By Sharon Smith
Special to the Journal
A windowed china room, an indoor dog wash, paintings by a blind artist, a 20-foot waterfall and a collection of more than 100 nutcrackers will be on display to entertain visitors to Samford Legacy League’s Christmas Home Tour on Dec. 7.
The event will showcase a collection of five homes in Homewood, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills that range from a few months to more than 90 years old. The seventh annual tour, presented by ARC Realty, also includes a holiday gift market and festive seasonal fare.
This one-day holiday tour will be between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. The public is invited to tour the homes of Lisa and Randy Freeman, 11 Bonita Drive, Homewood; Rhonda and Tom Powell, 4441 Caldwell Mill Road, Mountain Brook; Cheryl and Terry Spitzer, 4429 Caldwell Mill Road, Mountain Brook; Jeanna and Andy Westmoreland, Samford President’s Home, 1994 Shades Crest Road, Vestavia Hills; and Lisa and Harris Wilson, 4408 Old Brook Run, Mountain Brook.
The Freeman Home
Known as “the corner house with the china room,” Lisa and Randy Freeman’s iconic Spanish Colonial Revival house is a landmark in historic Hollywood. Built in 1927, the house includes antique highlights such as wood beams reclaimed from an 1800s hospital. In contrast, the residence also has contemporary features including floating sinks atop a travertine slab and a wall of windows in the master suite.
A 19-foot walnut island and a commercial refrigerator with access from both sides make the Freemans’ kitchen ideal for a family that loves to entertain. The home’s open floor plan and comfortable yet sophisticated décor provide an inviting environment for parties large and small. Recent additions of an outdoor fireplace and a relaxing plunge pool give a serene resort feel to the private backyard.
With varied finishes on the floors, walls and ceilings in each room, the Freeman home has interesting textures and unique fixtures that balance and complement each other.
A neutral palette of wall colors offers the perfect backdrop for the artwork of the Freemans’ talented grown children, Kelsey and Nick. The artistic bent of their children is not surprising, given Lisa’s flair as an interior decorator and Randy’s hobby of building miniature model cars. One particularly striking piece on display is Kelsey’s painting of an African child she met on a mission trip.
When it comes to Christmas, Lisa’s decorating talents add a festive atmosphere to the house. Fresh greenery of numerous varieties provides a fragrant and natural touch for the holiday season. A tall, spindly tree with white lights flanks the fireplace, above which a fresh wreath hangs. Garland drapes the mantle while pine boughs, candles and colorful fruit bring in a seasonal accent.
The Powell Home
Just completed in January, Rhonda and Tom Powell’s French country style residence on Caldwell Mill Road was a project more than two years in the making. The tranquility and convenience of this tucked-away area of Mountain Brook offered great appeal during the family’s search for a new house. The location, they decided, would provide a respite for them, a welcoming yard for deer to visit and space for fig trees and blueberry bushes to flourish.
They looked to Christopher Architecture and Interiors to design a house to match the beauty of its surroundings. The firm created a plan with countless materials sourced locally and from far away.
Built by TCC Contractors, the Powells’ stately yet inviting residence is constructed of local moss rock and reclaimed antique red brick from Alex City and roofed with Alaskan Yellow Cedar Tapersawn Shakes, selected for how they color as they age.
The most striking feature of the house is a solid rock parapet wall, which can be seen from inside and out. More than 45 feet high and four inches thick in places, the wall accommodates two fireplaces, along with built-in cabinetry.
“The wall makes quite a statement,” said TCC Contractors’ project manager, Jeff Treglown. “Building it was a daunting feat, but a very satisfying one once complete.”
The home’s interior combines simplicity of living, efficient design and beautiful artistry. A butler’s walk provides plentiful dish storage while the large open kitchen offers a spacious island for entertaining. Hand-painted Italian tiles serve as the backsplash of the cooktop. Bathrooms include features such as a three-sided glass shower, a built-in seat of Carrera marble and a tub alcove with floor to ceiling windows.
Tess and Dixie, the Powells’ two yellow Labrador retrievers, were clearly considered during the design phase of the house. In the main level laundry room, the counter is mounted at the perfect height to accommodate their crates below. The countertop also shields a pet door, which gives the friendly canines convenient access to the side yard. Complete with a handheld sprayer, a custom-built indoor dog wash in the basement has room to bathe them simultaneously.
The Powells look forward to using some of their family’s traditional holiday decorations and incorporating new ones as they celebrate their first Christmas in their new home.
The Spitzer Home
Next door to the Powells is the home of Cheryl and Terry Spitzer, who also engaged the architectural design services of Christopher Architecture and Interiors. Constructed by Kadco Homes in 2015, the Spitzers’ residence was built to accommodate the large family’s gatherings.
The kitchen, equipped to cook for a crowd, features top-of-the-line appliances and decorative interior gas lighting, a vaulted wood ceiling and custom cabinetry. Not to be outdone, the outdoor kitchen boasts a built-in grill, pizza oven, wet bar and limestone fireplace.
Inside the spacious home, an illuminated winding iron staircase spans all three stories. While the third floor houses four bedrooms, the lower-level media room has the largest glass rear screen projector in the state and a surround sound system to accompany it. Their comprehensive and versatile home automation system enables the family to control the music, projection and lighting from a phone app.
