Modern Instinct

It was not love at first sight for the Ellis family upon first seeing their mid-century home in Vestavia Hills. “The price was right, so we went back for a second look, ” recalls homeowner and architect Joe Ellis of DWELLing Architecture.

The home had formerly been divided into apartments and recently renovated for speculative buyers. Joe immediately began drawing up plans to bring the house back to life while making it more efficient for his family and respecting its clean, modern lines. “You don’t find many mid-century homes that haven’t been overly tampered with, ” Joe says. 

The kitchen renovation was put on the back burner for several years as the busy family of five chipped away at other projects around the home. When they decided to take the plunge, they tossed around several options but eventually settled on that first set of drawings. “We wanted the kitchen to be more centrally located so we swapped the locations of the breakfast area and kitchen, ” Joe says. This made space for a new full-height window, which brings more light to the room and creates a connection to the front yard.” It also offers an eat-in kitchen area and place for the kids to do schoolwork.

- Sponsors -

The kitchen’s new location also allowed space for a long island, where Joe placed the sink. “At first it seemed like a necessity, but it keeps the cook from facing away from everyone else in the kitchen, ” he explains. As a result, this family now has room to cook, gather, study, and entertain.


ABOVE The butler’s pantry offers open storage with a unique stair-stepped shelf design. Modern pops of green continue in the newly located breakfast area.

Things We Love

A trio of round pendants adds style over the bar, while the kitchen’s work area is lit by strategically-placed recessed cans. One set aligns with the walkway and another rests directly above the counter. Joe salvaged the light in the pantry during a renovation of another mid-century house.

The kitchen is anchored by floor-to-ceiling stained wood cabinets, creating eye-pleasing symmetry and ample storage. Sleek white lower cabinets and simple floating open shelving complement the home’s clean, understated vibe.

“For the most part, we wanted the color and contrast to come from the natural materials, ” says Joe. The reclaimed wood box that contains the half bath and pantry adds texture to the office, while a single shade of green (“Frolic” by Sherwin-Williams) unites the spaces.

The Caesarstone counters are a durable option for the family’s three children, who are schooled at home. To give them plenty of space to spread out their work, Joe used a wood beam he rescued from a previous project as a second table/desk in the breakfast room.

Working within the original footprint of the house is not only a huge cost saver, it also ensures that the new space retains the same scale as the rest of the rooms. Prioritizing square footage in the kitchen over the extra bedroom meant the Ellis family could make the most of their existing space.

ABOVE Transforming an adjacent room into a home office, Joe kept the unique barrel-vaulted ceiling and transom window undisturbed by designing a free-standing cube to house the new butler’s pantry and half bath. Salvaged palette boards frame the office side of the pantry and half bath. The green beam offers a supportive design element. 

Architect: Joe Ellis, DWELLing Architecture  205.790.1389 Builder: TWIN Construction • 205.802.3920 Cabinets and shelving: TWIN Cabinets Appliances: Ferguson • 205.951.7800 Countertops: Triton Stone Group • 205.592.0202 Tile, faucet, sink: Fixtures and Finishes  205.323.5616 Door hardware: Brandino Brass • 205.978.8900

Text by Jennifer Bonds / Photography by Jean Allsopp

Get the best of Birmingham delivered to your inbox

Stunning local homes, inspiring before & after projects, southern-style recipes, entertaining ideas and more!