By Donna Cornelius
Visitors to this year’s Decorators’ ShowHouse will see a stately house with notable architecture and wander through rooms artistically created by designers.
For Kate Millhouse, the house was more than a beautiful place. It was home.
Her parents, Katherine and Bill McTyeire, were both busy and successful business owners. Katherine McTyeire’s father, Bert Meadow, founded Birmingham Ornamental Iron Co., and she was the longtime owner of Iron Art in Mountain Brook Village. Bill McTyeire started Meadowcraft Furniture and was president and chief executive officer of the company until it sold in the mid-1970s.
Their companies were based in Birmingham, but the McTyeires journeyed around the world to promote the Meadowcraft line. During their travels, they collected antiques – and some famous friends.
“Through the business, they sold furniture to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and got to know them,” Millhouse said, adding that her parents visited the “I Love Lucy” stars at their home.
Actress June Lockhart of TV’s “Lassie” and “Lost in Space” was another customer who became a friend. She was a guest at the McTyeires’ house, as were conductor Arthur Fiedler and former Alabama Gov. Albert Brewer and his wife, Martha.
“My mother got to know the Brewers when she chaired the Alabama Sesquicentennial celebration in 1969,” Millhouse said.
The McTyeires moved into their Old Leeds Road house in 1969. Their oldest child, Bill, was married by then, and their son Bob was attending the University of Alabama, Millhouse said. Her brother Bert, who later passed away, was a student at Birmingham-Southern College and had his own apartment at the house.
“I remember Bert playing the guitar, sitting by the pool with his friends and playing pool downstairs,” Millhouse said.
She was an eighth-grader and her sister, Helen, was in fifth grade when the family moved to its new house, she said.
“We had friends over to swim, had high school sorority parties here – my parents loved to entertain,” Millhouse said. “They were always telling business associates and customers to bring their children or grandchildren over to the pool. They were always welcoming and never stuffy.”
She and her sister weren’t shuttled upstairs when her parents had parties, she said.
“We’d sometimes get pressed into service by passing hors d’ouevres,” Millhouse said.
One of her favorite spots in the house was her father’s “Auburn room,” she said. Bill McTyeire was a cheerleader and a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at Auburn, which then was still called Alabama Polytechnic Institute.
“Photos lined the walls of that room – not only to do with Auburn but from their trips and with people like Lucy and Desi,” Millhouse said.
She hopes ShowHouse visitors will notice the house’s extensive ornamental ironwork. Her parents worked with architect Henry Sprott Long to prominently incorporate in the design the material upon which their businesses were based, she said.
“The iron front door was created especially for this house,” Millhouse said.
She also encourages visitors to look carefully at the original chinoiserie wallpaper in the dining room. It’s decorated with trees, flowers, birds and butterflies.
“It’s handpainted, so you won’t see the same butterfly twice,” Millhouse said.
Bill McTyeire died in 2003. Katherine McTyeire remained in their house until her death in 2013. Millhouse said her parents had links to the Decorators’ ShowHouse and to the organization it benefits.
“Both my parents supported the Alabama Symphony, and my mother did the sun porch for the very first ShowHouse in 1976,” she said. “I remember she put a big rug with frogs in the room. I think she’d be proud and would have approved of this house being the ShowHouse.”