Perfect Blend

Thoughtful architectural details in a new home set the stage for beloved family treasures, repurposed favorites, and a dose of fresh style.

The façade’s striking curved wall and deep round window is balanced on the other side with an arched porte cochère. The curved driveway ends in a charming gravel walkway which lends a European touch. Photos by Jean Allsopp

When those proverbial birds of a feather flock together in the design world, the result just may be a practically perfect nest in every respect, from the façade right down to the cabinet hardware. That’s what happened when Sumner and Jeff Starling decided to build a house with the dynamic duo of Paul Bates and Jeremy Corkern. 

Sumner has worked in interior design with Marjorie Johnston and grew up with an appreciation for beautiful things and art; but above all, she simply has a great eye. “Sumner has really excellent taste, and she appreciates all aspects of design, ” explains Jeremy. “She had great ideas and pushed us to do things that sometimes felt a little over the top but ended up being perfect and in sync with her style.” And Sumner is equally enthusiastic about the collaboration. “Paul and Jeremy designed the house around how we actually live, not some fantasy of how we should live, ” she says. “I wanted practicality with certain things such as upper cabinets in the kitchen and no open shelving. They really held my hand the whole time to make sure everything I wanted worked together.”

The generous kitchen is filled with details both large and small that give it lasting character, such as the island’s fluted sides, the mix of marbles, and aged brass hardware. A pair of oversized chandeliers nicely balance out the large island and expansive ceiling while also delivering that wow factor.

The Mountain Brook lot that the Starlings chose came with a rather unusual restriction—there had to be front entrances on both sides of the house since it straddles two streets. For the architects, it was a fun professional challenge. Still, the Starlings have a traditional foyer that they use as their primary entrance. 

Jeremy describes the home’s style as pared-down French. “We wanted it to be somewhat traditional but within a more modern form.” Unique interior details, an obsession for all involved in the project, show up everywhere. There’s the x-pattern beams in the kitchen ceiling, random-width tongue-and-groove planks backing the bookcases, deep circular windows strategically placed for interest and extra light, and many curved treatments throughout. Such added elements made a pleasing backdrop for Sumner’s many family antiques and treasures. Mixed in with newer pieces such as modern chandeliers and Lucite nesting tables, these heirlooms bring a sense of balance between traditional and contemporary style. 

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Sumner also wanted to repurpose certain items from her old house. Custom silk window treatments that had been a part of her décor for years were refreshed with a fabric border added along the bottom, a feature that looks original to the panels. And beloved pieces of artwork created by her sister and other talented friends gave the new space a personal touch.

While the interior palette reads mostly neutral, it is certainly not staid given the hand-painted wallpaper panels, mix of finishes, and hints of color in the accents. The result of this joint effort is a new home that feels lived in and loved, and of course, very well feathered. 

“We used a mix of random-width boards to give a sense of history, not perfection,” says Jeremy of the built-in bookcases. The arresting and colorful painting and the rug with a wave motif are both by Sumner’s sister, artist Jane Timberlake Cooper.
“I like to start my day here,” says Sumner of the inviting, window-filled sitting alcove off the kitchen. The unique coffee table on casters, filled with shredded paper, was actually an art project by Sumner’s sister, Jane Timberlake Cooper. The top has indentations perfect for holding a morning cup of coffee. Such pieces from the Starlings’s former home take on a fresh look in the new space.
A mix of inherited pieces, antique finds, and a “dream-come true” chandelier from Dennis & Leen, along with a French mirror and framed portraits from old books, come together to complete the elegant dining room.
Hand-painted wallpaper panels from de Gournay appear as art in the room, but they also serve a very practical purpose by opening to reveal built-in storage for china and glassware. A portrait of Sumner’s mother hangs above an antique chair.
Sumner calls her husband’s office the “retro room” with a dose of Mad Men style. The Sputnik-like chandelier, cylinder-shaded floor lamp, and capacious armchairs and ottoman are waiting to enjoy an end-of-the-day cocktail.

Architects: Paul Bates Architects, Jeremy Corkern Studio Builder: Wiggins Building Corporation, 205.823.6161 • Fireplace: Firerock Kitchen: cabinetry: Bud’s Cabinets, 256.249.3716 • Sylacauga, AL Brass hardware: Brandino Brass, 205.979.8900; Chandeliers: Visual Comfort & Co. Walls: Silver Lining by Pratt & Lambert Keeping room: walls: Field Gray by Pratt & Lambert; Floor lamps: West Elm Dining room: walls: Clunch by Farrow & Ball Hand-painted wallpaper panels: “Earlham” by de gournay Chandelier: Dennis & Leen French mirror: Henhouse Antiques, 205.918.0505 • Living room: brass lamps: Circa Lighting Office: walls: Arrowfoot by Pratt & Lambert; Bookcase and trim: Zinc by Pratt & Lambert; Floor lamp: Circa Lighting; Chandelier: Arteriors 

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