See How One Alabama Family Transformed a Starter House Into Their Forever Home
Marchelle and Peter Falkner didn’t buy their first home for its looks. The dark and dated 1949 redbrick cottage was a fixer-upper at best, but the pair wanted to set down roots and raise their two sons in this Vestavia Hills, Alabama, neighborhood. “It was in really bad shape at first,” says Peter. “You’d turn the water on, and it’d come out of the walls.” A landscape designer and owner of Falkner Gardens, Peter knew he could bring the run-down home, located on a prime corner lot, back to life. He called on his friends—residential designer Doug Davis of Douglas C. Davis & Associates and contractor Chris Franks of Franks Building Company—to help turn the one-story house into a place for his family to grow. Here’s how the team gave an old cottage new life.
Adapt Your Home for Your Lifestyle
Before the Falkners first moved in, the place got a much-needed makeover: covering the drab brick exterior with a coat of white paint, wrapping the chimney in Alabama sandstone, and building an inviting front porch. But after a few years, the family started to outgrow the one-story house and wanted more space for entertaining. Reluctant to leave the neighborhood, the Falkners decided on another round of renovations. This time, Franks' team ripped off the roof and added a second story. “We worked within the existing footprint and couldn’t go out in any direction, so we went up,” says Davis, who designed a roof with four great profiles. “On a corner lot, every side of the house needs to be attractive—not just the front. The interesting rooflines offer architectural character,” he says. Franks wrapped the new addition in James Hardie Artisan lap siding (painted Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, OC-117). “It’s a maintenance-free alternative to wood. It holds up in weather and won’t rot,” he says. Mixing materials keeps the exterior visually engaging. Shutters (painted Benjamin Moore’s Georgian Green, HC-115) bring more all-American charm.
Make It Inviting
“This house is all about being an interactive part of the neighborhood,” says Davis. During the second remodel, the railings came down and the wide stone steps were wrapped around the front porch to make it seem more approachable on all sides. “Removing those visual barriers made this smaller space feel a lot bigger,” he says. The front door originally opened straight into the living room, but when part of the porch was closed off to create a foyer, the door shifted to face the side street. “This allowed us to use a glass door instead of a solid one. You get that light and openness but can still maintain privacy by turning it sideways,” he says. Gas lanterns from St. James Lighting help warm up the entryway.
Build a Better Backyard
With multiple exposed sides, residents on corner lots can often feel like they are living in a fishbowl. So Peter carved out his own secluded space. “One important thing people don’t always do on corner lots is make a backyard,” he says. While the white fence provides a barrier to the street, its low, open design still lets light and air into the shotgun-style slice of yard. A thick ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ holly hedge placed along the lot line offers natural privacy. The tidy row of low boxwoods set in front encloses the garden area. Loose plants along the fence (such as salvia, lamb’s ears, and artemisia) soften the structured boxwoods. A horse trough filled with tomatoes and herbs sits inside a parterre. The covered porch adds an outdoor living and dining room for the Falkners, who love to host family and friends. “Wide steps help it flow out into the yard,” says Franks.
Plan Multifunction Spaces
Peter designed an outdoor kitchen with a sink large enough for cleaning the crawfish pot after spring boils. He collaborated with Birmingham-based Elegant Earth to create a cast-concrete structure with enough storage for that large pot, dry wood, charcoal, and dining essentials—protected from rain by a bracketed roof. A stone patio naturally evolved around the kitchen. “The outdoor kitchen gives more function to the courtyard. It’s a whole interactive space, but it doesn’t wedge you into using it solely for cooking,” says Davis. A seating area and bistro lights turn the patio into another cozy spot for entertaining.
Give It Character
A cedar-shake shed acts as the back wall of the yard. The green shutters and louvered gable match those on the home’s front exterior. “The small shed gives you a chance to connect with something on a more intimate scale,” says Davis. ‘New Dawn’ climbing roses provide more natural beauty. “They put on a big show around Mother’s Day and then bloom off and on until the fall,” says Peter. A babbling fountain on the stone patio provides an extra noise barrier for the Falkners’ backyard living areas.