By Ingrid Schnader
A curious, enthusiastic dog was the catalyst for a long-delayed remodeling of a 1960s house in Vestavia Hills.
Ron and Lu Ann Smith said they had wanted to remodel their house ever since they moved in 20 years ago, but converting the closed-in house to an open concept design would be a big project, and so the job never made it to the top of the to-do list.
Then one day while the Smiths were pet sitting for their son’s dog, C.J, they ran out for just a bit.
“I get back and notice there were these little black dots all over the floor – carpet, sheet vinyl, everything,” Ron said. “And I look at C.J., and she’s just covered in something. It looks like mud. And I’m like, ‘How did she get … the mud inside?’ But C.J. can work doorknobs, so that’s what I thought.”
Ron said he tried to wipe up the mud, but it wouldn’t come off. He followed the trail into the bedroom.
“In the middle of the bed, there’s this big black spot,” he said.
Ron had put shoe edging on his nightstand the night before. C.J. had found it and bitten into it, jetting out shoe polish from each end.
“It soaked the mattress … and she lay in it. That’s what was on her chest. Then she had toured the house,” Ron said.
But Ron said the mess was a catalyst to start the remodel he and his wife had been planning for two decades, ever since they moved into the house Ron’s father, Albie Smith, built 50 years ago.
Like Ron, Albie also was an architect and worked on a lot of schools, churches and BellSouth buildings in the area.
“This house was built like a ‘60s house,” Ron said. “So nothing was in big open spaces that people like these days.”
Smith said he’d always wanted to remodel the foyer because people walking into the house immediately faced a wall, and they had to go either to the left or to the right.
Many walls would have to come down to create the Smiths’ vision. When they were ready, they called Kathy Owens, who owns Kathy’s Designer Kitchens. She has been remodeling kitchens for 40 years.
“They wanted to be able to see through the house,” Owens said. “Like when you walk in the front door, they wanted to be able to see to the back of the house.”
Once she started the job, Owens said, it spread, and eventually the only first floor room that had not been transformed was the dining room.
“The rest of the rooms were changed unbelievably.” she said. “It was very dramatic.”
The team was able to knock down the walls at the foyer, bringing in light and showcasing the greenery outside the window on the other side of the house.
“The best view in the house, to me, is in the back here, looking at the green and to be able to see that and open it up, getting all of the light in,” Ron said.
Moving Things Around
The master bathroom previously had two entrances, one from the master bedroom and one from a second bedroom. There wasn’t a guest bathroom.
During the remodel, one of those doors was closed off and the second bedroom was converted into a laundry room, saving the couple from descending a flight of stairs to the basement each time they did laundry.
“The way we redid everything, they can live forever on the first floor of that house,” Owens said.
The team moved the kitchen, swapping places with the den. The new kitchen features lots of white, two large pantry cabinets on either side of the dining room entrance, and Lu Ann’s favorite element — the hanging lights.
Lu Ann spent 35 years working for Southern Living, and she said
they frequently had “prop sales,” in which items featured in the photo shoots could be bought. About 25 years ago, Lu Ann bought these lights from one of the prop sales. They had been stored in a box ever since.
Owens said Lu Ann asked her to look at the lights. “So I looked at them, and I’ve always loved this light,” she said.
The lights are little glass discs that look like they are floating in the air. Owens changed the halogen fixture to LED.
“She was so thrilled that I could use her design,” Owens said. “Just small things like that, it just means a lot to them when they can have what’s important to them, what makes them happy.”
A Father’s Vision
Throughout the remodeling, Ron said he didn’t want to do anything to the house that he didn’t think his father would approve of. He kept most of the detailing traditional while adding contemporary aspects in other places.
“When I was at Auburn, you were not allowed to do anything traditional,” Ron said. “If you did, it was an F.”
Now, he said he feels more comfortable mixing traditional elements with contemporary ones, such as how he remodeled his house.
“There were some major changes that were done that made a huge difference in that house,” Owens said. “They loved it, and I’m so glad they do. They are just the nicest family.”