By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
What makes an “ideal” home?
It’s a question Scott Underwood, co-owner of Centennial Homes, asked himself after he and co-owner Alan Howard were tapped to produce the 2021 Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builder’s Ideal Home.
In a perfect world, he would have liked to have a full year to complete the project. Yet, his company was chosen in the summer of 2020, and planning delayed the project’s start to October.
While the majority of the build is nearing its close in preparation for the upcoming 2021 Parade of Homes in mid-June, aesthetic projects and final touches are being finished.
What is apparent even without the final touches is Underwood’s vision of what an “ideal home” can be.
“This home is the perfect home for me, personally,” he said. It’s a space where he can have it all. All of the bells and whistles that maintain the height of luxury while also simplifying daily life.
The house is built for entertaining, satisfying those who wish for an open concept living and dining area while maintaining rooms to retreat.
“We’re on 6 acres up here in Hoover, which is a rare thing,” Underwood said. “When you look out these windows, as far as you can see, you own it.”
A secluded estate in the heart of Hoover’s Heatherwood neighborhood is hard to come by, according to the listing agent for the house, Gwen Vinzant of RealtySouth.
While delivering new technology and concepts, the house maintains a look from the past. Limestone, natural wood and elements of color were used to create a European-style comfort.
“I wanted the house to have European feel to it,” Underwood said. “Not only that, I wanted it to have some materials that – even though everything is new – looked like we found and curated pieces and then implemented them here in the house.”
The four-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom house with two large bonus rooms and space to grow in the basement offers everything from the latest tech down to outdoor space – something that is more popular than ever, according to Underwood and Vinzant.
The experience begins in the driveway.
As guests turn onto the drive and make their way up to the home, they pass over a small section of brick pavers.
As guests drive over those pavers and feel the small rattle on their wheels, they sense they are entering a new area. The experience begins.
According to Vinzant, Underwood is a visionary when it comes to creating experiences with features that homeowners don’t often think about.
“We’re trying to hit all of the senses,” Underwood said.
When hosting an event, the resident can have the music that is playing indoors carried outside to the front of the house as guests enter.
“If you are having a party and people are coming up to the house, whatever you have playing on the inside can be played out here.
Underwood installed a top-of-the-line surround sound system with speakers that are heard but not seen throughout the home.
The Ideal Kitchen
The heart of the home rests just beyond the entryway.
A large living space with a grand Indiana limestone fireplace leads to an open kitchen.
Countertops throughout the house were sourced from the company Cosentino using their Dekton and Silestone products.
The large white slab of stone that is the island is supported by quartered oak, which Underwood notes is new but looks aged.
Appliances are mainly sourced from a lesser-known maker of high-end ranges, California-based Hestan.
“They are super high-end,” Underwood said. “I like to say even their logo looks expensive.”
Underwood also has made space between the full-sized refrigerator and freezer for one of Hestan’s equally full-sized wine refrigerators.
Complementing the neutral walls and countertops will be warm cabinetry.
“The color here is urbane bronze, which was Sherwin-Williams’ color of the year,” Underwood said.
“We’ve carried that through the house,” Underwood said, in window sashes, the walls of the entrance to the master suite and even upstairs in the media area.
The cabinetry is also used on the way to the dining room, where Underwood has inserted a short hall featuring a wet bar. On the opposing wall there is space to display bottles or hide them away when entertaining.
“It’s a place to really showcase your bourbon collection, which is really popular right now,” Underwood noted.
In the dining room, ceilings vault up to 17 feet, where crews inserted wood beams in a trellis design. To get the dimensions correct, Underwood and his team drew the design on the floor in chalk before construction and installation.
Throughout the home, Underwood has a clear vision of who might live there. Off of the kitchen is a “service wing” where homeowners can tuck away their countertop appliances in a large pantry and toss their phone on a charging station in a mudroom.
There is a central office space that Underwood believes would be perfect for someone who occasionally works from home.
“I think this would be perfect for someone who is working from home, but also someone who is running the household – pay bills, file paperwork, etc.,” he said.
At the end of the hallway is one of Underwood’s crown jewels when it comes to simplifying life’s chores – a scullery.
“Scullery is kind of an older term,” Underwood said. “You don’t hear it much anymore, but basically it is more than just a laundry room.”
