By Donna Cornelius
Keeping rooms can be traced back to 18th century America. But they’re almost as popular today as they were in Colonial times.
Originally, keeping rooms – spaces built as part of or adjacent to the kitchen – took advantage of the heat created by wood stoves and provided a warm place to eat, do chores and even sleep.
Today, these rooms are still hot spots. They’re multipurpose spaces where families can watch TV, kids can do their homework and party guests can hang out and thus make whoever’s on kitchen duty feel like part of the fun.
“Almost all homes that are new construction are designed with the open concept, and keeping rooms fit right into that,” said Gena Toedte, a designer at Birmingham Wholesale Furniture.
She and fellow BWF designer Stan Nelson have created a welcoming, bright keeping room at this year’s Decorators’ ShowHouse. Because it’s such a family-friendly – and company-friendly – space, they’ve named it “The Gathering Room.”
Their keeping room is likely much larger than the original version. The ceiling is open to the house’s second floor, and the room is 26 feet long. Its size was one of the reasons the designers wanted to take on this room.
“Birmingham Wholesale Furniture has such vast resources and inventory,” Nelson said. “Not everybody can handle such a large space.”
The 65-year-old store at 2200 Second Ave. S in downtown Birmingham has been participating in the ShowHouse for many years. This is the third time Nelson and Toedte have worked together on the Alabama Symphony Orchestra’s annual fundraiser.
It All Starts With the Rug
Nelson said their design plan started with one special item.
“I always love to have the rug first,” he said. “We were lucky to put our hands on a one-of-a-kind Oushak rug that’s quite large. Our store has a huge selection of rugs.”
Since the keeping room often is a high-traffic area, he said it was important to choose a rug that was durable as well as beautiful.
“Rugs that are 100 percent wool, like this one, are very low maintenance, easy to take care of and will last for years,” he said.
Nelson said he and Toedte had to take into consideration the kitchen at one end of the room, a fireplace at the other, “and lots of windows and openings, which can be challenging.”
To increase the room’s livability, the designers created not only seating areas, but a dining area.
“Instead of putting a sofa table behind the sofa, Stan came up with the idea of putting a dining table there,” Toedte said. He said the dining room in the house is small.
The table has a hand-painted top with an iron trestle base. It’s by John-Richard, an international furniture company that started in the Mississippi Delta.
Color is Back
Like keeping rooms, color is making a design comeback.
“It’s been a long stretch of grey and beige,” Nelson said.
“We took inspiration from the rug. There’s soft color here – yellow-golds and blue-greens – that’s not too garish or striking,” Nelson said.
Toedte said she and Nelson wanted the room to have “an organic feel.”
“You’ll see wool, linen, marble, glass, different metals and live greenery,” she said.
While the rug is a stand-out feature of the room, the designers said they hope ShowHouse visitors will also notice items such as an antique mirror and a colorful painting on a brass display easel.
“We wanted to show that art doesn’t have to hang on the wall,” Nelson said.
Both said they look forward to being part of the ShowHouse.
“We’re always excited for the opportunity to illustrate to the public what we can do and the depth of our inventory,” Nelson said. “People ask a lot of questions, and that’s one of my favorite parts of the ShowHouse. It’s interesting to see what people’s opinions are, and it helps us to get feedback. We love hearing what people think.”
Toedte, too, likes the interaction with ShowHouse visitors.
“We try to be there when the house is open or to schedule other designers from our store so they’ll have a chance to participate and meet people,” she said.
There’s another reason the pair enjoys participating in the event.
“We both love the symphony,” Toedte said. ❖