Charming Remodel in the Steel City

After a couple of recent projects I have found myself in the South much more frequently.  My last post was about a visit to Charleston SC where I fell in love with the beautiful downtown area and the amazing variety of food.  This most recent project which was brought to us from an old contact of mine in the world of interior lighting design.  Specifically they provide church lighting design in both new and old churches.  They also do home projects involving AV, audio, and automation.

One of their clients was looking for someone to come in and do a complete remodel of a historic home in Mountain Brook which is a well-to-do suburb of Birmingham.  If you’re not familiar, like me, then you would be shocked at how beautiful this collection of Old South homes that sprawl across the hills and valleys just south of the downtown area truly is.

It’s also going through quite a dramatic change.  Many of the homes were built 50+ years ago.  So there are a great many renovations going on as people update some of these older homes.  Some are tearing down and building from the ground up while others are choosing to preserve the look of the old home’s exterior and upgrading the interiors.

New Mixed with Old

The particular project we were called in on is one of the latter.  The homeowner wanted to maintain the traditional look of the home while updating all of the interior rooms and even changing the space itself somewhat dramatically.  The front of the house is Plantation style but it is set into a hill with a beautiful creek rolling through the front yard.

The idea was to not change too much of the front of the house, but to open the back of the house up to allow more light and a more usable outdoor space.  We ended up creating a beautiful transition in the back of the house that allows the space to flow from the informal living room directly out onto the back patio.

A Beautiful Summer Kitchen

This particular homeowner loves spending time outdoors during the spring, summer, and fall months.  One of their requirements was a highly functional outdoor kitchen space from where they could watch the kids around the pool while cooking and eating.

One of the challenges on this project was that the because the house was set into a massive hill, we had to do quite a bit of excavation to get any backyard at all.  And if you know anything about this area of Birmingham you know that the ground can often be solid rock. Either that or clay that is rich in iron.

This meant that we actually had to do a bit of blasting in the backyard to clear enough space to accomplish their goals.  I have to admit that this was the first time I’ve been involved in a residential product that required the use of dynamite.  Kind of impressive, although I don’t think the neighbors liked it at all.

An Amazing Outdoor Space

outdoor kitchen spaceAfter it was all said and done though, this project ended up being one of my favorites because of the outdoor space we created.  The pool actually resembles the pool from the Holland project that I mentioned a while back.  Simple but elegant.

And the kitchen itself is usable 75% of the year even in a light rain.  We incorporated a covered area for the sensitive equipment and an open-air barbecue area.

The client was thrilled.  We’ve even been invited back down for a huge outdoor party they’re throwing this spring.  We’re looking forward to it.

A Traditionally Styled Home in the Old South

I can honestly say that I’d never considered a vacation in the Southern portion of the U.S. to be terribly interesting.  But after having spent the last week and a half working on a gorgeous home in downtown Charleston, and getting an up close and personal experience of the charm and food of this town, I can only say that I will most definitely be returning.

Charleston is one of the oldest towns in the United States.  And in terms of holding onto it’s cultural heritage, there are few towns in the U.S. that have done such a thorough job of maintaining it’s traditions.  Everything from the architecture to the food is an interesting mix of Southern propriety and long standing traditions.

Here are just a few pictures from the project on which we were working.

charleson living room

As you can see the style is much more traditional than what we would typically design.  Part of this is due to a new design associate we have taken on in the last couple of months. (Thank you Ian!).

charleston bedroomWhile it is definitely not a style that I employ on any of my personal projects, I certainly understand the appeal.  The traditional style is one in which I grew up.  While I often found it to feel cluttered or busy, when done properly, it gives a space a since of history.

And in a town like Charleston, this home is perfectly suited to it’s surrounding area.  There is something to be said for a cohesive look both inside and outside of the home.

charleston living room


Once again we were blessed to work with fantastic sub contractors on this project.  The local builder we hired used only the most conscientious workers.  Though the remodeling itself involved little in the way of construction, there was a great deal of drywall and wiring work done to accommodate the lighting and audio video requirements of the client.  The Charleston home theater contractor (Innovative Sight & Sound) that was hired specializes in coastal style homes and is unmatched when it comes to concealing TV’s and other technology.

Work and Play

While I was in town to supervise the last stages of the project, I was able to spend a good bit of time exploring the town itself.

Let me just say that if you’re anything of a foodie, Charleston is as good as it gets.  I hadn’t considered myself a fan of Southern cooking.  Much of this was due to the fact that I assumed everything was deep fried.  And while you certainly can eat that way if you like, there are so many more amazing choices in this quaint little town.

Having always been a bit of a Francophile, I decided to check out Fast and French (  The food here is absolutely amazing.  The cheese plate in particular has an absolutely astounding variety of scrumptious cheeses from which to choose.

I can truly say that I was very pleasantly surprised by what I found in this charming little Southern town.  And I wouldn’t hesitate to return there for another longer visit.

Creative Ways to Hide Technology

There is often a struggle when trying to balance the technologies that a client wants in their home with overall look they want to achieve.  For many contemporary spaces a black TV or elegant speakers are somewhat suited to the design.  But in most cases we have to come up with creative ways of hiding these devices.

Mirror Mirror On the Wall…

A recent project of ours in Atlanta was exactly such a case.  The homeowners wanted a great deal of technology throughout the space, but they didn’t want to see it when it wasn’t in use.  This involved more than just a television set.  They had touch panel controls in just about every room as well as LED TV’s, and in-wall/in-ceiling speakers throughout the entire condo.  They wanted an extremely clean look with very few sharp edges.  This, of course, made it necessary to hide every TV behind custom artwork, mirrors, and false walls.

