A Colorful Lakeside Retreat

Don’t judge a book by its cover is sound advice for many situations beyond the bookstore—people, places, and this lakeside family home.

During construction, the Spensleys were living in Zambia, South Africa, where Allison worked in international public health and her husband Steve owned a security company. Allison worked long distance with architect Richard Long, letting family and color be her guide. Photos by Jean Allsopp

My daughters describe our home as a ‘surprise house’,” Allison Spensley says. “They say it’s all dark and serious on the outside and then a party on the inside.” Living inside that surprise on a wooded 6-acre lakeside property in Shelby County’s Stonegate Farms are Allison, Steve, and their three children, 11- year-old Emm, 8 year-old Clara, and 3 year-old Charlie, along with Boomer, a chocolate lab, and Felix, a Zambian rescue cat. “My kids love to be busy all the time—making slime, creating art projects, riding their bikes, and running around,” Allison says. “They definitely influenced the way we designed the house.”

When the Spensleys first purchased the property, they collaborated with Richard Long of Birmingham’s Long & Long Design on their new home’s architectural plans. “I don’t consider myself a very traditional person, so I didn’t want a formal, traditional house,” Allison says. “Instead, I wanted to create spaces that are friendly and welcoming and encourage togetherness.” Richard and his team designed a five-bedroom, four-and-a-half bath, two-story home with about 4,700 square feet of living space. “The home’s exterior architecture is simple, modern, and barn-like with vertical cypress siding, corrugated metal roofing, and a stone water table,” Richard says. Allison adds, “When you enter the house, with its dark, monochromatic exterior, you really don’t expect to find the light, colorful, airy spaces inside. I love that moment.”

White shiplap siding sets off the kitchen’s vibrant colors. Cabinets are coated in a preppy spring green (matched to Pantone’s Greenery), and barstools are the color of summer sunshine. The family’s laundry/mudroom/craft room shows a hint of vibrant turquoise that matches the custom color of the turquoise Blue Star range.

The interior opens to the main level’s great room encompassing the living, dining, and kitchen areas where color reigns supreme. “It was exciting to work with the Spensleys to transform the rooms with such bold and beautiful hues,” Richard says. “Many of those wall colors and art pieces represent their love for the culture of Zambia, where they once lived.”

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The open floorplan is completely focused on family, eschewing conventional spaces for task-oriented areas and together time. “We’ve had formal living and dining areas, and for us they were a waste of space,” Allison says. “Anyone who visits our house has to join into our craziness—there’s no formality in our lives!”

One of the Spensleys’ most used spaces is the laundry/mudroom/craft room just off the kitchen. “This area is the headquarters for the family,” Allison says. “It’s usually full of craft supplies, muddy boots, fishing poles, sports equipment, and pet toys. You name it, it’s in there.” The room includes a locker for each family member, a washer and dryer, a dog-wash station, project workspace and storage space, food pantry storage, a utility sink, and a desktop.

Another one of Allison’s goals was making sure she chose durable materials and furniture. She explains that white quartz countertops from Cottage Supply Company “are indestructible,” a warm stain on oak floors “hides all of the dirt, dust, and debris,” and unlacquered brass fixtures “just get better with time.” And she especially loves the corner protectors that she designed. “They are made of iron that’s painted black and bolted onto interior corners, and they take all the abuse an 11-, 8-, and 3-year-old can give,” she says.

