Reclaimed Beauty

If there was ever a family that loved art, history, and beauty, that family would be the Higgenbothams. So, when Dawn and Jay Higgenbotham’s children left the nest, the couple knew it was their time to find a house that would suit them. Long admirers of Forest Park, they chose a historic Tudor-style residence, but it was in need of serious renovation. And so the great undertaking began–how to maintain the historical integrity of the home while making it as functional as possible. Dawn, co-owner of H & H Interiors, knew exactly what her new home needed and set to work with business partner and friend, Toby Hand, to create a beautiful, yet livable home. But elegance doesn’t always look beautiful when it is being created and nothing was more evident of that than the restoration process.

Although buying a home built in 1928 certainly has its benefits—the architecture represented in the Moroccan-style twin arches is not the kind of craftsmanship often seen in today’s homes—bringing a historical structure up to date can be a trial. Some aspects of the Higgenbotham’s house, such as the kitchen, had been renovated by previous owners, but had been modernized in such a way that the couple felt the historical integrity of the house had been compromised. Even though they knew the renovation would take time, total restoration was a must.

“It’s great to have a plan before you start building, but in a historic old house that’s not always possible. You have to work with what you’ve got.” ­- Dawn Higgenbotham

Other aspects, such as the old knob and tube wiring (an early and dangerous method of electrical wiring), and the coal burner in the wall also needed updating for both safety and aesthetics. What the couple did not want to do was disturb the original footprint of the 2, 663 square foot home, but instead enhance what already existed.

The first step was establishing proper lighting throughout the home. Today, one of the predominantly elegant features of the home are the chandeliers which grace almost all the rooms, but it took some time before the residence was ready for these light fixtures. “There was no real lighting, ” says Dawn. “We had to dig in and find spaces.” Ancient plaster had to be broken through and modern wiring fished through the old walls. Wiring installed, Dawn brought in her chandeliers, almost all of which she found at Tricia’s Treasures. The next step: make the rest of the home just as fantastic.

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So, Dawn and Tobie turned their attentions to the eyesore of the living room: the coal burner. In the 1920s most homes ran off of heat from coal but it was clear that the coal burner in the Higgenbotham home had been built purely for heating purposes as it resembled a hole in the wall more than a heartwarming fireplace. Tearing down a wall to create a new fireplace would have been costly and time consuming, not to mention the destruction of a historic part of the home. Dawn and Tobie chose to keep the shape of the coal burner, which echoes the twin arches in the living room, but installed a new marble hearth and mantle to create a traditional fireside. Dawn says that although the year long renovations often left her feeling discouraged, watching the transformation of the coal burner lifted her spirits. “There were many times I just wanted to crawl into a corner, ” she says with a laugh, “but once I saw the fireplace going in I knew I was going to survive!”

Next on the agenda: the kitchen. The modern spin taken by previous owners was not in keeping with the rest of the home, so Dawn and Tobie returned the kitchen to a more traditional look. They ran beaded board onto the ceiling, extended the cabinets for extra storage and added marble subway tiles from Kenny and Co. for the backsplash. Dawn added a chic Parisian lantern from Charlotte Woodson Antiques to preside over the kitchen.

Initially, Dawn and Tobie thought they would replace the dark granite countertops
because they seemed too modern for their vision. Instead, they chose a light marble
backsplash that would pull from the color of the countertops to brighten the look.
dishes: VIETRI from TABLE MATTERS 205.879.0125 •


The adjacent breakfast nook was previously a simple alcove. “When renovating a small home, you have to create space, ” Dawn says. Now, custom benches upholstered with stain-resistant fabric fill the space. Art from Birmingham artist Dirk Walker adorns the wall and finally, a chandelier found at Tricia’s Treasures graces the area, adding a touch of panache to the practicality of the space.

While this house is beautiful, Dawn and Tobie remained faithful to the idea that performance and beauty must coexist. As Dawn says, “A house has to be functional; it has to work for you. If the house isn’t working, then it isn’t good design.”

By Cassandra Ramos Lenard • Photography by Jean Allsopp

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Cassandra Lenard

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