There was a time when having your own place at college was something of an experiment in adulthood. The décor skewed toward thrift store shabby chic and probably included cast-offs from your parents’ basement or furniture that didn’t work at the lake. Sure, you still needed to wear shower shoes to walk in the kitchen after a big party the night before, but at least there were no resident advisors to remind you to clean up the hallway. That is all so 1990.
Fast-forward to the college living experience of today. Freshmen girls decorate their dorm rooms with hyper-elevated beds, upholstered step stools, matching poofy pillows, and coordinating throw rugs. The walls may be cinderblock but the vibe is far from jailhouse chic. Custom valances, Parsons chairs, and gallery-wrapped canvases with inspirational quotes are the norm. These same kids will eventually move to apartments, condos, or single-family homes, and the décor will only get better with more wall space.
Sisters Sarah and Virginia Cain live off campus at The University of Alabama in a home their parents, Jill and Lyle Cain, purchased in the Capelwood Drive Historic District earlier this year. As team orthopedist for the Crimson Tide, Lyle knew that homes this close to campus don’t come on the market very often. And while rental property is lucrative in Tuscaloosa, being landlords is not what the Cains had in mind with the investment. Regarding the historic 1914 home, Jill says, “The immediate intent is for all four children (including sons Edward and George) to live there while studying at Alabama, but ultimately, it will become a game-day house for our family and friends.”
Even before the existing tenants’ lease ran out in May, the Cains enlisted interior designer Jenny Edwards, a longtime friend and neighbor, to help transform the property into something they could enjoy for many years. Jenny herself is an Alabama fan and her daughter is a cheerleader at the school, so this project felt personal to her as well.
The house was completely gutted to gain as much interior square footage as possible. Extra-wide hallways typical of the era were made slightly narrower to afford each of the five bedrooms a more significant closet. Exposed brick was left untouched to add inches
here and there, and an exterior area that held the washer and dryer was enclosed and attached to the back of the home. “Because the house is in a historical neighborhood, we had to have approval for various aspects of the process, like removing a storage unit in the back and adding more parking,” Jill says. “Our overall goal was to update the house but keep as much of its original charm as possible.”
In terms of décor, there was a lot of input from each family member, but everyone had the same end goal in mind—a comfortable and functional home. “We knew we wanted to keep it high style (you’ll only find a couple of elephants in the elegant black-and-white décor) but also authentic,” says Jenny. “The home is pretty, but we added practicality.” Outdoor-rated fabrics throughout the home still have a luxe look. An upholstered side chair that appears to be high-end suede can literally be wiped down if someone spills a drink. Finishes in the powder room look like marble but are actually tile, and the kitchen counter is a thin porcelain laminate that also appears to be marble. In addition, brass fixtures will age with a timeless patina.
Sarah, working on her MBA and chemical engineering degrees, and Virginia, a junior studying speech and language pathology, share the home with three fellow sorority sisters. Each girl has a keypad lock on her bedroom door to ensure safety—and perhaps to keep friends from borrowing shoes without asking first. An enhanced security system alerts the girls to visitors at the front door, even if they are in the middle of class or home on break. Most bedrooms also have a desk, but the girls prefer to study at the island in the kitchen. And that is where you’ll find perhaps the best art in the whole home: a series of framed tickets from every National Championship game the Tide has won while Lyle has been with the team. Good thing Jenny left plenty of extra wall space there.
RESOURCES: Designer: Jenny Edwards, J. Edwards Interiors, 205.870.5100, jedwardsinteriors.com • Builder: William Blakeney, William Blakeney Building Company, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401, 205.345.8880 • Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinets: Livingston Cabinets, Coker, Alabama, 205.339.3846 • House & Kitchen Hardware including custom kitchen shelving: Brandino Brass, 205.978.8900, brandinobrass.com • Porcelain Stone Countertops and Backsplash in Kitchen, All Tile and Exterior Bluestone, Plumbing Fixtures: Triton Stone, 205.592.0202, tritonstone.com Security and AV Systems: Corona Integrated Technologies, Inc., 205.314.8958 Powder Bath Stone Pedestal: Synergy Stone, Cottondale, AL, 205.556.8115 • Art in Bedroom: Kristin Blakeney Fine Art, 205.239.6458, kristinblakeney.com