Kate Hartmann Takes on a Renovation in Birmingham, Alabama

The remodel of a Birmingham home brings modern comforts to an old house without sacrificing its elegance.

Kate Hartmann Takes on a Rescue Mission in Birmingham, Alabama
The facade of the house remained largely untouched, since its proportions were exactly right. The designer replaced the shutters with exact replicas.

Built in the 1950s, a French-style home on a desirable street in Mountain Brook received an addition in the 1980s, and then it remained stuck in time until new owners bought the property in 2019. They tasked designer Kate Hartmann with composing rooms that integrated the owners’ antiques with fresh notes of contemporary elements.

Rescue Mission

In the family room, Hartmann reversed the placement of the living room and kitchen, putting the kitchen on the back of the house, and removed a wall to open the spaces to one another. A custom pair of framed mirrors over the fireplace open to reveal the television.

Rescue Mission

In the study, the designers streamlined the mantel and gave the room a moody vibe.

Rescue Mission

Rescue Mission

The former kitchen indulged all the worst of 1980s design: a Mexican tile floor, dark woodwork, and harsh lighting. The designers replaced it with a bright, airy space with cabinetry that harkens to a farmhouse while also seeming modern. “I like to frame each unit with woodwork,” says Dale. Interior designer Kate Hartmann designed the banquette to fit precisely between two cabinets that Dale designed to appear timeless, with shallow drawers and glass-paneled doors.

Rescue Mission

In the serene owners’ bedroom, Hartmann added architectural interest in the mirrors and custom headboard designs. A pair of framed intaglios add subtle interest on the nightstands. In the owners’ bathroom, Hartmann used the chandelier from the former dining room, where it was much too small, to bring sparkle to the space. The cornice board conceals an electric roller shade.

The outdated house was full of 1980s design tropes, including dark, heavy woodwork, Mexican tile in the kitchen, ornate hardware, and an excess of chintz. An everything-must-go attitude prevailed in the renovation plans, pulling the house into the new millennium. “We swapped the living room and kitchen, putting the living room on the front of the house and the kitchen in the rear,” says Hartmann. “We also took out a wall to open the two areas to each other.” The designer sought to unify the living room, dining room, and kitchen, painting them all the same color, Sherwin-Williams Worldly Gray, which Hartmann chose for its saturated quality.

The owners invited architectural designer Eric Dale to rethink the house for modern livability. “The exterior was nicely designed with beautiful details and proportions, so we saw no point in altering it,” says Dale. “The interior was a different story. We reimagined the space by gutting most of the existing public spaces and adding detail to the foyer and what became the dining room. The 1950’s layout was no longer amenable for today’s family life, since the rooms were completely disconnected and isolated.”

The old living room became the new dining room. Gratuitous columns and the dated marble floor were removed, a new fireplace surround installed, and a modern chandelier hung over an antique table. “The dining room was a huge space,” says Hartmann. “Eric went heavy on the architectural details to correct the sense of scale.” Dale sought to address the lack of architectural detail in the space. “The room felt like an oversized shoebox, dominated by the Palladian windows,” he says. “We added the wall panels and ceiling moldings to give the room human scale and to make the window wall less prominent.”

In the kitchen, new cabinetry lends the spirit of a previous age, with glass-paneled doors over shallow drawers. Hartmann designed the custom-built banquette to fit precisely between the cabinets. A white oak island echoes the white oak floors, with geometric detailing on the ends calling attention to the pretty grain of the wood.

The living room, now open to the kitchen, is an intimate, comfortable space for relaxing. A sectional sofa and velvet chairs invite lounging. “We designed the mirrors over the fireplace to conceal the television,” says Hartmann. In the den, a cozy mood prevails, with walls painted in Sherwin-Williams Night Owl and a raffia-papered ceiling. The exterior remained much as it was except for some of the pretty shutters, which couldn’t be salvaged. The designers had them replicated exactly as they were, proving that attention to detail never goes out of style.

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