By Sarah Kuper
Although space is limited, Homewood real estate is growing – in a manner of speaking.
“People add on to the back, build up or start from scratch,” said Willow Design Studios’ Allison Hallman. Hallman is an owner and designer at the firm, which operates in tandem with Willow Construction Company in Homewood.
She said her firm last year worked on 25 Homewood houses, either total construction projects or major remodels.
Hallman cites a good school system and community pride as reasons the area is so popular.
“It is very walkable,” she said. “It is convenient to other things, it has great school districts, people are outside all the time going to the parks, biking, organizing walking carpools.”
Homewood newcomers Stuart and Maggie Misner couldn’t agree more.
“We were looking for a home to raise kids. Homewood was a no-brainer,” Stuart Misner said.
Though mature trees give Homewood neighborhoods an established feel, Hallman said her clients often are anything but.
“Primarily what we see are young couples trying to grow their families. We call ourselves the ‘baby makers’ because by the time we finish a project the couple is expecting!”
In fact, the Misners welcomed their first baby in December. As new parents, they are more conscious than ever of the family-friendly atmosphere in Homewood.
But for all its popularity, making a Homewood house a home can be a major undertaking.
As was the case for many industrial towns in America, the Homewood area experienced a housing boom during and after WWII, when the population increased more than 70 percent, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
But now most of the original Homewood houses are not compatible with the needs of today’s families.
“Families just don’t live like that anymore. Things are more casual and less formal. People want open floor plans to keep sightlines on kids,” Hallman said.
This was especially true for the Misner’s Edgewood home.
“Every room was partitioned off. It looks completely different now – more open concept. The den flows into the dining room and kitchen,” Misner said.
A master suite, large laundry room and flexible spaces such as offices and bonus rooms are on the wish lists of most of Hallman’s clients. To accomplish those goals, her firm has to get creative.
“It is like puzzle pieces. We work hand in hand with homeowners to find the best use of their budget while still getting the kitchen and flex space they want,” Hallman said.
The Misners were fortunate enough to secure their Edgewood property before it even went on the market, but things got trickier from there.
“Remodeling a home … I would say it was stressful. You are starting with only what you know. We knew, ‘Wow this house has a lot of work to do,’ but further than that we were just trusting builders and their vision,” Misner said.
Hallman said first-time home buyers or remodelers aren’t familiar with the process or the pricing.
“A couple really wants a big scope of work but no one is sure how much things cost. So we start with their wish list and peel back as we need to.”
Plus, Hallman said, there is a need to plan for the unexpected.
“It really is like the TV shows,” she said. “There are going to be surprises when you knock down a wall.”
“When we started taking apart the house and seeing the guts, there were more rotting areas than we thought. Plus things like difficult weather were an issue,” Misner said.
Hallman and her team acknowledge that Homewood has a certain look and that’s why designers start with a craftsman-style house, which was the popular style when people were first building in the area.
From there, they figure out how to situate the home on the plot so it doesn’t clash with the rest of the neighborhood.
“We always start out looking at how it is if you are seeing it from the street. It may still look like a small house in the front but open up in the back,” Hallman said, “But of course some still want that large street presence.”
The Misners describe their remodeled home as having a transitional feel with modern and rustic aspects.
A breakfast nook with a shiplap accent is one of their favorite features.
Neutral palettes with functional but unique accents and appliances are top trends in Willow Design homes, along with as much natural light as possible.
From start to finish, Misner estimates their remodel took about five months.
Now that their Homewood home is suited to their needs, they are on to enjoying what the town has to offer.
“It’s really got such a warm feel. You know you are looking for a house in the right place when you have kids everywhere. It makes you feel like a kid again when you are an adult.”