In addition to top-notch entertainment equipment inside, the Spitzer home has an impressive outdoor living space with a gunite pool. Designed and installed by Vickers Pools of the Southeast, the saltwater pool features a built-in hot tub and a waterfall. Plunging 20 feet to the patio’s lower level, the falling water provides a peaceful backdrop for a fireside seating area with an outdoor television.
Attention to detail throughout the house is evidenced by finishes such as coffered ceilings, interior brick walls, barn doors, pecky cypress ceilings and interior wood beams.
“From helping to find the perfect 4½-acre lot in Mountain Brook to finalizing the last fine detail of the home, it was a collaborative and gratifying process throughout,” said Charles Kessler, president of Kadco Homes. “We have built hundreds of homes over the past 30-plus years, but working with the wonderful Spitzer family to achieve their vision was a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Holiday decorating brings great joy to the Spitzers, who typically set up seven Christmas trees. One tree is covered in faith-inspired ornaments while another is peppermint-themed and adorned with Hallmark children’s ornaments. In the living room, the bookshelves become a winter wonderland displaying a snow village. A nativity scene from Italy depicts the birth of Christ, whose importance is emphasized in the home’s chapel.
The Wilson Home
The third of the Mountain Brook homes, the Wilsons’ house on Old Brook Run, is just a stone’s throw from U.S. 280. Driving past long white paddock fences and horses en route there, however, it feels much more like rural Kentucky than suburban Birmingham. Upon arrival at the residence of Lisa and Harris Wilson and their daughters, visitors will find an oasis with views of the pool, fields or woods from almost every room. The barns and pasture, once occupied by Clydesdale horses, provide a bucolic setting for the sprawling one-level house. Since purchasing the 1950’s house eight years ago, the Wilsons have remodeled the kitchen and master bath and added a bedroom.
The home is filled with reminders of family and friends. In the open kitchen and den area, two walls display whimsical floral paintings created by a friend who is blind. Other rooms have portraits of the Wilsons’ three girls, who span in age from 14 to 22. Throughout the house, family furnishings are plentiful. An armoire and hutch from England previously belonged to Harris’ mother while the secretary in the living room was his grandmother’s. The chandelier in one of the bedrooms has hung in five family homes.
Also evident in the Wilsons’ home, particularly in the man cave, is Harris’ love of big game hunting. His hobby has taken him across the U.S. and to international destinations, from which he’s brought back several wall-mounted trophies. Among his trips to Argentina, South Africa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas, South Africa is his favorite.
Decorating the Christmas tree often leads to storytelling for the Wilsons, whose many ornaments hold special meaning. Every year their three girls each receive an ornament that represents something they experienced during the year. The Wilsons’ tree also includes numerous ornaments handmade by the owners’ grandmothers, and the tree skirt was crafted by Harris’ stepmother, who recently passed away.
The Samford President’s Home
Located in Vestavia Hills at the crest of Shades Mountain, the Samford President’s Home has a view of the Birmingham skyline. The stately home, widely used for Samford University and community functions, sees nearly 10,000 visitors annually. Since the residence was acquired by the university nine years ago, its guest list has included Miss America and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. While honored to host such famous people, Andy and Jeanna Westmoreland most enjoy opening their home to students, to whom they are passionately committed. In fact, the Westmorelands have established a tradition of hosting functions for entering freshmen and graduating seniors, bookending their Samford years with visits to the president’s home.
Elegantly furnished throughout the year, the Shades Crest abode is particularly lovely when the Westmorelands decorate for Christmas. Yards of garland embellish the bannisters and mantles, and every room is decorated for the holidays. With 14 thematically decorated trees, the festive home evokes the Christmas spirit. Numerous nativity sets of international origin and a collection of more than 100 nutcrackers, ranging from a few inches to a few feet tall, are on display.
In addition to touring the house, visitors can shop from a selection of items at the holiday gift market. Merchants and artists will offer an assortment of jewelry, pottery, art, children’s items, clothing, accessories and home items. Seasonal hors d’oeuvres and holiday treats donated by local businesses and league members also will be available for guests.
Seven Years and Counting
Now in its seventh year, the Christmas Home Tour involves more than 200 volunteers. The tour, which supports scholarships for students with significant financial need, is the Legacy League’s largest annual fundraiser. To date, the Legacy League, a volunteer organization with more than 750 members, has awarded more than $750,000 in scholarships, which have helped nearly 170 students attend Samford. Many of the organization’s scholarship recipients have faced obstacles including the death or disability of a parent, foster care, inner city violence, parental job loss, homelessness, abandonment and the sacrifices of full-time ministry in a remote place.
ARC Realty is continuing to support the event this year.
“ARC believes in standing by its core principles of being ‘a relationship company,’” said Beau Bevis, ARC Realty CEO and qualifying broker. “This partnership creates an opportunity for ARC to invest in the lives of young people through Samford‘s Legacy League. We look forward to seeing the leadership qualities and the impact these students have on the surrounding communities of Birmingham.”
Premium Sponsors are AllSouth Appliance, Christopher Architecture & Interiors, Kadco Homes, Rare Transportation, TCC General Contractors, Tailgate Guys/PRE Event Rentals and Vickers Pools of the Southeast.
Advance tickets for the Christmas Home Tour are available online through Dec. 5 for $25 at samford.edu/legacyleague, which also includes more details about the event. Tickets also are available at the door of featured homes during tour hours for $30.
Sharon Smith is director of development for the Legacy League, an auxiliary of Samford University.