Inviting Design

In Colonial Hills, a close-knit Mountain Brook neighborhood, Rita and James Dixon welcome plenty of friends—including the 10 boys on their street who are frequent visitors to their 12-year-old twin boys’ playroom—throughout the year and especially during the holiday season. “We have people from the neighborhood over a lot, and we entertain often for my husband’s work, ” Rita says. “The house has the perfect floorplan for us.” 

But the floorplan wasn’t the selling point more than eight years ago when the Dixons purchased the property, just a few streets over from where they lived with their toddler sons. It was the fact that the home was in their same neighborhood—an area they loved. “But the house needed a lot of work, ” says Rita. “It didn’t even have central heat and air. So we tore it down and built from the existing footprint.” 

ABOVE The living room mantel takes on a holiday look with tallow limbs, magnolia, French tulips, ranunculus, spray roses, peonies, and dusty miller. “The wood came from James & Co. in Collinsville, Alabama, near Fort Payne, ” Rita says. “It is Atlantic cedar that we bought from Campbell’s Soup. The company grew the mushrooms for their soups on it.” Melanie adds, “And there is no stain on the wood; we simply waxed it.” 


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The new home’s floorplan, created by Birmingham architect Chip Gardner, is traditional by design. “I really wanted the look of an old Tudor home, ” Rita explains. She requested formal living and dining spaces, as well as a large kitchen and family room for gathering. And she asked for all the sleeping spaces to be upstairs, a definite nod to older design. Chip adds, “The house is mostly English in style. It does have some details that might be considered Arts and Crafts in spirit, but generally it has the Tudor Revival feel of many 1920’s-era homes.” 

Once the exterior was under way, Rita began the daunting process of finishing out the interiors and decorating her dream home—and she soon found herself overwhelmed. She confided her frustrations to Melanie Pounds, an acquaintance at the time who had just started her own design business. Soon, Melanie says, the two were trading favorite design books and “our tastes and the body of the house grew together.” The pair collaborated to give the new home the elegance of age but the function for modern life. 

Melanie and Rita kept many of the Dixons’ furnishings from their former, much smaller home, which was decorated in a French Country style. They also shopped for new-old items from The Hen House, Robert Hill, and Circa Interiors. Other pieces came from and shopping trips to New Orleans and Atlanta. 

As a result, the house has an airy, French aesthetic with its mix of antiques and clean-lined pieces. And each time Rita and James open their reclaimed oak door to welcome family and friends, Rita knows there is no other place, or neighborhood, she’d rather call home.

ABOVE Built-in bookcases in the dining room were crafted from the same cedar as the living room mantel. Rita displays her Rothschild Bird china on the shelves and drapes the built-ins with magnolia garland with tallow berries. On the dining room table, amaryllis, magnolia, pine, and juniper come together in an antique bronze vessel, creating a dramatic focal point. “The buffet and chairs are from the old house, and the mirror is from Hen House, ” Rita says.


ABOVE LEFT In a study off the living room, bay wreaths adorn bookcases while silver samovar with seeded eucalyptus and eucalyptus pods create a trophy holiday arrangement. “This cozy space on the side of the house was a part of the original footprint, ” explains Melanie. She says it’s a room that discovered its purpose after the Dixons had lived here for a while. They needed a bar area for entertaining, so Melanie designed a custom wheeled bluestone table with a leather skirt to sit in the small study.

ABOVE RIGHT In the living room, the Christmas tree’s glass ornaments sparkle with sunlight from the window and reflect the room’s color palette. “We used different tones of honey and browns and greens in this space to complement the warmth of the wood, ” says Melanie.

ABOVE The serene master bedroom features antique furnishings and a soothing wall color—French Gray from Farrow & Ball. A landscape painting by artist Michael Marlowe and a lemon-leaf garland on the tester bed give a nod to the view from this room. “Because you see lots of treetops through the windows, we pulled in the blue-green elements from outside, ” Melanie says.


ABOVE LEFT Holiday flair isn’t reserved just for public spaces. Here, festive wreaths don the privacy screen in the master bath.

ABOVE RIGHT In the powder room, the brown backsides of magnolia leaves complement the patina of a distressed gold mirror. 

Interiors: Melanie Pounds Interior Design,  205.541.7339. Architect: Chip Gardner,  Gardner Architects LLC,  205.871.7188. Floral design: Cindy Bankston [email protected]

text by Lacey Howard • photos by Jean Allsopp

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