Honing a Homestead

After 15 years of living in cramped quarters, these homeowners decided to bulldoze the place and build anew — all with the help of two local designers who shared their vision.

Kitchen island painted with Sherwin-Williams 'Waterloo'.
Designer Sarah Jernigan realized that blue was the homeowners’ version of a neutral color, so she chose Sherwin-Williams ‘Waterloo’ for the kitchen island’s base and as a striking way to highlight the custom built-in in the adjacent dining room. The kitchen hood finished by Paintworks Design Studio adds a rustic touch.

If patience is indeed a virtue, then homeowners Aubrey and William Hocutt are well on their way to sainthood. After years of striving to stay one step ahead of their growing family, the couple was ready to bring their days of house hunting to an end. Their efforts culminated in building a new residence that they now happily call their “forever home.” But it would take several moves and lots of planning to get there.

When they were expecting their first child, the Hocutts moved from an apartment to their first home. They settled on a house that only had 1,500 square feet but stood on a property with almost an acre—a rare find so close to central Birmingham. “We liked the quiet, peaceful nature of the area, as well as having enough land to hopefully expand in the future,” Aubrey says. For the time being, however, she had to get creative with her storage, such as using the bathtub to store the vacuum cleaner whenever they entertained guests. “There was no other place to put it!” she says.

They considered adding on, but they also began combing through house plan books looking for ideas in a new build. “We found a Southern Living house plan that came close to addressing our needs but didn’t quite cover all the necessary bells and whistles,” says William. For starters, it lacked sufficient space for their three kids. In addition, when placed on the site as drawn, the predesigned structure threatened to encroach upon a mature pecan tree that shaded the backyard.

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The family room with new upholstered pieces from Richard Tubb Interiors.
The family room continues the interplay of old and new with collected items on bookshelves and new upholstered pieces from Richard Tubb Interiors. The coffee table belonged to Aubrey’s grandmother.

A friend recommended interior designer Sarah Jernigan, along with residential designer Rob Martin to remedy the plan. As former homes editors at Southern Living magazine, the two designers had already established a rapport for creating responsive, family-friendly dwellings. “When William first called me, he said they were somewhat hesitant to tear down their existing home,” Sarah says. “However, they quickly realized that their love for the property outweighed their efforts to look elsewhere.”

To alter the plan to fit their specific needs, the couple asked Rob to flip the entire design. They also commissioned him to add a new second floor, along with a bonus space above the garage.

“Instead of giving each other gifts for our anniversary, William and I have always bought something for the house together.”

—Aubrey Hocutt

Not all of the house plan’s features required a makeover. For instance, the Hocutts stressed to Sarah and Rob that the Southern character was to remain, as well as the broad front porch that punctuated the facade. “Both aspects just made the house feel more welcoming to us,” he says. “And the porch provided a readymade connection to our neighbors.” Aubrey further points out that the exteriors were well-suited to the neighborhood. “We weren’t looking to build a Tudor estate,” she says.

Slate Barganier joined the team as the builder, and the project progressed at a steady pace. Even before construction, the homeowners started off with an impressive mix of antiques and other furnishings; specialty items like apron-front sinks, stained wood beams in the dining room, and wide plank flooring. The couple relied on Sarah’s direction for finishes, plumbing fixtures (Fixtures & Finishes), and light fixtures, as well as her knack for bringing all the elements together. “She has an uncanny ability to find the right place for everything,” says Aubrey. “That was no small feat, considering we wanted a new home that reflected a sense of bygone charm and well-worn comfort.”

Sarah Jernigan
Photo by Beth Hontzas

Something Old, Something New

To get the right balance of past and present, Sarah Jernigan offers more how-to’s from her arsenal of trustworthy tips:

  • Embrace the wear and tear. Contractors are often reluctant to install materials like pine flooring because its soft composition can easily be dented and scratched. So when those seemingly unwanted results were explained to us, Aubrey and I looked at each other, and I responded point-blank, “Well….isn’t that
    the point?”
  • Keep an eye out for collecting. Aubrey is such a first-class finder; she can spot treasures among the clutter, which makes my job even more enjoyable. By scouring antiques shops, flea markets, and estate sales, you can fill in the chinks with an extra object or piece of furniture.
  • Don’t make hasty decisions. Some of the best decisions come about by “marinating” on them for a while. If you’re hesitant about a design move or an important purchase, give it some time to work itself out.
  • Guest-friendly gestures. When renovating or building from scratch, keep in mind how to make your home more inviting to family and friends. As a great example, the “friends’ entry,” a casual side entry, is a welcoming feature to guests and also serves as a natural “hello spot” when kids come and go to play with their buddies.

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