Text by Frances Macdougall
The story of how Birmingham designer Jan Ware and her family ended up in their lake cottage is one of those meant-to-be tales. In their early married life, Ware and her husband visited friends from Atlanta who had a house at Lake Martin in Alabama. “We’d always been Gulf Coast people,” says Ware. But after a weekend at Lake Martin, their heads were turned. In fact, the house next door was in foreclosure and was situated on a beautiful lot, so they started to hatch a plan. Upon further inspection of the house, however, the couple realized it was too much to take on. “It was a hexagonal, cinder block house,” says Ware. “We would have had to start over.” So they looked elsewhere for something more affordable for their young family. The bungalow they found satisfied their modest needs. “It was perfect for us at the time. We made it fit—the two of us and our four kids,” says Ware, without a hint of irony. But the couple kept their eye on the foreclosed-on property. Patience paid off, and when the time was right for their family, they bought the house on their dream lot.
The Wares hired Richard Long of Long & Long Architects in Birmingham to help them create an environmentally-sympathetic, family-friendly, design-worthy escape. Ware threw out her standard approaches to in-town houses in favor of more site- and second-home-specific goals. “I did not want a large house with a high vaulted ceiling,” she says. “It would have been too much wasted air conditioning.” Instead, she was interested in a contemporary cottage feel where family and friends could land and not feel crowded. “We comfortably sleep 14 with beds,” she says.
Ware also went with a different approach for the living spaces. “I’m usually not a fan of open-concept living. I like every room to have its function.” But the lake was different. Her children love to cook, and they all take part in the process when there are no teenage sports, fundraisers, and meetings to distract. The kitchen, dining room, and living room share common space, where cooking, eating, and hanging out mingle.