A large island provides space for folding and even a seated area for crafting.
“Maybe the kids can even pop up here and do homework while Mom and Dad are working in here,” Underwood said.
Vinzant also noted that the space can be used by caterers to prep food during a party.
The cabinetry provides thoughtful tricks, such as a pop up drawer for a sewing machine, a wrapping station, a large farmhouse sink and even a drawer with a small built-in ironing board.
Yet, who needs an ironing board when the laundry area includes an LG Styler, a steam clothing care system.
According to Underwood, outdoor living was popular even before the pandemic, but homeowners’ desire for outdoor spaces has skyrocketed.
A large backyard lawn offers space for a pool to be constructed.
“We had plans to put in a pool, but we just didn’t have enough time,” Underwood said.
Overlooking the area is the private master porch and a large outdoor living space with outdoor fireplace.
There is room for an outdoor kitchen, dining area and seating.
Just around the corner is one of Underwood’s favorite outdoor features, a European-style courtyard.
“This would be something that someone would really like to use in the evening,” Underwood said. Perhaps a space for cocktails before entering the home for a dinner party.
The walled-in space features lush landscaping on all sides, concrete benches and a limestone fountain with two custom design pieces.
“That’s not something that I just went out and bought,” Underwood said. “I designed it and we had it made here, locally so there isn’t another one like it.”
Master Suite Has It All
Off of the living area is a double-door entrance into the master suite.
There is a seating area in front of another limestone fireplace and doors to a private patio, but Underwood suggests beginning the experience in the bathroom.
Along the entire length of one wall is an oversized shower, packed with two separate shower heads and handhelds, four body sprayers and a rain head as well as Bluetooth speakers.
“There are no valves on this shower system,” Underwood said. “It’s all digital, so if you want the water to be at a certain temperature you just set it.”
There also is an option to connect the shower system to your smartphone.
“You could turn it on before you get out of bed,” Underwood said.
On the way back to the bedroom there is a wet bar, proving you never have to leave your retreat.
“In the morning, you get out of bed and come over here to make a cup of coffee, then head over to that sitting area,” Underwood said. “At night, before you retire, you can come over here and grab a bottle of wine from the wine chiller and go sit by the fire.”
Much consideration also was paid to the open closet area.
“You’ll notice that there are no doors to this closet, because who would want to cover this up,” Underwood said.
The space features a large island with drawers and walls filled with cabinetry to hide any hanging or folded clutter. The very top cabinets were kept glass so someone could show off some of their finer things, perhaps a luxury purse collection.
“There are also two dressing areas where you can sit down and put on your shoes, and a vanity area where you can put on your makeup,” he said.
Live, Work and Play
Underwood is the first to admit that the large family home sprawls, yet each area offers a different purpose.
All three floors are joined via an elevator.
Among bedrooms on the top floor is a large media space that will house an 85-inch TV with backlighting. There also is a pool table space with three televisions hanging on the walls.
“I envision this being a place where you spend a Saturday night in the fall,” Underwood said.
“You have Alabama playing on the main TV,” he joked. “You also might want to have Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia playing on these other TVs too.”
The basement level offers another garage area to supplement the two-car garage on the main level.
So as not to box in the future buyer, the basement living spaces have been kept open to interpretation.
Underwood’s vision is of someone who goes downstairs off of the kitchen and enters a foyer. There is a room that he feels is perfect for a gym and another that would lend itself well to soundproofing to create a true movie theater.
A living space includes plumbing to create a downstairs kitchen area. There is a full bathroom, and then a space for a full bedroom and ensuite bathroom.
“Before the pandemic, we had people who wanted a smaller house and wanted to downsize,” Underwood said. “What I’m hearing now is people saying they need more room.”
The owners of one of Underwood’s houses built before the pandemic wanted to downsize, but now they have discussed needing more space.
“Because their day care wasn’t open, the grandparents began keeping the kids during the day,” Underwood said. So, we have three generations in one home, the grandparents keeping the kids and then mom and dad are working from home.”
Similar issues also have sparked a diversion from the idolized open concept floor plan.
Yes, Underwood said, there is still an open floor plan in the Ideal Home that lends itself to seamless entertaining; but there also are retreats and spaces to get away.
It’s the ideal to have the best of both worlds.