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Comfortable, Livable Alabama Home
A new home in Birmingham incorporates all of the elements for low-key, high-style living
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Sherry and Lloyd Wilson have lived in Birmingham, Alabama, all of their married lives, and to this day they continue to be enamored with the beautiful Southern city. “We travel quite a bit, but we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Sherry. “The city is large enough to be cosmopolitan and filled with cultural amenities, but at the same time, it’s very friendly, family-oriented, and intimate––a lot like a small town.”
Besides offering the best of both worlds in terms of big-city sophistication and small-town manageability, Birmingham is exceptionally picturesque. “We’re not really a ‘destination place,’ but most first-time visitors are completely enthralled when they see our mountainous, hilly terrain,” Sherry relates. “Everything is lush and green, and there are so many incredible vistas.”
One of the best and prettiest views is offered from the vantage point of the Wilsons’ home in Mountain Brook. Perched high on a crest, the 5-year-old house overlooks valley, woodlands, mountains, and the city of Birmingham itself. “While raising our three children, we lived in a sprawling older house on the grounds of the Birmingham Country Club,” Sherry says. “Once the kids were out on their own, we decided to build our own ‘grown-up’ house, one geared to our wants and needs.”
A covered porch overlooking the swimming pool offers unobstructed views of the sculptural, manicured gardens at Sherry and Lloyd Wilson’s new home, designed by architect James Carter.
Photography: Colleen Duffley
Produced by Lynn Nesmith
Interior Design: Jane Hoke; Hawkings Israel Co. Interior Design, 2102 Cahaba Rd, Birmingham, AL 35223; 205/879-3406
Architect: James Carter; James F. Carter Inc., Architect, 2100 SouthBridge Parkway, Suite 440, Birmingham, AL 35209; 205/871-7873
Landscape design: Norman Kent Johnson, 2215 Cahaba Rd., Montain Brook, AL 35223
The Wilsons’ “want list” was simple and specific. First, they desired a place that would make them feel comfortable, whether dressed in blue jeans or all decked out for a ball. “Our previous home was very traditional architecturally and quite formal in style,” says Sherry. “Over the years our tastes have changed, and what appeals to us now is a look and a way of life that’s casual but elegant at the same time.”
The couple also wanted a house that would be ideally suited for frequent entertaining, not only because they have many friends, but also because their adult children and two grandchildren live in Birmingham and often stop by for visits. Another top priority was to have a terrific space for outdoor living. Says Sherry: “Southerners love their gardens as much as their houses, and in this climate, we are able to enjoy the outdoors most of the year.”
Homeowner Sherry Wilson
Longtime Birmingham architect James Carter brought the Wilsons’ dream house into being. “The house has Italian and Mediterranean influences but was never intended to be a slavish copy of any one style,” says Carter. “It has a hint of this and a hint of that, and the architecture overall captures the spirit of the places where the Wilsons love to travel most. These destinations––Italy, the South of France, and the California wine country––are all well-known for the kind of low-key elegance the couple are now drawn to.”
Carter has noticed that in recent years, clients have chosen to free themselves from the shackles of formality. “I think most people still want homes that feel familiar, but they also want a sense of freshness that strict formality does not allow,” he says. The architect admits that there are some Southerners who remain wedded to antebellum aesthetics and traditions, but not many are residents of Birmingham. Why? Because as Carter points out, Birmingham wasn’t founded until the 1880s and therefore has no pre-Civil War houses to maintain or venerate.
Jane Hoke, the Wilsons’ decorator and good friend, shares Carter’s thoughts on the drift toward relaxed, unpretentious design. “Here, as in the rest of the country, everybody’s lifestyle is a lot more casual than it used to be, and we don’t have as many formal occasions as in the past,” she says. “We still love our homes as much as ever, and we still love to entertain at home, but now everything is done in a much less fussy way.”
It is said that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, but Carter and Hoke insist that you can have both elegance and ease. To bring this about in the Wilson house, Carter tempered all things refined with elements of rusticity. Starting with the exterior, he topped the painted brick structure not with a stately tile or slate roof but with simple pine shakes. Even the exterior colors are casual. Says Carter: “One day during a visit to the site, I was wearing khakis and a green shirt. Sherry loved the combination, and these are the exact colors she chose for the façade.”
Mediterranean in flavor, the house beckons with painted brick, green shutters, a pine shake roof, and an arched entry.
Inside, the dressed-down elegance continues. In the foyer, where first impressions are made, Carter eschewed marble for a plain-and-fancy floor of common Pennsylvania bluestone with hone black-slate inserts. “This is a pattern often seen in France, but there they typically use limestone with slate,” he says.
Defined by an enfilade of graceful archways, the foyer begins at the double front door and leads to the step-down living room. Max, one of the Wilsons’ two labs, poses in front of an 1880s French iron console topped with lamps made from old balustrades.
For continuity, the same stone-and-slate floor appears in the dining room, which opens directly to the foyer. Elsewhere in the house, all floors are quartersawn oak, finished like fine furniture.
The kitchen is the hub of the house. Adjoining it is an informal dining area with a new table made from vintage English oak and four antique French chairs.
Referred to by the Wilsons as their “winter room,” the cozy library features a fireplace, stained and waxed maple paneling, and two inviting window seats set into book-lined alcoves.
The bouquet of “New Dawn” roses is from the garden.
Although the living room is the most formal space in the house, it, too, has been put at ease with hand-hewn old fir beams.
The living room screen’s muted colors of red, teal, ocher, and tan reappear in the antique Oushak carpet. The oak-and-iron table in front of the window is 18th-century Spanish. An antique English writing box placed on a stand serves as a small table next to the lounge chair.
The large bank of living room windows looks out on the terrace and magnificent vistas of Red Mountain.
Arches, like this one in the living room, are a recurrent theme throughout the house.
When Sherry and Lloyd decided to build a new house, they also decided to start afresh with their furnishings. “I used to be a very chintz, very English kind of person, but now I want a different kind of look––something more sophisticated but with old-world elements,” she says.
Sherry didn’t have to look hard or go far to find furniture and other objects for the house. At one time she had been co-owner of an antiques shop in Birmingham, and although she sold her interest in the business, she already owned many pieces of the shop’s merchandise. In fact, she had purchased a number of her antiques on buying trips to France and Italy.
Hoke frequently accompanied Sherry on these trips, so the two of them had a head start––and were very simpatico––in working on the scheme for the house. “Jane knew my tastes to a tee, and we had a wonderful time picking out fabrics and paint colors and putting things together,” says Sherry.
A hand-painted canvas screen depicting pastoral scenes forms a commanding backdrop for a chenille-covered sofa and the 18th-century French chairs. The coffee table is made from an old grate from France.
Hoke is equally happy with the outcome. “What I did was help create a beautiful but very approachable environment for all aspects of Sherry and Lloyd’s lives,” she says. And her favorite room? “It has to be the porch. It sums up the whole concept of living in a casual, comfortable, elegant way.”
More than a mere appendage to the house, the back porch, as the Wilsons call the loggia, is integral to their casual way of life. Featuring a handsome fireplace, the porch gets a great deal of use and is considered a true room, even though it’s outdoors.
Understated elegance is the key to the appeal of the Wilsons’ bedroom. An architectural fragment hung on the wall adds character to a new English four-poster bed below it.
Master Bedroom Sitting Area
The bedroom’s sitting area overlooks the gardens and is a pleasant spot to sip coffee and begin or end the day.