Charming Tuscaloosa Apartment Renovation
Moving back into his college digs in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, decorator Matthew Bees has clearly been continuing his design education.
Decorator Matthew Bees returns to his former college apartment, and this time, he's brought in some extra help. "Because I've never worked for another designer, my style is somewhat self-taught," he admits. Instead, he relies on the inspirational and teaching words of the designers in the collection of books that line his library/dining room. "They inspire me to entertain greatly," Bees says. His parties always begin with a toast using his crystal and glass stemware collection, which he found everywhere from One Kings Lane to eBay to 17 South Antiques in Charleston, South Carolina. Much of it is antique, naturally, like many of the treasures in his home. After all, who knows better than Bees the charm in old things getting a second chance?
Second Time Around
What's better than a great second act? Well, two of them. In the case of this 1890s Victorian, the grand pink house got a new life when it was converted into apartments in the 1920s. What's more, proud resident and decorator Matthew Bees is also on his second round living here—11 years after it was his home during his college days at The University of Alabama. "It was the first space I ever really designed for myself," he says. "My personal design aesthetic began here."
Set the Stage
By his own admission, Bees is a foyer enthusiast. "It's like a movie preview," he says. He's also a lamp lover, a bibliophile, and a Jeffersonian—the latter being notable as it influenced the color of his painted floors, Essex Green by Benjamin Moore, a nod to Thomas Jefferson's grass-green flooring at Monticello. The entry is a worthy place to make a major impression. "It sets the stage for the rest of your home," explains Bees.
Pull It All Together
"As my collections have grown, they have become more and more eclectic," says Bees. But how can you bring everything together in a petite living room while still making it feel both grand and cohesive? Believe it or not, Bees found his answer in an antique Oushak rug that consisted of pale greens, blues, and pinks. The classic color scheme was the key for tying together diverse elements, and the hues were soft enough to keep things from feeling too busy or overwhelming. While Bees already had his furnishings in place, a similar palette-defining rug can be just the right first piece to ground a new room you're decorating from scratch. Bonus points if your rug, like Bees', has touches of black for added versatility.
What might defeat the typical renter actually energizes Bees. Throughout his apartment, the decayed plaster ceilings had been covered in unpleasant plywood, prompting the decorator to enlist a better-looking option overhead: beaded board. He applied sheets of this inexpensive alternative and, for a finishing touch, added crown molding to conceal the edges, some of which had gaps thanks to the unusual dimensions of the rooms.
The previous tenants had left behind "dinky" kitchen cabinetry, but Bees was happy to start over, hunting for storage that was practical, attractive, and well prepared to showcase his constantly expanding collections. Enter an antique mahogany case piece that fit the tight space next to the oven perfectly. And with the painted hutch hung on the wall above the sink, which is outfitted in a skirt made from P/Kaufmann's printed stripe, Bees had, as he explains it, "a room I knew would not look like a kitchen."
Bees employed bespoke drapery panels to divide the long, narrow room at the entrance of the apartment into a foyer and dining room/library. He installed a single box beam on the ceiling and used self-fastening strips to attach box-pleated valances and draperies to it, creating a "wall." In the bedroom, he upholstered the headboard to coordinate with pleated curtains that frame the bed. "Draperies can add architecture and lift the room's height if used correctly," he explains.