriage chest (18th-century Walnut Neoclassical Cassone): Antique & Art Exchange,
    Lamps (discontinued): Circa Lighting,
    Bedding: Christine’s Feathered Nest,

  • Tria Giovan

    Olive Green & Blue Girls’ Bedroom 

    Sides designed not just for but with the children, talking over furniture choices and palettes for their rooms. “Phillip did a good job of capturing their personalities,” Joy says. “Zoe and Sarah Kathryn’s room is so dainty and beautiful. It’s so them!”

    Walls are upholstered with acrylic-backed “Rosegate Embroidered Print” fabric from Schumacher, which accentuates the room’s slanted walls and alcoves. Two queen beds that face each other snuggle against fabric draperies. 

    Ceiling and trim paint (“Linen White” #912): Benjamin Moore,
    Carpet: Contract Flooring, 334/567-6392.
    Wall fabric (“Rosegate Embroidered Print”/Chartreuse #174563): Schumacher,
    Chandelier; desk: Nicole Maleine Antiques,
    Desk chair (“Kensington Arm Chair”/Natural #KEN-555-98): Bungalow 5,
    Blue glass lamp (“Ely Aqua Glass Lamp,” discontinued; for similar, “Rory” #17336-453): Arteriors,
    Garden stool (“Round Garden Seat” #0978TQ): Emissary Home & Garden,
    Headboard (custom): Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333.
    Bed drapery, outer fabric (“Kendra”/Moss #2298-12); tassel tiebacks: Dogwood Fabrics,
    Bed drapery, inner fabric (“Bubble Stripe”/Aqua Green #J660F-02, by Jane Churchill): Cowtan & Tout,
    Bedding: Christine’s Feathered Nest,
    Mirror (“Gold Leaf Lilypad Miror” #10928 by Go Home Ltd.): The Well Appointed House,
    Side table (“Venice Side Table” #7784-10, by Mariette Himes Gomez): Hickory Chair,
    Floor lamp (“Ziyi Pivoting Floor Lamp” #TOB 1012, Thomas O’Brien for Visual Comfort): Circa Lighting,

  • Tria Giovan

    Bright Green & Teal Girls’ Bedroom 

    Elizabeth and Emme wanted bold—nothing girly-girl—and in their room Sides paired a graphic geometric pattern in kiwi green with turquoise coverlets.

    A sheer screen-like fabric flanked by draperies separates the beds from a desk area. The girls chose graphic green Schumacher fabrics for the upholstered headboards and bed draperies. 

    Wall paint (“Blue Stream” #1668); ceiling paint (“Linen White” #912): Benjamin Moore,
    Carpet: Contract Flooring, 334/567-6392.
    Chandelier: Nicole Maleine Antiques,
    Bed drapery (“Vientiane Ikat Print”/Palm #175023): Schumacher,
    Sheers behind bed and on window shades (“Demanda”/White #1515): Pindler & Pindler,
    Headboards (custom): Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333. 
    Headboard fabric (“Zenyatta Mondatta”/Peacock #54790): Schumacher,
    Bed-skirt fabric (“Classic Chintz”/Colonial #1973078): Fabricut,
    Bedding: Christine’s Feathered Nest,
    Bedside table: discontinued.
    Lamps (“Roost Constellation Pendant Lamp”/Large #L233): Modish,
    Art (Euphoria 5, by Erin Fitzhugh Gregory): Stonehenge Gallery,
    Flower table with glass top (vintage): Pieces of the Past,
    Orange stools (“Hourglass Stool/Side Table” #HOU-500-03): Bungalow 5,  

  • Tria Giovan

    Circus Room 

    The children all share bedrooms, learning valuable lessons in cooperation and generosity. Those are the values that their parents live every day. “Things may get loud and crazy,” says Joy, “but this is our spiritual journey.”

    Because Eli is hyperactive, furniture was built into the walls, and the carpet and the green ottoman are made with foam to ensure his safety. Sides designed a cozy corner tent using indoor-outdoor Sunbrella fabrics. 

    Wall and trim paint (“Super White”); ceiling paint (“Beacon Gray” #2128-60): Benjamin Moore,
    Hanging lantern (“Darlana Large Lantern” #CHC2176); sconces (“Yoke Suspended Wall Light” #SL2975): Circa Lighting,
    Beds and cabinetry (custom): Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333.
    Bolster fabric (#5439, Solid Navy): Sunbrella,
    Bedding: Restoration Hardware,
    Fabric on throw pillows and custom ottoman (“Macaw” #5429); white canvas: Sunbrella,
    Playhouse (custom design by Phillip Sides Interior Design, 334/240-3333.
    Playhouse fabrics (“Sunbrella Stripe, Navy and White” #9612; “Solid Navy” #5429; “Macaw Green”): Sunbrella,
    Art (Circus, by Barrett Bailey): Stonehenge Gallery,

  • Tria Giovan

    Family Portrait

    Cole and Joy Portis with eight of their nine children. From top: Zoe, 17; Jim, 13; Emme, 9; Eli, 7 (on Joy’s lap); Elizabeth, 15; Traye, 5 (on Elizabeth’s lap); Jon Cole, 13; and Samuel, 13. Their eldest daughter, Sarah Kathryn, 22, is working at a mission in Zambia. 

  • Graham Yelton