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Updated Birmingham Home

A Birmingham couple calls on an old friend to renovate their home

Written by Eliot Nusbaum
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  • Colleen Duffley

    When Margaret and Holman Head decided to renovate and enlarge their home, they called on a childhood friend, interior decorator Mary Evelyn McKee. Margaret and Mary Evelyn grew up together in Birmingham, became friends in junior high school, and both studied art history at Hollins College in Virginia. In short, they were (and are still) sympathetic spirits.

    To fill out their design team, McKee drew on her professional friendship with architect Bill Ingram. She had worked with the well-known architect before and knew his sensitive approach was just what the Heads were looking for to design an addition to their 1920s Tudor Revival-style home.

    Margaret Head, seated, and longtime friend decorator Mary Evelyn McKee.

    Photography: Colleen Duffley
    Produced by Lynn Nesmith

    Architect: Bill Ingram, Bill Ingram, Architect, 2205 Seventh Ave. S., Birmingham, AL 35233; 205/324-5599, billingramarchitect.com
    Interior design: Mary Evelyn McKee, Mary Evelyn McKee Interiors, 2910 Linden Ave., Homewood, AL 35209; 205/879-7544

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    Exterior

    The Heads had outgrown their home of seven years, but they loved the charm and convenience of their Mountain Brook neighborhood. Their house sits between the equally delightful communities of Mountain Brook Village and English Village, two of the three towns (Crestline is the third) laid out in the early 20th century by landscape architect Warren Manning.

    The combination of a long narrow lot and the owners’ love of the home’s front elevation, with its exaggerated roofline, front chimney, and arched doorway, directed placement of a much needed addition at the back of the residence.

    “The original 1920s Tudor cottage had all the pieces and parts of a big house, but it was really quite modest in terms of square footage,” explains Ingram. To make room to add on, a detached two-car garage with a second-floor apartment was demolished. Fortunately, the razed structure was constructed with the same bricks as the house, which meant they could be salvaged to ensure the new addition blended seamlessly with the original home.

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    Terrace

    Also helping to tie the new to the old is the bluestone terrace. It was extended across the entire back of the house and connects to the end of the addition, an octagonal pavilion that contains the new master suite. The enlarged terraced allowed Ingram to create exterior living areas for lounging, dining, and conversation. Through such devices, he was able to keep the scale of the addition modest while giving the Heads the space they wanted and even adding to the home’s basic charm.

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    Foyer

    Likewise, Ingram and McKee kept much of that built-in cottage charm in the interiors. “I try to keep a part of the original house in any renovation or redecorating,” explains the decorator. This blend of old and new starts in the foyer, where an old stairway to the basement was removed to make room for a bar, while the original staircase to the second floor was preserved but lightened with a sisal runner.

    An antique chest and Oushak rug mix with a sisal runner in the foyer. 

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    Living Room

    The subtle blend is perhaps most eloquently executed, however, in the living room. The room itself sits slightly askew, reflecting the gentle curve of the house. The original limestone fireplace remains the centerpiece of the room, but Ingram enhanced the original barrel-vault ceiling by adding new cornice moldings and gridlike fretwork. 

    McKee chose a sophisticated persimmon red to unify the living spaces. For furniture, she mixed old and modern pieces, including a pair of antique walnut armchairs, a couple of new slipper chairs, a Barbara Barry sofa, and an interesting contemporary coffee table. A red-patterned fabric screen anchors one corner of the room and makes a colorful background.

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    Dining Room

    The dining room, through an archway and two steps up from the living room, is a grand space for entertaining, accommodating as many as 14 around the antique table plus providing space for an intimate dinner by its bay window.

    The table and chairs are antiques. The painting is by Scott Hill.

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    Dining Room Vignette

    A vignette in the dining room echoes the room’s window treatment. A large antique mirror, a personal favorite of Margaret’s, was hung on the wall opposite the windows to capture the reflected light.

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    Fireplace

    The heart of the house is the fireplace in the new library. “Margaret had seen a photograph of a fireplace with a Gothic arch and wanted that to be a part of their home,” says Ingram. With its overscale rough timber frame, the fireplace sets the tone for the room. A soaring vaulted ceiling of pecky cypress with rough-sawn pecky cypress beams and walls of clear cypress, all of which have been stained and waxed for an aged look, give the library a cozy, lived-in feel. Comfortable seating drawn up to the fireplace makes this the perfect spot for drinks and conversation or for curling up with a book. Beautifully proportioned and symmetrical bookcases on each side of the hearth extend the arch theme that runs throughout the house.

    The emphasis on comfort makes this the perfect room for conversation, drinks, or just reading a book.

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  • Colleen Duffley

    Kitchen

    Ingram brought the rough-sawn cypress into the kitchen as well, using the wood for beams above the new space. The original kitchen was tiny, so one of Ingram’s chief charges was to create a livable and attractive kitchen in the addition. “We always treat the kitchen like a very important room,” says the architect, who acknowledges the central role that room plays in today’s home life. To keep a clean look, the architect designed exceptionally deep walls between the kitchen and the hall stairway so that large appliances could be set back into niches and intrude less on the kitchen’s space.

    The palette in the kitchen is light and bright with beige walls, pale wood cabinets, and light-colored stone countertops. Custom leaded-glass windows used in the kitchen as well as in the library and the large bays in the dining room are focal points, but they also create a sense of permanence and quality, according to Ingram. “They elevate the entire house,” he says.

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    Breakfast Area

    A curved banquette tucked between two cabinets and two favorite chairs from the heads’ collection provide seating in the breakfast room off the kitchen. Bluestone floors in the kitchen and breakfast room tie the space to the terrace outside.

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    Master Bedroom

    The master suite, which is reached through arched double doors from the library, also opens onto the terrace. A pair of French doors connects the octagonal room to the outdoors.

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    Master Bedroom Desk

    McKee furnished the master suite with many items from Margaret’s family, including a desk and chair that belonged to her grandmother, and paintings by family and special gifts from friends. They are the perfect touches for a home that is filled with personal connections.

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    Master Bath

    A large and dramatic arched window allows light to stream into the master bath, while a freestanding screen provides privacy.

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