ABOVE Caroline and Kyle Sain’s living room showcases the original architecture and a restrained hand when it comes to decorating. Antiques and found objects mix with new pieces for a collected and very personal look. “I like old things, ” Caroline says. “But I like old modern things.”
Inspiration can take hold in many ways. Sometimes it’s a swatch of fabric, a photo in a magazine—or a drive down a street in Homewood on a sunny day. That’s how Caroline Sain first noticed the limestone house perched on a hillside in her favorite neighborhood and stirrings for her personal design project began.
While Caroline’s initial intrigue for the property came from the façade, the home’s history made it even more enticing. Built in 1936, the home took its construction cues from an exhibit at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair. History has it that Birmingham contractor W.J. Boothby visited the fair and was particularly enamored with the innovative home designs. While the smart homes of their day had nothing to do with electronics, they did focus on stalwart building practices. Determined to bring what he had learned home, W.J. Boothby created his own home for the future in the Mayfair area of Homewood.
Essentially a two-story square, the home’s original design employed all the technology of the era. Materials include masonry concrete block walls, poured concrete floors, concrete roof tiles, and steel windows. He sheathed the outside in Alabama limestone and chose plaster for interior wall finishes. Choice materials meant the house would be well insulated as well as fireproof, sound proof, termite proof, and generally low maintenance.
Garnering great attention at the time, Boothby put the house on tour and was applauded for his design. But as things sometimes go, the house became neglected, was turned into a rental, and ivy creeped across the façade. Disheveled as it was, Caroline, an interior designer, kept her eye on the place and vowed to make it hers one day. “My husband, Kyle, and I looked at it years ago, but we didn’t buy it then. Fortunately, it came back on the market, ” Caroline says. Also to her good fortune, the interim owners added a master suite and garden designed by Norman Johnson.
Falling somewhere between cottage and industrial chic, the house is outfitted with an eclectic mix of new, antique, vintage, and found objects. “Compared to some homes, mine looks empty, ” Caroline says. “I’m in constant conflict between knowing it needs stuff but finding love in its minimalism.”
In the double-height living room, the pièce de résistance is the green sofa from Anthropologie. Grounding the soaring space, it makes a bright stand against neutral walls and furnishings. A custom bookshelf, designed by Caroline and built by Ed Grier, lines one wall and is filled with items that have more sentiment than dollar value. “I wanted something very utilitarian; And I’m always changing up the vignettes, ” Caroline says. Windows, original to the house, frame garden views. “The previous owners had drapes on them. I didn’t want to cover them up, ” Caroline says. “Plus, we are on top of a hill so we don’t need the drapes for privacy.” Kyle found the oversize paper lantern for dollars online. “He’s the king of Google, ” Caroline says.
In the dining room, open windows flanked by antique shutters look upon the garden making the room feel more French countryside than Homewood. Caroline’s grandparents’ metal bamboo garden chairs pair with two slipcovered end chairs around a custom oval dining table.
Perhaps the greatest undertaking for the Sains was the kitchen. “I discovered the poured concrete floor joists and knew I wanted to expose them, ” Caroline says. The finished product is an open, airy kitchen befitting the style of the house—one that would still wow at any World’s Fair or home show today.
ABOVE A prior renovation saw the addition of the master suite. Here, a custom headboard is surrounded by personal items. The authentic drum tables came from Caroline’s grandparents—a souvenir from when they were stationed in the Philipines. The Danish chairs are from Scott’s Antiques Market. Draperies are IKEA. Lamps are Homegoods. The whale platter serves as a reminder of the Sains’ Martha’s Vineyard wedding.
ABOVE A previous kitchen update did little to honor the original house. Caroline and Kyle exposed the concrete floor joists on the second story to define the ceiling, refaced and repainted cabinets, and worked with Triton Stone to update the floor tile and countertops.
ABOVE When Caroline first spied her future house, it was covered in ivy and had fallen into shabby shape. Still charmed, she kept her eye on it and she and her husband purchased it years later.
Meet Caroline Sain
Graduating with a degree in interior design from Auburn University, Caroline says her continued education came after college when she worked with designer Betsy Brown and later, Philip Sides. “I didn’t grow up in the design world, ” says Caroline, a Birmingham native. Betsy and Philip really took me under their wings. I grew up in a house where my parents would get one new piece of furniture a year.” In this house, Caroline remarks on the culmination of influences from working with Brown and Sides. On top of that, she’s layered a developed eye that is uniquely hers. “Everything has a story, ” she says. With an affinity for things old and new, found and crafted, Caroline says she loves the feathers her children bring her just as much as a fine antique. Caroline works out of an upstairs office at home and has a booth at The Nest Antique Store in Homewood. This is Caroline’s fourth Homewood house. CS Interiors • 205.542.8446
The Nest Antique Store • 2718 19th Place South, Homewood, AL 35209 • 205.870.1264
Text by cathy still mcgowin / Photography by jean allsopp