Margaret and Bruce Alexander of Vestavia Hills love art. Not only have they built an impressive collection of paintings and objets d’art, to show it off they transformed an ordinary, mid-century house into a home for art that is art itself.
But like fine art, an artful home isn’t the work of a few weeks or months.
“It has taken 20 years for us to put the house together, ” says Margaret.
When the Alexanders bought the home in 1990, it was a museum piece, of a sort—a not so perfectly preserved portrait of 1954-style suburban life, complete with a fur storage closet and maid’s bathroom, “just like in ‘The Help, ’” Margaret says.
The house still had its original wallpaper and flooring—curling, green linoleum—but Margaret could see the beauty there, just as a sculptor sees a figure in a block of stone.
“It was a ranch house that was trying to be Georgian, but it had good bones, ” she says. “I knew it would take a lot of work, but we liked the layout. I knew it was a house we could grow old in.”
Over the years, the confused Georgian rancher was reinvented as a light-saturated contemporary home—the perfect, understated backdrop for the Alexanders’ collection of artwork. While much of the art is modern and minimalist, in keeping with the house, here and there works of folk art provide a contrast.
“My interests in art are rather eclectic, ” Margaret says. “As a docent at the Birmingham Museum of Art for more than 20 years. I learned you’re supposed to collect in one area, but I couldn’t do it. I’ve dabbled in African and Native American art, but most is contemporary.”
Margaret tends to buy art and furnishings, not as part of an overall plan, but when a piece strikes her. Then she works to find the right place for it.
“I buy things as I see them. Nothing matches, ” she says. “I’m drawn to abstraction and color and texture in a work.”
When ’tis the season, Margaret extends her artistic sensibility and preference for simplicity to holiday decorating. For the Alexanders, Christmas is a quiet day. Thanksgiving is the festive family holiday for them.
So when the Alexanders’ home was featured on the Independent Presbyterian Church Holiday House Tour, they expressed their understated approach to Christmas with traditional trees, adorned with collectible ornaments from around the world. Colorful and joyful, the decorations are perfectly framed by the home’s clean lines and contemporary character.
Although Margaret says “I was a fine arts major, but I am not an artist, ” her home, designed around an eclectic art collection, testifies otherwise.
ABOVE LEFT A small tree in the living room displays a collection of traditional ornaments. “I fell in love with handmade German ornaments and started collecting them over a period of 10 years, ” Margaret says. “It’s pretty full now. I keep all the ornaments on it and pull it out every year.”
ABOVE RIGHT Colorful handmade German ornaments portray holiday themes, such as Christmas angels and evergreens, everyday life, and traditional German tales, such as the Pied Piper.
ABOVE This tranquil bedroom was designed around a pair of paintings that were created as part of a large installation local artist Annie Butrus had done for a show at Space OneEleven depicting the seasons. This pair portrays springtime. The dramatic metal bed was crafted by area metal artisan Shea Scully.
ABOVE LEFT In the bedroom, Christmas comes in the form of potted rosemary decked out for the season, adding a bit of holiday color to the winter-white decor. Rosemary has a traditional association with Christmas. Not only is it an evergreen, legend says that the Virgin Mary rested beside a rosemary bush, spreading her blue cloak over it. From that day forward, rosemary’s flowers, previously white, were bright blue.
ABOVE RIGHT A miniature “Christmas tree” of rosemary is festooned with white ornaments, including porcelain okra pods from artist Frank Fleming. Friends of the Alexanders started their collection of Fleming ornaments as gifts
Independent Presbyterian Church’s Holiday House Tour has opened some of the city’s most beautiful homes for six decades. It’s a Christmas tradition that not only is fun and festive for tour guests and hosts, it provides a life-changing gift for disadvantaged children—the Summer Learning Program at the Children’s Fresh Air Farm, the church’s camp in Bluff Park opened in 1926 as a respite from the smog and concrete of the inner city.
Homes on this year’s tour, set for Dec. 14-15, are: Maggie and Will Brooke, 2500 Lanark Road; Louise and John Beard, 2920 Stratford Road; Vicki and Marvin Perry, 1621 Lanark Place; Rita and James Dixon, 11 Clarendon Road; Staci and Ben Thompson, 2701 Argyle Road.
Tickets are $20 and will be available during the tour at each house and at the church.
text by Lucy Merrill