An Early 1900s Home on Mobile Bay Gets a Brilliant Makeover
"You can really feel the bay when you step inside this house, because you're practically level with the water," says Ginny Stimpson, a homeowner turned self-taught draftsman. "Once I walked out onto the porch, I was sold." That's saying a lot, because when she and her husband, John, first saw this house, they had just finished plans for a different one. They and their three sons had been living a half mile away on a landlocked property in Fairhope, Alabama, when their previous home had burned down on Mother's Day in 2016. "We were working to rebuild that house with a crew of builders and architects, but it was getting so expensive. As the numbers started coming in, John felt that we could potentially get a small house on the water instead," she says. Intrigued, they went looking and found this derelict charmer.
Taking a Step Back
It had been a rustic summer retreat used by a sprawling Mobile-based family who'd converted the home into two apartments, with one stacked on top of the other. When Stimpson purchased it, there was no insulation or interior stairway, and the electrical wiring was not up to code. Possibly the greatest concern of all was that the home was being leased as the backdrop for a horror movie based on a Stephen King novel, Gerald's Game. Undeterred, Stimpson knew she had found "a real bay house." The home lies almost flush with the shoreline—a rare find these days because regulations now require new construction to be elevated a certain amount to prevent potential flooding. Stimpson had spotted a real treasure. "I thought to myself, "I've got this." I can do this,' " she says. So they jettisoned the pricey construction project at their fire-damaged former home, and she started drafting a plan to redesign and rehab this house the old-fashioned way (using an architectural ruler and some grid paper). With help from handyman Freddie Kirksey and his crew, the family moved in seven months later. "It was an around-the-clock project," she says. See how this 2,300-square-foot home was returned to its prime.
"Because this is the most important room in the house, I planned it first," says Stimpson. "I wanted everything to blend in. The countertops are from my previous home, but we bleached them to match this house's original heart-pine floors (also bleached). The cabinet hardware is hidden as much as possible too. Look closely to see pulls at the top of each cabinet and drawer." The walls (and ceiling too) are coated with a high-gloss paint, Farrow & Ball's Borrowed Light, to brighten the space and make it feel larger.
Two for One
The long, narrow living room was a challenge. Stimpson centered it on a fireplace and initially furnished the room with two sofas, bought from a friend who was downsizing. As the area came together, she realized there wasn't space for two, so she used one here and put its twin in the playroom. "If they weren't so comfortable, I would've sold them and gotten something else, but I just couldn't," she explains.
"The really great feature in the dining room is the 15 feet of sliding glass doors (plygem.com). It took a lot of negotiating with my husband to get them, but they allow you to see from the front entry through the kitchen and all the way out to the bay," says Stimpson. Luckily, her table and chairs that survived the house fire helped balance the cost of the doors.
Stimpson stole a nook from her entry to create this teensy powder room. Covered in an over-scaled, fantastically patterned paper, Tropical Tropical by Timorous Beasties, the room takes on an aquarium feel.
The 45-foot-long rain porches running along the top and bottom floors help shield the west-facing house from wind and rain via an awning-like extension of the roof. "It's amazing to sit out here in the rain. You can see an actual line where the water stops short of the porch," says Stimpson. According to John Sledge, Mobile's architectural historian, this is one of about a dozen houses located in the Mobile Bay area that still have intact rain porches.
All in a Row
Not much has changed on this over-100-year-old second-story sleeping porch. "Everyone, except me, actually sleeps out here," says Stimpson. "On a given night, you'll find five twin beds, two daybeds, and some hammocks filled with people out here." When it came to outfitting the seven beds, she shopped on the cheap by pulling together brand-name pieces from sites like Overstock.com. Painting the porch railings with Farrow & Ball's Down Pipe (a gray hue) helps them fade from view.
Because the house is only 2,300 square feet and most of the downstairs is devoted to public living spaces, Stimpson configured the upstairs hallway to work as a playroom for her boys. Vaulting the ceiling from 8 to 12 feet tall and leaving the beams exposed makes the area feel more like an "indoor breezeway," she says. She furnished it with the extra living room sofa and a giant batik beanbag. This console table is a repurposed piece that was cut off the kitchen island.
Balance the View
The vanities are actually a kitchen island meant for the Stimpson's other home and too large to fit in the bay house. To make it work, Stimpson chopped it in half and topped it with leftover marble (honed black diamond) from the fireplace surround. The Abigail Borg's Polka Polka fabric skirts coordinate with the wallpaper in the water closet and hide the couple's bathroom storage.
Only a pair of Spanish moss-draped oak trees stands between the master bedroom's porch and the shoreline.
In son Benjamin's upstairs room, Stimpson could only fit a full bed into the space. For reading lights, she hung a pair of pendant lights from the ceiling that can be turned off from a convenient switch located to the right of the bed.
To create an accessible washer and dryer that her sons could use upstairs, Stimpson placed a stackable pair inside a towel closet. She covered it with a shower curtain to help it fade into the bathroom.
When the interior staircase was created, the bedroom of Stimpson's youngest son was chopped into a 14- by 7-foot sliver, but she worked her magic. "He loves to read, so I tried to give it a formal library look," she says, describing the curtained-off bed niche. "We even tucked in a bookshelf behind the headboard." Pittsburgh Paints' Evening Emerald (PPG1144-6), a deep green with gray-blue undertones, is apropos for a bay house.