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THIS ALABAMA HOME TOOK INSPIRATION FROM AN UNEXPECTED LANDMARK

Working to realign a disjointed layout—and seamlessly integrate a modern photography collection with midcentury furniture—designer Betsy Brown elegantly unifies an early 2000s residence through color and scale.



An entryway in a modern home with a round wooden table that has an arm sculpture on it.

Interior designer Betsy Brown swapped the solid oak front door on this home in Birmingham, Alabama for a steel-and-glass model that lets in natural light. The custom oak table is by MDM and the dining chair and stool are by Axel Einar Hjorth. Ray K. Metzker’’s A Maze ‘N Philadelphia hangs over a custom iron bench.



Whether the focus is on natural landscapes or a bustling stretch of a city’s urban core, views are a longstanding source of inspiration for design professionals. From snow-capped mountains and verdant forests to pretty much any body of water—oceans, rivers, lakes, ponds—nature’s standout features have influenced structure citing and window placement for thousands of years. The lush, green trees of Birmingham, Alabama’s Redmont neighborhood certainly struck interior designer Betsy Brown as she surveyed her client’s house for the first time. More than the trees, however, the property’s straight-shot view into downtown Birmingham made an impact. Located on Red Mountain, the home looks directly at the Sloss Furnaces—a former pig iron-producing blast furnace, now a National Historic Landmark.

 

“The Sloss Furnaces are a series of rusted silos and smokestacks,” Brown says. “It has shades of warm and rusty red and is surrounded by trees, creating a beautiful patchwork of color. When we walked out and looked down, I turned to my client and said, ‘These are the colors we need to use.’ The first thing we sourced was a Persian rug in those colors, and the rest of the design evolved from there.”



The living room of a modern home. A round oak table is in the foreground, and a white curved couch and two curved chairs sit in front of the windows.

The sitting area in the home's central gallery now has a dedicated sitting area with a custom Grant Trick sofa, Una Malan swivel chairs, and a custom oak coffee table by MDM. An Isamu Noguchi Akari pendant adds texture to the space.

 

A living room with white curved seating and a green marble fireplace.

A new fireplace in the main sitting area adds a dash of dark green that picks up the tones in the Yasuhiro Ishimoto photograph above it. The vintage Mahal rug from Lawrence of La Brea kicked off the palette for the project.


Brown’s client, an attorney and the founder of a real estate investment company purchased his house in 2021. It was built in 2007 in a French style with a slate roof that matches many of the 1920s-era homes in the neighborhood. The client loved the home’s location and overall elegant presence, but there were some issues with the layout, which felt closed-off and incohesive.

 

“It felt uncomfortable,” Brown says. “When you open the front door, four steps take you down into a great hall that runs to the back of the house. There was a pretty set of glass doors [at the back], but they caused everything to be backlit. This space had to serve as the entry, dining, and living room. It had no fireplace, and it felt like there was no focused area for seating or gathering.”



A kitchen with oak cabinetry, wood floors, and a wood-paneled island.

Oak cabinetry and marble countertops bring a simple elegance to the kitchen. Custom wood stools are a sculptural addition to the island.



A breakfast nook with a wood table and hanging pendant light over it.

A custom banquette provides plenty of space at the new breakfast nook. A trio of vintage black-and-white photos by Ray K. Metzer hangs on the wall. The bronze pendant is by Huniford Home.


In addition to a streamlined layout and the creation of more defined, purpose-driven zones, the homeowner, an avid collector of modern photography, prioritized the inclusion of his accumulated works into the interior design. He also had a penchant for vintage midcentury pieces—but not the popular modular minimalism of Eames and Aalto.

 

“His collection is more classical,” Brown says. “It has dressier items in marble and brass, ones with patina.”

 

Embracing this masculine elegance, the ground-level floor holds the home’s formal public zones (kitchen, living, and dining rooms), the client’s study, and the primary suite. Brown expanded the formerly small kitchen, removing a large pantry that took up precious square footage and reversing the fireplace to face into the great hall. With this reversal, there was now an allocated space for seating—Brown clustered three Una Malan swivel chairs and a vintage Danish lounge chair in front of the dark green marble fireplace, above which hangs Katsura Temple, an early 1980s photograph by Yasuhiro Ishimoto. The original oak front door prevented natural light from entering the center of the house, so Brown replaced it with a modern-leaning steel-and-glass model that helps the space feel bright and welcoming.


An office with wood-paneled walls and a large black table.

In the study, a custom dark-stained desk was made by MDM. An Art Deco-era chair by Jindrich Halabala sits on one side of the desk, opposite of an antique Klismos-style desk chair. A camera obscura work by Abelardo Morell hangs on the pecky cypress paneled wall.


A bedroom with a brown-covered bed, a lounge, and three panels of windows.

In the primary bedroom, furniture includes a midcentury teak daybed, Jindrich Halabala chair, and custom oak bedside tables. A piece by Dodo Jin Ming hangs over the bed, and an untitled piece from Adam Fuss' My Ghost series is above the daybed.

 

The rest of the level comes together through color and materiality. Enhancing the green-and-rusty palette are cream and brown tones, textured fabrics, and furniture in warm-toned woods. Retaining the original cypress wood floors, Brown spent several weeks and went through about 30 color samples before finding the right color to stain them with.

 

“This is a process I undertook often when I was younger,” Brown says, “but wood finishes have progressed to where they are fairly easy to determine now. Finding a stain for cypress, however, took me back to the days of adding one tablespoon of blue tint at a time to five-gallon buckets of stain in hopes of reducing the orange color in the wood. There  was even one time when I left thinking we had gotten it right, but then I got in my car, got a little way off, and realized we weren’t quite there yet!”



A tall-ceiling wood and marble bathroom with a tub and two windows at the end.

A vintage runner and antique iron camp stool bring vintage charm to the bathroom. A modern sconce from Apparatus plays nice with custom-aged brass mirrors over the vanity.

 

The warm, honey-colored floors are a unifying foundation. Brown took an aesthetic risk in the kitchen by layering two types of wood—the cabinetry here is a slightly lighter oak. “We’re sometimes hesitant to put wood on top of a wood,” she says, “but the stone counters help balance them out.” A custom-designed banquette fills out the three-sided breakfast nook. “We had to stand it on its side to get it into the bay, then lay it down,” Brown recalls. “It took two different moving companies!”

 

A curved stone staircase leads to the downstairs level, with a library, media area, and three bedrooms, one of which Brown repurposed as a photography storage room. Also on the lower level is a wine cellar, bar, prep kitchen, and gym. Throughout the home, Brown played with proportion and scale—balancing a large custom oak dining table with a smaller coffee table and substantial, curved seating. Artwork from Ray K. Metzker, Vik Muniz, and Robert Polidori mixes with furniture by Grant Trick, Isamu Noguchi, and Milo Baughman.

 

“This was the second project I’d done with this client,” Brown says, noting that the first was an office transformation in the historic Birmingham Federal Reserve Bank building. “He fell into the process right away and immediately, and his enthusiasm for vintage pieces shines through his love for incorporating them into his surroundings.”




Images by Haris Kenjar




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