Portrait of a House


Art gives beauty and depth to life, but living inside artwork presents a challenge. In a house that is as much a piece of art as a dwelling, these residents have to find a way to carry on the business of everyday life inside the frame.

Laura and Colby Clark’s approach to life in their work of art, an Italian-style villa in Mountain Brook, built in 1927, is to relax and enjoy it. The couple purchased the 14, 000-square-foot house in 2005, and endured six months of renovation to make it their own. During that time, the house, dubbed Villa Wofford-Clark in honor of the original and current owners, served as the 2006 Decorators’ ShowHouse.

When the Clarks were looking for a home in Birmingham, they had to be persuaded to take a look at the showplace. They didn’t think they would be interested, but that was before they walked inside and looked up. Beautiful wood floors and even more beautiful wood ceilings with intricately painted beams charmed them.

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{Scroll to the end of the story for a slideshow gallery of the Clark's home.} 

“We walked through the house and our mouths were open, ” Laura says. “When they built the house, the original owners commissioned an artisan from Italy to paint the ceiling.”

Coffered ceilings still glimmer with the designs painted by that long-ago craftsman, and he was not alone. The house was built with a wealth of decorative artistry, including frescoes, wood carving, and even an indoor fountain. The original owners created a Mediterranean palazzo, and their vision has been well-preserved over the years.

All that classical beauty poses a problem. How do you furnish a work of art? It would be quite a challenge to match the style and formality of the elaborate artistic fixtures. The Clarks didn’t even try.

“Colby and I are casual people, ” Laura says. The family also includes two energetic girls, Madison, 12, and Abigail, 8, and the family dog, Murphy. A mustn’t-touch approach to decorating was never going to work.

“There’s nothing that’s off limits, ” Laura says. “You can see kids skating through the house and dogs running around. The floors are beautiful, but they’re durable. These floors have seen a lot of use.”

Initially, Laura answered the challenge by keeping many of the items supplied by decorators during the house’s charitable turn as a Decorators’ ShowHouse. But the family’s effort to put their imprint on the house has been an ongoing project. Recently, decorator Dana Wolter has signed on to help Laura fit their casual lifestyle into the house’s Renaissance atmosphere. “Even though they live in an incredible home, the Clarks are so down-to-earth, ” Dana says. “They want to make their home comfortable.”

Dana’s goal is to make the living spaces more functional and family-friendly, while respecting the house’s history. Elegance and casualness can coexist, such as in the great room, which the Clarks have nicknamed the “band room.” A graceful room, Laura uses it as a quiet retreat. But occasionally the room kicks off its shoes and rocks.

A family at home with rock and country guitar licks amid Renaissance trappings is not going to be overawed by a historic house. The Clarks never saw their home as a tiptoe-through art exhibit. Generations have lived, and partied, there, and all that life has left its mark. The Clarks recognized the warmth and energy from the beginning, and they feel they have continued that heritage.

“It’s beautiful, but it’s home to us, ” Laura says.


interior design: Dana Wolter, Dana Wolter Interiors 205.563.5779 • danawolterinteriors.com flowers: Chris Carter Christopher Glenn 2713 19th Street South • Birmingham, Alabama • 205.870.1236 great room: custom L-shaped sofa and custom drapery: Dana Wolter Interiors Dirk Walker oil painting: Loretta Goodwin Gallery 605 28th Street South Birmingham, Alabama • 205.328.1761 whitewashed wooden chairs: Circa Interiors 2831 Culver Road Birmingham, Alabama • 205.868.9199 antique box: Henhouse Antiques 1900 Cahaba Road • Birmingham, Alabama • 205.918.0505 family room: sofa and chair pillows: Circa Interiors 2831 Culver Road Birmingham, Alabama • 205.868.9199 Henhouse Antiques 1900 Cahaba Road • Birmingham, Alabama • 205.918.0505 custom drapery: DWI Holdings www.dwiholdings.com foyer: Lee Industries upholstered chair: Circa Interiors 2831 Culver Road Birmingham, Alabama • 205.868.9199 • Arthur Price paintings: www.priceartcompany.com hardwood floor refinishing: River Bottom Pine 205.527.6848

Lucy Merrill

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Lucy Merrill

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