Text: Frances MacDougall
Photos: Jean Allsopp
For Birmingham designer Jan Ware, whose busy life has her juggling four kids, a successful career, and a puppy, her Lake Martin getaway restores balance as nature, family, and fun take center stage.
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.
In every room, windows line the walls, inviting the watery vista into the house. Curtains are minimal, designed for privacy and framing views rather than as decorative statements. The designer refrained from installing recessed lights, preferring natural light during the day and lantern and sconce light once the sun falls. “I’m all about the vitamin D when we can get it, and then I rely on lamps and ornamental light when we need it,” she says.
Ware insisted on push-out casement windows rather than the traditional crank casements because she wanted to keep the hardware to a minimum and the view as pristine as possible. As such, the colors of the landscape play a big part in the colors of the paint and fabric she chose. “I love a sort of lichen color — the gray-green-blue that you see at Lake Martin,” she says. Linen upholstery fabrics evoke the home’s surroundings of air, water, and trees, and the patina of unfinished wood throughout provides further complement.
Accents of unlacquered brass in the lights and fixtures, flower arrangements assembled from the garden, and patterned pillows bring in bold colors. But Ware keeps those decorative elements confined to small shots in keeping with the relaxed style of a family getaway. “We’re mostly on the boat,” says Ware. “Or we’re piled in the media room.” In this home, fun and comfort take precedence, while style is woven into the fabric and spirit of the cottage.