Text by Andrea Fanning
Birmingham-based architect Bill Ingram has a portfolio that spans the South and features a range of styles, yet each structure bears his trademark: subtle sophistication. And perhaps nowhere does this polished practicality shine more brightly than in his inviting vacation home on Alabama’s Lake Martin. During his 20-plus years in the industry, Ingram has done dozens of builds in this popular retreat spot, and he knew early on that it was the ideal place for his personal getaway. He found a point lot—the only unbuilt parcel on the street—and looked to the land to shape the plans. He says, “I was able to capitalize on the view of the water and at the same time utilize the woods and hillside for extra privacy.”
From the position of the sun and potential cross breezes to the flow of entertaining and daily living, every aspect of this project was designed with purpose, and the man with the drafting pencil relied heavily on his knack for “character building.” Ingram says, “In all of my work, whether it’s a new house in an old neighborhood or a farmhouse, I want it to look like it’s been there. For this house, I wanted a sense of history and intrigue, for it to feel like a one-room house built before air conditioning, one that had been added onto over the years.” To achieve the look, he incorporated a plethora of details, including an entryway on the left side of the home accessed by passing through a louvered porch. Inside, the cozy entrance hall greets guests with fine art, antiques, and a relaxed shade of olive green, but when you turn the corner, it opens into the grand fireplace room with windows from front to back.
Sunlight and cedar infuse the space with sensory delights. Thirteen-foot ceilings made of pickled cypress soar overhead, and antique oak floors anchor the look underfoot. A rock wall and limestone accents (one of which is a load-bearing installation that had to be lowered in by crane) bring rustic appeal, and at 12½ feet high, French doors line up opposite windows of equal stature for cross ventilation, adding to the sense that the home was finished long before its completion in 2007.
A refined color palette gives the abode timeless appeal. “The lake is a hot-weather place, but I also knew I’d be spending some time here in the winter,” Ingram explains, “so I selected colors that would work for both—light and dark greens mixed with buttery hues. And the majority of the walls are cedar planks painted white. I’ve also noticed that the abundance of light here has faded things over the years, and I like it even better now.”
From start to finish, beauty and efficiency drove the design. The fireplace room joins the kitchen and makes the entire first floor a true living space. The clever addition of three steps in two different places allowed Ingram to suggest some privacy for those occupying bedrooms on the first floor. Small vestibules outside each further the sense of separation and add to the intrigue of the entire place. His master suite sits next to the kitchen, as does a screened-in porch with exposure on three sides for the ultimate outdoor-breeze experience. “It is not a huge house, but it lives big,” Ingram says. We use every inch of it. It is great when it’s full, but it’s also great when I am here by myself. I can leave the city behind and relax. It is really my getaway.”
Though many people think a lake house needs a lot of wood, Bill Ingram says, “It can get very dark, and I’ve just got to have that light. I put in tall windows and used painted cedar to still get that warm feel you get from natural wood while keeping things bright. Adjacent to the kitchen, the home’s second wing contains the master suite. I bumped up the ceiling into a vault and made this suspended bed canopy to bring in some coziness.” As with the entrance hall, a paneled wall hides builtin closets and drawers, and an 8-foot antique gentleman’s desk from an estate sale provides both storage and aesthetic. Ingram designed the master bath to feel like an old hallway that’s been converted into a bathroom. Tongue-and-groove panels of painted pine make a perfect backdrop for limewashed antique oak lavatory stands. For a cohesive look, Ingram used extra yardage from the bed canopy for the window coverings.