Designer Ashley Gilbreath Transformed This 1940s House Into Her Family's Dream Home

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Single-Story Home Before
Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Gilbreath

One could say that Ashley Gilbreath birthed two babies in 2016: her third child, Liza, and a major redo of the family's home. "Renovating is like childbirth in the sense that as soon as it begins, you ask why you ever thought it was a good idea," says the Montgomery, Alabama-based interior designer, laughing. And she knows what she's talking about, having bought, renovated, and sold more than a dozen homes with her husband, Barrett—not just flipping them but actually living in them. However, the couple knew they had found a keeper when they bought this 1940s brick home in 2014. It sat at the edge of a golf course that, when golfer free, functions more like a really well-groomed park, complete with a pond and stunning sunset views. When the course is closed on Mondays, pickup kickball and baseball games happen on the green. As for the house itself, it had plenty of old-house charm, but its quirky single-floor layout didn't work for a growing family.

After consulting with friend and neighbor Chris Tippett, who recently cofounded Tippett Sease Baker Architecture, the Gilbreaths decided to double down and make the existing structure work—while doubling their square footage in the process. They lifted off the roof to add second-floor space for the kids and bumped out a cross-shaped addition downstairs in the back to house an expanded kitchen and a main bedroom suite complete with a sleeping porch. These renovations took the home from having 2,400 square feet, three bedrooms, and two baths to about 5,000 square feet, five bedrooms, and five and a half baths—more than enough to accommodate not only the Gilbreaths but also their extended family. (It now sleeps up to 17 people.) "It was important that when everybody needs a room on Thanksgiving or Christmas there would be enough space for that," Gilbreath says.

01 of 16

Warmest Welcome

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL House Remodel Front Exterior
Hector Manuel Sanchez

What was once a low-slung structure nestled amid overgrown shrubs got a dramatic face-lift thanks to rolled-roof shed dormers, quaint diagonal-board plank shutters, and a bay window with a standing-seam copper roof. "The dormer above the door was a great opportunity to add a little drama to the front elevation and the entry as we designed the stairs to the new second floor," Tippett notes. At night, inviting lantern light twinkles through the window. Where possible, original windows were retained, and all new ones were modeled to match. A clay chimney pot by Superior Clay Corp. tops the original brick one, adding a bit of contrast, while a newly built porte cochere welcomes the family into a side entrance with a convenient powder room and mudroom. Classic colors—warm white-painted brick (Farrow & Ball Clunch No.2009) with gray-beige accents (Farrow & Ball Stony Ground No.211) and a weathered hand-split cedar-shake roof—complete a new-old home that feels equal parts friendly and refined.

02 of 16

Neutral Beauty

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL house Stairwell with Pressed Botanical Gallery Wall
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

To contrast the home's original hardwood floors, re-stained dark walnut, the stair risers are painted a rich gray (Sherwin-Williams Anonymous SW7046) and topped with a Dash & Albert seagrass runner to soften the constant pounding of little feet. "Painting stairs gray is an easy way to add contrast, plus you don't as easily notice dog fur or dust that might land on top of the baseboards, or when a tennis shoe kicks the riser—it obscures a multitude of things." A gallery wall of framed pressed ferns and leaves from Richmond, Virginia-based Blackwell Botanicals climbs along the stairs, a spot visible from the dining room all the way into the living room. Yet sun flooding in the high dormer have bleached them for an even more delicately aged feel, while the cohesive motifs keep the large display from hogging the spotlight. "You see this art a ton from different points in the house, so it was important it stayed simple but was also impactful scale-wise," Gilbreath says. Equally quiet-yet-impactful touches: A bench from Gilbreath's home store, Parish, and runner from Parviz Oriental Rugs in Atlanta.

03 of 16

Cushy Setup

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Formal Living Room with Neutral Colors
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

The living room already had gorgeous bones and light flooding in from three sides. The new bay window just builds out the drama, especially with a CR Laine custom charcoal sofa tucked in and flanked by coordinating curtains. It's proven to be the perfect spot for conversation and for placing the Christmas tree each year. "The room is very traditional architecturally, so the acrylic plastic table brings in a little something unexpected and fun. Plus, it offsets the visual weight of the sofa and chairs," Gilbreath notes. An antique trunk underneath keeps the piece from feeling too modern.

04 of 16

Hearth and Soul

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Family Room
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

Above the original fireplace, an oil landscape painting is artfully propped to hide the TV, though the fireplace is just as likely to lure family members into this room. "If we have a Saturday morning when nobody has a game or event, that cocktail table gets scooted out of the way and we eat a picnic breakfast in front of the fire," Gilbreath says. A Fibreworks rug, a slipcovered Verellen sofa, and antique leather chairs complete the setup, while dueling Visual Comfort floor lamps and a gray mantel distract from the fact that the fireplace is off-center in the room.

05 of 16

Defining Layers

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Dining Room with Draped Walls
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

The family dines here often, so it couldn't feel too formal. A trestle table was the key to keeping things a bit casual, while a French chandelier communicates that this is a dining room. Kerry Joyce sheer drapes on rods that were custom-made by a local blacksmith and hang throughout the house provide visual flow and softly cocoon the dining room from the adjacent hallway and foyer. "They say, 'This is its own space,' without having to put a wall there," Gilbreath says.

