By Donna Cornelius
Journal features writer
William Morris advised having “nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
Jason Turner has a third suggestion.
“A house should be appointed with things that have deep meaning,” he said.
The Forest Park cottage owned by Turner and Robert Listerman illustrates that point. From garden statues to paintings to the grand piano in the living room, almost everything in the house has a reason for being there.
Turner and Listerman are among those opening their homes for this year’s Independent Presbyterian Church Holiday House Tour Dec. 13 and 14.
They became only the third owners of the 10th Avenue South house when they bought it in 2013.
The brick Tudor cottage was custom built in 1949 for Mr. and Mrs. Charles Gandy, Turner said.
“Mrs. Gandy was 96 when she died,” he said. “Our neighbors still remember her. They said she used to sit outside on her birthday and wave at people.”
The house’s architect was Charles McCauley. He also designed several other notable Birmingham buildings, including Temple Beth-El, the Medical Arts Building, Birmingham City Hall and many houses in Redmont, Mountain Brook and Forest Park, Turner said.
But while the house and its Forest Park location were appealing, its main attraction for the couple was more practical.
“We realized we needed to care for Robert’s stepmother and thought the carriage house would be the perfect place for her to live,” Turner said.
Audrey Listerman and her cat, Tuxedo, share the carriage house, which was built in 1986.
Once they bought the house, Turner and Listerman started extensive renovations. They did most of the work themselves, Turner said.
“When we moved in, one bathroom was pink and the other was green,” he said. “There was a crumbling black asphalt driveway. The kitchen had had some minimal upgrading, and the washer and dryer were actually along one wall in the kitchen.”
The kitchen got a European-style facelift with countertops and a subway-tile backsplash of Carrera marble. New appliances include a Wolf range and microwave drawer and a Sub-Zero glass-front refrigerator. Cyndy Cantley of Cantley and Company designed the cabinets, Turner said.
The old tile on the kitchen floor was replaced with new hardwood, which was finished to match the original hardwood floors in the rest of the house. The washer and dryer were moved into a hall closet.
“We redid all of the light fixtures in the house,” Turner said. “And we added leaded glass to the fixed-glass living room window.”
Most of the light fixtures came from Village Firefly in Mountain Brook, he said.
The formerly pastel bathrooms are now tiled in sophisticated shades of gray.
“Robert did all the tile work,” Turner said.
The house’s gardens got equally careful attention
“We cut down 36 trees,” said Turner, an avid gardener. “We put in a terrace and three water features.”
He also created garden “rooms,” each with a distinct personality. To the right of the house is a serene space surrounded by evergreens and hydrangeas. Its centerpiece is a reflecting pool.
On the house’s left side, the asphalt driveway was replaced with pea gravel. Listerman, who likes to cook, tends the herb garden. Turner planted boxwoods and installed gas lanterns.
“Since most of our other gardens are white gardens, I wanted a splash of color somewhere, so I put in a cutting garden,” Turner said.
One outdoor element is original to the house. There’s a birdhouse in the Tudor design of the house’s east façade.
Turner said almost everything in the house “has a meaning.”
“We’ve never purchased a piece just to decorate,” he said.
One of the pieces that means the most to Turner and Listerman is an Alexi Torres painting in the study. The painting shows the façade of the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.
“After 18 years of courtship, Robert and I got married last year on the steps of that building,” Turner said. “We commissioned that piece the year before.”
Another Torres painting in the study is a portrait of Charles Lindbergh. Listerman is chief pilot for Birmingham-based O’Neal Steel, and Turner gave him the painting as a birthday gift.
Both paintings in the study are in Torres’ trademark basket-weave style of painting. A third work by Torres of the Statue of Liberty hangs in the dining room and was painted with a feathering technique.
Also in the study is a walnut and maple chess set.
“Robert’s father carved the chess pieces,” Turner said. “We have his original drawings for the pieces from 1932.”
Roundels – small disks of glass used as ornaments in stained-glass windows – in the study windows used to hang in Turner’s office at Independent Presbyterian Church, he said.
“I was the day school director at IPC for 17 years,” Turner said. “I decided to take a leap of faith and do something I’d always wanted to do: I became a Realtor for RealtySouth.”
Turner also serves as organist and choirmaster for several Birmingham churches. The grand piano in the living room was a graduation gift from his mother, he said.
Large un-stretched canvas paintings by Arthur Price are in the dining room and over the living room fireplace. Other favorite pieces include paintings of Independent Presbyterian Church and portraits of both men’s mothers – and some of the couple’s beloved pets.
For both men, the gardens also are full of remembrances.
“We planted trees in memory of our moms and Robert’s father,” Turner said. “The reflecting pool’s frog fountain is in memory of my dad.”
Collected pieces from the couple’s travels include books, icons from an IPC mission trip to Ukraine and a royal Christmas card. While traveling on the Queen Elizabeth II in Europe, Turner said, he came away from a shipboard auction with a Christmas card sent by the Prince and Princess of Wales—Charles and Diana—the last year they were married.
In the carriage house, too, are pieces that have significance to Audrey Listerman.
“She came to Birmingham from Baltimore in 1966 and has things she bought when she married as a young girl,” Turner said.
A buffet that belonged to her parents is filled with china painted with roses.
“I’ve always loved roses,” she said.
The carriage house was updated with an all-new kitchen, Turner said.
IPC tour visitors will see two Christmas trees, one in the main house and another in the carriage house.
“We’ve never bought any ornaments,” Turner said. “All of ours are from our childhoods or were made by Robert’s mother or given to us.”
Carole Sullivan of Lagniappe Designs will do Christmas arrangements, Turner said.
He and Listerman are happy to be part of the holiday tour, he said.
“We’re doing the tour because of my attachment to and love for IPC,” Turner said.