Interior Decorator Mary McCollister Finch Gives Georgian Beauty a Makeover

Gorgeous bespoke pieces and thoughtfully curated antiques evoke the romance of a bygone era in this 1920s Georgian home.

Text: Lauren Helmer
Photos: John O’Hagan

In Birmingham, Alabama’s historic English Village, 1920s-era architecture built in the Tudor style plays host to chic clothiers, bistros, salons, a 76-year-old hardware store, and a beloved French bakery. Along the brick-laid sidewalks, patrons sip coffee, chat, and ogle the adorable pooches of passersby. These sidewalks meander up into the hills, where lush greenery and towering old trees shade the homes that have collected here over time—a bohemian mix of French and Tudor homes, historic cottages, and modern abodes as well as grand homes.

A Georgian Beauty

A Georgian Beauty

The blue-and-white theme is layered throughout the living room. Designer Mary McCollister Finch’s penchant for pattern mixing shows in the lovely rug, assorted pillows, Delft and Chinese porcelain, and a custom landscape painting, which also draws in the greens. Floral fabrics and silk stripes embrace the lush comfort and quaint ambience of this Traditionalist home.

A Georgian Beauty

A Georgian Beauty

In the sitting room, nearly every piece tells a story. The hand-woven rattan urn pedestal was crafted in small English workshops that excel in traditional crafts.

A Georgian Beauty

While the dining room exudes an ornate elegance, the kitchen’s bespoke banquette and oval table, awash in natural light, seems to ground with an inviting, communal feel.

A Georgian Beauty

A Georgian Beauty

The main bedroom is anchored by a custom adaptation of the Kempner bed with a beautiful white canopy. “It’s a big room, so I felt the bed needed to have a real presence to it,” says Finch. To complement the impressive bed, the room is enveloped in walls adorned in a soft blue-and-white fabric with handsome trim. A beautiful oval antique table is flanked by classic Bergère chairs, and light floods the space from the sprawling gardens outside. “It’s a great old garden,” says Finch, who recommended Landscape Architect John Howard to breathe new life into the 1920s grounds. “He does such a wonderful job with seasoned properties.”

A Georgian Beauty

A Georgian Beauty

Handsome brick-laid motor court, walkways, and stairs lead to the home’s main entrance, a striking custom Chippendale-adorned door in London Blue is flanked by planters painted in the home’s signature garden-furniture color, a lovely Provençal green.

A Georgian Beauty

One such manse is a fine Georgian home built in 1929— its classic red bricks and august white pediments complemented by a romantic landscape. Interior Decorator Mary McCollister Finch of Mary McCollister and Company suggested the property to her friends of 30 years, Cindy and John Wise Jr., who were moving to Birmingham from out of town. They loved it. And naturally, since Finch not only knew the Wises’ lifestyle and functional needs, but also their design aesthetic, she was a perfect fit for the project.

“This house was a decorator’s dream,” she says. “They put a lot of trust in me to make this what you see. I do attribute it to the fact that we’ve been friends for so long. It was also because of our friendship and because it was such a spectacular project that I did not, in any way, want to disappoint them. My goal was to create a home that they would be proud of.”

Wise’s requests were minimal: She wanted the home to embrace a mix of traditional elements with a fresh, laid-back feel—all in a color palette of blues and greens.

Finch set to work, creating spaces of casual elegance. “The whole house is laid out in a very inviting way,” says Finch. “There’s a consistent stylistic thread woven throughout the entire house, so that you could move things from one room to another and it would still work.”

This is true of the living room and the adjacent sitting room, which exemplify the old-world charm of a Georgian home, where entertainment was had in conversation, games, reading, or enjoying a fireside sip. “Having owned a Georgian house myself, I like the fact that the living room is the room where everybody does everything, outside of the kitchen. It’s not just a room that you use occasionally,” says Finch, who provided enough seating for 20 family members to gather comfortably.

The adjacent sitting room, Finch’s personal favorite, features two striking pagoda-shaped lanterns that she had custom-made, and the gorgeous, checkered marble floor is original to the 20s-era home. A hand-woven rattan urn pedestal, a pair of antique wooden Continental hall chairs, and faux bois wallpaper lend a soft sense of leisure to the space.

In the dining room, Finch chose an arresting shade of pistachio and took her riskiest design move in this project: She hired Savannah decorative artist Bob Christian to do a hand-painted grisaille mural. The sweeping Alabama landscape adds an undeniable dash of drama to the sophisticated scene.

Nearby, the kitchen sparkles in its new white subway tiles, and a handsome traditional banquette is complemented by a custom-made modern oval table and sleek chairs with easy-to-clean, upholstered patent leather with nailhead trim. The vignette is at once bright and cozy.

The indoor living areas are rivaled only by Mother Nature’s beauty—and Landscape Architect John Howard’s masterful design—in the home’s outdoor living areas: A shaded brick terrace, an alfresco garden table, a plunge pool, and dining area sit in the shade of a ginkgo tree.

Serene and stately, this Georgian beauty exudes the fresh, vibrance of modernity while conjuring all the charm and romance of antiquity.

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