Relaxed Refinement

Sometimes all it takes is one humble item to get the whole design conversation started. When Jan Ware showed her client, Gates Brown, a white glossy round finial with a crackly distressed finish and announced that the whole house would be based around this object, it took Gates a few minutes to grasp the concept. But after a little reflection, it made perfect sense. Her family’s home would feature a blend of more rustic elements and dashes of city chic on a primarily neutral background in a captivating landscape of contrasts. “The end result is just what I envisioned, ” says Gates. “The design is not too fussy, and it’s inviting and understated. When I walk in the door, I take a deep exhale and instantly feel at home.” 

Jan and Gates go back a long way, so the designer knew what her friend wanted for this new house. “My old house was very traditional and just never felt like me, ” says Gates. Adds Jan, “This house is filled with soothing whites and grays and natural elements like stone and rough-hewn wood juxtaposed with sleeker pieces. It’s casual, but still elegant with a great flow for entertaining without being too open.”

Jan orchestrated the push-pull of the interiors like a great conductor with her signature deft hands. The large living room’s sophisticated ease springs from a collection of several styles and textures such as the contemporary chairs,  antique wooden chest, and polished nickel end tables that look like they grew up together under Jan’s tutelage. A vent hood with an industrial vibe feels perfectly at home against a rugged gray stone wall and open wood shelves in the kitchen. Simple linen slipcovered chairs cozy up to a sophisticated white lacquered curvy dining table that’s topped with a revamped vintage brass chandelier. Custom-stained pale toned hardwoods link the main living spaces providing the ideal background to marry the dressed up, dressed down furnishings and accessories. And in the master bedroom, soft colors and streamlined pieces temper the drop dead glamorous polished-metal canopy bed with tufted headboard.

To top it all off, special details pop up throughout the rooms. “The Browns plan to live in this house for the indefinite future, so we wanted everything to be designed around the way they live and for every last element to be buttoned up, ” says Jan. A living room wall features curtain panels that can be drawn to hide the television when company is visiting. Refinished antique doors with iron straps house a swanky charcoal-gray built-in bar in the dining room. “You can see these doors when you pull in the driveway. They are such a beautiful focal point, ” says Gates. Clever interior glass-paned windows link the kitchen to the all-season outdoor room for ease in serving during parties. 

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And whatever happened to that finial? It has a place of prominence on top of a newel post in the stairwell off the foyer. “It’s shiny with a little age, ” laughs Gates. “A little rough around the edges, which is just like me!” 


ABOVE LEFT The vaulted all-season porch mixes durable bluestone floors, clean-lined slipcovered upholstery, a rough-wood coffee table on casters, and a baroque-inspired chandelier for a comfortable but stylish atmosphere.

ABOVE RIGHT Heidi, one of the Browns’ dogs, appreciates the living room sofas. 

ABOVE Contemporary elements, like this Lucite box, sit atop the coffee table’s distressed finish, creating a captivating contrast.


ABOVE Deep charcoal-gray walls lend the dining room a moody sophisticated aura and provide the perfect backdrop for the shiny white dining table and white linen slipcovered chairs. Antique doors, refinished to perfection, conceal a pretty and practical bar with natural floating wood shelves like those in adjoining rooms.

ABOVE “We wanted to use something besides white marble for the kitchen countertops, so we chose a neutral limestone that has a lot of warms tones in it, ” says Jan. The kitchen design allows for small appliances to be tucked away in generous cabinets while open shelves show off a pretty collection of white china that pops against the rough stone wall. 


ABOVE LEFT The master bedroom’s canopy bed takes center stage with its polished-metal finish joined by more subtle accents such as the neutral tufted bench and floor covering.

ABOVE RIGHT Cabinets with fluted detailing give the master bath streamlined appeal that complements more feminine accents like the chrome wall sconces.

Interior design: Jan Ware, Jan Ware Designs • 205.585.7891 Architecture: Michael Eric Dale • 205.599.6949 Builder: John Bryant, Francis A. Bryant & Sons • 205.802.7700 Decorative painting/refinishing: Daniel Whitsett, Paintworks Design Studio • 205.879.2751 Kitchen hardware: cabinet hardware by Architectural Hardware Supply • 205.910.4893 Limestone countertops: Triton Stone Group • 205.592.0202 Living room: antique French fireplace mantel: Architectural Heritage  205.322.3528 Sofas and cocktail table in front of fireplace: Gabby Home Print over fireplace: Nall,  Fairhope • 251.455.0132 Hand-painted pillows: Too, Unique Pillow Accents • 205.862.8060 Dining room: antique doors: Architectural Heritage refinished by Paintworks Design Studio; Limestone kitchen countertops: Triton Stone Group; Cabinet hardware: Architectural Hardware Supply

Text by Alice Welsh Doyle

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