The entry showcases a colorful elephant painting from Kenya and baskets from Zambia. The console table is a “judgement table” from northern Zambia—a piece around which communities historically held court and made judgements and community decisions. The stairwell is a gallery for Allison’s collection of woven disks from Rwanda. The runner is Astro Turf from The Home Depot. “It’s great for picking up mud and debris, and then I can hose it off outside,” Allison says.
The great room’s living area has seating—enough for the whole family—centered on a big fireplace. The dining table was handmade in Zambia. “It’s super heavy,” Allison says. “We hosted my whole family for the holidays, and with the combination of the dining table and the banquette, we easily seated 18 of us and still had space to set up the island as the serving buffet.”
A cozy banquette tucked into a window-wrapped corner of the kitchen is the perfect place for family dinners or a quiet, early-morning cup of coffee. “The Saarinen tulip table was one of my big furniture purchases, and I love it paired with my Ikea acrylic chairs,” Allison says.
The upstairs hallway is lined with doors painted in a rainbow of hues. “I didn’t want it to end up being a boring hallway, so I created a more powerful moment,” Allison says. “I let the kids choose the colors for the doors to their rooms. The other doors are five huge closets—evidence of Richard’s amazing space-design skills.”
“Upstairs, a large open landing is a kids’ gathering place. “We designed a playroom/workroom so the kids would have their own space to watch TV and do homework,” Allison says. “They each have a workstation on the built-in desktop.” For the statement wall in the room, she had a specific vision. “I sent very detailed instructions with a sketch and the dimensions of the squares,” Allison says. She also furnished the space with a bunch of super-comfy beanbags that the kids constantly move around to make forts, beds, and TV-watching seats. “The flexibility is great,” Allison says. Pillow covers depicting animals are from a line of textiles handmade in rural Mfuwe, Zambia, that Allison offers in her shop, Red Tembo Designs. “Red Tembo is where I source items I love,” she says. “It’s my outlet to express some of my creativity and share amazing finds from around the world. And it gives me a reason to hang on to my shopping addiction.”
This task space is where Allison says she was the most adventurous with color—turquoise walls and cabinets (Cool Aqua, Benjamin Moore), an orange-and-white checkerboard floor (Orange Nectar and Super White, Benjamin Moore), and yellow fixtures. “We have a Dutch door so that we can let the outside in without letting pets out—although more times than not, the door is just completely open,” Allison says.
Even the bathrooms get the color treatment. A neutral base— a white subway tile backsplash and black vanity—is upgraded with yellow walls (Yellow Highlighter, Benjamin Moore), turquoise pendant lighting, and African baskets in a woven rainbow of hues.
The master bathroom is saturated in a turquoise-green (Bahama Green, Benjamin Moore) with white countertops, a freestanding tub from Fixtures & Finishes, brass fixtures from Brandino Brass, and warm wood floors. “The portraits over the tub are NOT of Steve and me,” Allison says. “We found them at an art market in North Carolina. It makes me laugh that people would think we would hang 4-foot-tall portraits of ourselves in the bathroom.”

Color (yes, please.)

Inspired ideas for filling your home with color and happiness.

BE BRAVE. “I chose bright, clear colors that pop from a background of white,” Allison says. “I will be the first to say that my color choices are not for everyone, but I wanted a space that would bring happiness to our lives. I’ve had many people say how brave I am to use the colors I did, but I don’t really think of it that way. I just wanted my home to reflect what makes me smile.”

CHOOSE JOY. “Everywhere I look in the house, I see my creative decisions. They add such joy!” Allison says. A daily activity the Spensleys enjoy is their “happy jar” project. Each family member has his or her own vase to fill with positive thoughts and joyful moments. “Every day, we each write a quick note about something that made us happy that day,” Allison says. At the end of the year, the family reads these reminders together.

MAKE A CONNECTION. Allison is a collector of art and objects from around the world, all of which have a place of pride in her home. “My work in international health has taken me all over the globe, and I love finding craft markets and art galleries wherever I go,” she says. “I have become very skilled at fitting whatever I find into my suitcases to bring back home!” Her collections include pieces from Nicaragua, Peru, South Africa, Rwanda, Zambia, and Swaziland.

Interiors: Allison Spensley, IG @RedTemboDesigns, Architect: Richard Long, Long & Long Design, longandlongdesign.com, 205.637.5777 Builder: Ruff Reams, ruffreams.com, 205.982.8002 Kitchen and bath cabinets: Bud’s Cabinets, Sylacauga, 256.249.3716 Hardware: Brandino Brass, brandinobrass.com, 205.978.8900 Appliances: AllSouth, allsouthappliance.net, 205.942.0408. Countertops: Cottage Supply Company, cottagesupplycompany.com, 205.458.0002 Master bathroom fixtures: Fixtures & Finishes, 205.323.5616 Powder room vanity: fabricated by Red Mountain Ironworks, redmountainiron.com, 205.226.9055 Interior lighting (except for master bathroom): Barn Light Electric Company, barnlight.com Pillow fabric in living room: King Cotton, kingcottonfabrics.com, 205.732.8283

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