06 of 16

Collected Kitchen

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Kitchen with Soapstone Coutnertops
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

"Because I design homes every day, I did not want the typical marble," says Gilbreath, who loves how her soapstone slab countertops and backsplash grow even more interesting with age. Additional intrigue is provided by dramatic Visual Comfort pendants over island and a magnetic knife strip that was custom-made using a wood fragment the couple scooped up on a trip to Europe. The slipcovered seats pulled up to the white oak island are decade-old former barstools; their legs have been shortened, and their fabric was patched.

07 of 16

Bar Scene

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Kitchen Bar
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

Built around doors Gilbreath found in Europe, the bar houses an ice machine, beverage cooler, drink assortment, and a Craig Greene painting illuminated by an Ikea pendant. Whether it's Liza dispensing ice onto the floor for family dog, Bo, to eat or her parents concocting mimosas, this is a go-to enclave. "God created wine right after he created the mom," Gilbreath says, laughing. The wood butcher block is another European find—one that was originally destined for a client's house until Gilbreath realized how perfect it looked here.

08 of 16

Rise and Shine

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Breakfast Nook
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

The breakfast nook lets light from both sides into the kitchen, which previously felt dark. The banquette features a durable Brentano raffia, and the vintage chairs have their original fabric from the thirties or forties. "I'm not in love with the pattern—it's fine, but I love the fact that you can't hurt it," Gilbreath says. "They're already lived-in and have so much character. There are places where the strings are popping loose or the sun has faded the fabric a touch."

09 of 16

Natural Gem

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL House Powder Room
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

The small powder room off the side entry feels polished thanks to antique brass details and a soapstone countertop. Textured walls and a stone basin add more natural shades to the small space.

10 of 16

Let's Get Practical

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Blue Bedroom
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

Working with clients at various life stages has helped Gilbreath hone a detailed and down-to-earth approach to designing spaces for families, including her own. "I am always impressed when a client says something like, 'Make sure that closet is big enough to hold a Pack 'n Play for when I have grandbabies one day and they visit,' " she says. While decorating this house, she asked long-view questions of her own, like, "Will this setup still work when the kids are in high school?" In the meantime, every decision has taken into account the tendencies of kids ages 9, 7, and 3—plus one rule-breaking puppy. "The reality is that right now, there are more children and dogs in our life than there are big people who do fancy things," Gilbreath says. "I've tried to be cautious with materials and thoughtful in the placement of things so the house looks put together but is also practical. If we spill chocolate milk or the dog runs in with muddy paws, it's okay. I want to feel comfortable in my home."

11 of 16

Worth The Effort

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Bathroom with Soaking Tub
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

The family moved in just a month before Gilbreath gave birth to her youngest, Liza, as construction was still wrapping up. "On the day she was born, the plumber came to connect the kitchen sink," she recalls. "The deal was, if I came home from the hospital and didn't have a sink to wash a bottle in, I might hurt someone." Of course, as with childbirth, such angst feels more than worth it in hindsight. "It almost definitely would have been easier on us and on our pocketbook to knock this house down and rebuild, but I just love to breathe new life into a home," says Gilbreath, who, for the record, is not moving anytime soon. "I have told my sweet husband that he is welcome to move if he ever would like to, but I am staying put."

12 of 16

Boy Wonder

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Boy's Bedroom with Daybed Nook
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

In 6-year-old Rett's aviation-motifed bedroom, you'll often find a cousin or best friend or sister nestled into the daybed nook, a favorite spot in the house that resulted from a happy accident; once the roof was raised, Tippett discovered they had a little extra space to work with here and there. "Whether someone actually sleeps there or curls up with a book, I just love a cozy little nook," Gilbreath says. The wood lining the nook was salvaged from an old carport behind the house that had to come down.

13 of 16

Polished Pink

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home White Bathroom
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

Light pink walls and a clawfoot tub make for a feminine bathroom. Gilbreath kept wood floors in the space, so the white accents keep things light and airy.

14 of 16

Happy Hideout

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Playroom
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

Doubling as a high-capacity guest space, the playroom houses two bunk beds, plus a sleepable sofa. Gilbreath grabbed the bunks at Ikea in a rush before Thanksgiving one year, and the kids loved them. "We decided to just cover the railings rather than shop around for something I really love—for today, this works great." She enlisted a local decorative painter to create the sunburst pattern on the ceiling: "I could never have handled the math on that—I could barely watch her do it!" Colorful Cowtan and Tout curtains can be closed when cousins go to bed (snuggled up to matching pillows).

15 of 16

Backyard Refresh

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Backyard
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

The addition of a small courtyard and covered porch created a more thoughtful use of the backyard area. A built in counter around the Big Green Egg grill and an awning make summer grill nights easier.

16 of 16

Open Invitation

Ashley Gilbreath Montgomery, AL Home Covered Porch with Fireplace
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Lizzie Cullen Cox

With plenty of seating and fireplace, the porch is a cozy extension of the interior.

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