Lucky people get to live in the house of their dreams. That’s what happened to Barry and Cathy DeLozier. It’s just that their dream changed shape along the way.
In 2007, the DeLoziers had sold their Vestavia Hills house and were planning to build a carefully-designed one. But before construction actually started, another opportunity – in the form of an old house on Shades Crest Road – opened a different door.
Barry had driven past the house on his way to work every day and couldn’t help being drawn to the sturdy stone structure – or what he could see of it. An overgrown privet hedge near the road obscured the view, and vines twined up the outside walls. When he learned the house was for sale, he couldn’t resist checking it out.
“We closed on our old house on a Monday, and the house went on the market on Wednesday,” said Cathy.
Buying the stone house took a leap of faith. It wasn’t at all like the wonderful new house the DeLoziers had planned, which included bells and whistles like a three-car garage, main level master suite, private baths for each family member and a surround-sound home theater.
But neither Barry nor Cathy minded a challenge. He’s a writer, business strategist, marketing communications consultant, custom home designer and real estate developer, while Cathy is a freelance writer, public relations specialist, event manager, master gardener and mom. (The family also includes sons David, age 14, and Joe, who’s 13.)
“I’d had the opportunity to design a home in Roebuck for ABC’s ‘Extreme Home Makeover,’ ” said Barry. “We tore down a 1,400 square foot house on a Monday and put up a 5,800 square foot house by Friday.
“I felt like God gave me that opportunity, and it showed me I wasn’t afraid to try.”
The DeLoziers were happy to find that the well-built stone house had good bones to work with, plus “you don’t see that kind of thing nowadays” features. For example, the staircase skirtboard had been notched for every tread, something that’s not currently common, according to Barry. The main level floor is 10-inch-thick poured concrete. Quarter-sawn oak floors are composed of long strips of wood, some stretching to 16 feet.
“We learned that you can tell the age of a house by how long the strips are,” said Barry. “Now, they’re shorter.”
A welcome surprise was finding a stone patio, which had been hidden by periwinkle and wisteria vines, on one side of the house.
To rewire and to install central air and heating, plaster walls had to be gutted. Two rooms retained their original paneling, which Barry thinks is made of cypress. Cathy and a team of workers used plenty of elbow grease to remove liming on the mellow wood.
The DeLozier sons pitched in, too, helping with demolition. Some tasks, like using B.B. guns to shoot out windows in a small structure in the backyard, were no doubt more fun than others.
Most of the original floor plan remains intact, but the DeLoziers did some reconfiguring upstairs to provide a more livable space for bedrooms and bathrooms.
The DeLoziers learned that their house was built in 1929 by Dr. L.E. Sorrell, one of Birmingham’s first radiologists, for his bride, Sallie Sparrow. Sallie’s father was the city’s fire chief and may have advised the installation of a basement sprinkler system and two commercial fire hoses in upper level closets.
Sallie was indirectly responsible for a pretty illustrious fellow’s visit to the house. Her sister Elise, Miss Alabama 1922, married Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. When the Yawkeys stopped to stay with the Sorrells on their way to spring training in Florida, they brought along baseball great Ted Williams.
James L. Gatling was the architect, and Barry’s particularly proud of two blueprint pages, framed and hung in the house’s library.
During the restoration process, the DeLoziers discovered a nine-page never-mailed love letter and several photographs. In removing wallpaper, they found a handwritten message telling them that the papering job was done in 1933 and signed by workman Archie Markland.
Making the House Their Own
Barry and Cathy decorated the house themselves (each is quick to give the other credit), incorporating new purchases with family antiques and keeping the overall look respectful of the house’s age. They scoured eBay to find vintage light fixtures, including a porch light from France. An armoire in the living room came from Birmingham, England; originally a kitchen cabinet, it now houses a TV. Over the dining room table is a chandelier, which once hung in a West Palm Beach mansion, with dangling crystals made from rocks.
The kitchen is decidedly English in style, with an American version of an Aga range. Long beloved by the British, who also use them to heat their houses, the Aga has smaller oven compartments than most American models.
“I had to take a measuring tape to the grocery store when I bought our Thanksgiving turkey to make sure it would fit into the oven,” said Cathy.
Cathy, a master gardener, was delighted to find tiles simply inscribed with the names of favorite herbs from Welbeck Tiles in England. They’re artfully arranged on the wall behind the Aga.
“A microwave just wouldn’t have looked right in that spot,” said Barry.
In the breakfast room adjoining the kitchen, the DeLoziers enjoy eating together at a smaller, simpler table than the handsome one in the dining room. A built-in butler’s pantry in the breakfast room handily holds china and crystal, as well as a Dumbo cookie jar from Barry’s childhood.
The DeLoziers had to give up their visions of a luxurious master bathroom with double sinks and a separate tub and shower. Instead, they turned two smaller bathrooms into “his and her” spaces. The boys share a bathroom between their bedrooms.
“You learn,” said Barry, “that you really can live without all that extra stuff.”
They also learned that their vision and hard work has turned the old stone house into the home they dreamed of having. And amazingly, the new/old house was ready to welcome them just seven months after they bought it.
“I saw the impossible really happen,” said Barry.
If you’d like to experience the charm of the DeLoziers’ house firsthand, you’ll get the chance on April 17. It’s included in the historic home tour that’s part of Vestavia Hills’ Year of Small Towns and Downtowns celebration. See the story on page 28 for details. ?