LED behind TV

It was certainly an interesting challenge, but with the help of a local Atlanta audio video company ( we were able to come up with some very creative solutions.  One of the manufacturers they recommended was Seura.  They have a line of products that allow you to hide a TV behind a mirror.  Now there’s nothing new about doing that.  But Seura’s technology allows more than 95% of the light from the TV to pass through the mirror.  This means that you notice very little difference between a standard TV and one that is completely hidden when not in use.

One of our favorite techniques to create the appearance of more space is to utilize decorative mirrors.  This strategy was complimented beautifully by the fact that the homeowners wanted TV in practically every room.

We also managed to find some completely invisible speakers that can be installed in either the ceiling or the walls.  They are installed when the drywall is going in and are mudded over and painted just like part of the wall.  Care needs to be taken when selecting where to hang artwork however, you don’t want to drive nail into one of these speakers.

The touch panels represented a particularly unique challenge.  Since there was to be one in every room, we ended up having to come up with some creative ways of hiding them.  Some are in closets or on walls that don’t draw your attention.  Others were turned into small pieces of art since they can display images of anything you like when they’re not in use.

While I personally don’t prefer this much technology in a home, it is rewarding to be able to supply a customer with exactly what they want from an aesthetic point of view as well technologically.


The Challenges of Modern Decor

shibori pillow 2 tanlged pathOne of the biggest challenges we face when coming up with a design for a new space is finding the proper color palette.  Some spaces simple call for black and white.  Often the homeowners are quite happy with this stark and basic palette.

But in some cases more creativity is required.  Often times a client will want a modern or contemporary design with a splash of color.  And finding just the right pieces to bring out these colors can be a challenge.

A Recent Design Trend

While handmade items have always formed the backbone of the pieces we acquire or our clients, the rise of online marketplaces such as ETSY have dramatically reduced the amount of time required for us to find new and unique pieces.  It has also fostered an explosion in creativity.

The reasons for this are pretty simple.  One of the biggest barriers to entry with starting your own fabric or furniture design business is the high costs associated with having a storefront.  Marketplaces such as Ebay and ETSY have removed many of these barriers.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of designers have started businesses that thrive only on web sales.

The volume of traffic on these sites enables these artists to be extremely specific in the type of product they create.  While a store that made handmade one-of-a-kind napkins might thrive in a  large city like New York, it would struggle to stay in business in a smaller location.

But with millions of shoppers browsing these sites, there is more than enough traffic to make up for the specialization that occurs.

Throwback Techniques

Many of these artists have decided to learn old or even ancient techniques to create items that cannot be duplicated or mass-produced.  And buyers are more than willing to pay a premium for such items.

One specific example that we came across recently is the art of shibori fabric design.  This is a technique that has been used in Japan for hundreds if not thousands of years.  It is very similar to tie dye.  Traditionally shibori was only done in indigo.  But artists such as Natalie Mason at the Tangled Path have begun using this technique with a wide variety of colors and fabrics.

We had her create some custom pieces for a recent project of ours that needed to be livened up with a splash of color.   The colors and patterns create a very organic look that is sometimes described bohemian chic or boho chic.  Essentially it’s eclectic, and overall this isn’t a look we go for.  But used sparingly within our overall designs it is a fantastic way to liven up a room or an individual piece.

shibori pillow tangled path

A Beautiful Modern Farmhouse in Holland

We are constantly looking a new methods of uniting the old with the new.  Farmhouses have long been one of our favorite sources of inspiration.  While the vast majority of our work is in larger cities, pulling ideas from the country helps to establish a higher comfort level for many of our clients.  This house done by aatvos, is a perfect example of how light and structure can make space both clean and warm.

country modern farmhouse

Both inside and outside the lines are clean, but do not create the impression of sterility.  Warm woods are used to create more comfortable spaces.  We absolutely love the use of light on the interior rooms.

holland barnhouse night

This sort of space appeals both to those who find comfort in straight lines and those that get a feeling of warmth from natural material finishes (wood in this case).  A truly remarkable project.  Read more about this project on

A Fabulous Farmhouse in the Big Apple

farmhouse kitchenOn my daily visit to Design Sponge I stumbled across this gem of  home in Brooklyn.  While most of my ideas are rooted firmly in contemporary designs, I absolutely loved the look they’ve achieved.  It truly is a farmhouse look in the middle of the big city.

Dana McClure and her husband Chris Lanier split their time between two places – a loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and a small farm in Olivebridge, New York. Today, we’re peeking into their home in Olivebridge. Like many creative couples, Dana and Chris wear many hats. Dana is a visual artist with a focus on printmaking, collage and textiles. She freelances for a range of clients as a graphic designer and Chris is a chef, grower and food stylist. With the birth of their son just seven months ago, the couple decided to try to simplify their life and leave more room for doing the things they love the most. To that end, Dana just ended her 10-year stint teaching at Parsons so that the couple could embark on their first joint venture – Ravenwood. They’ve started by hosting a series of dinner parties in Brooklyn and in Upstate New York that showcase their homegrown and homemade products. Before settling into this Olivebridge farm, the couple had spent years renting cabins in the Woodstock/Phoenicia area. A Modern Family Farmhouse – Design Sponge

I especially like the rustic rug in the living room and all of the exposed dishes in the kitchen.  It gives the whole place a well-used charm.  And the old milk canister in the back yard adds some rustic charm as well.  Looks like a warm and comfortable place to live.