Story By Donna Cornelius • Photos by Lee Walls Jr.
The living room at this year’s Decorators’ ShowHouse is a room with a view in more ways than one.
Architecturally, the expansive space has a two-story-tall wall of windows that provide a stunning perspective of the patio and gardens. Design-wise, Perry Umphrey has injected the room with his own brand of creative energy. The first thing he did before starting on plans for the room was to look at it from several different angles, he said.
“I stood in the front door, stood on the patio and then stood upstairs and looked,” Umphrey said. “Each view makes an impact.”
The interior designer, who owns Umphrey Interiors, is a familiar name to those who regularly attend the Alabama Symphony Orchestra’s annual fundraiser.
“The first time I did a ShowHouse on my own was in 2001,” he said. “I did it twice as a student when I was in school.”
Before the ShowHouse opens, designers put in requests for the rooms they’d like to decorate.
“The living room was not my first choice because it was so big,” Umphrey said. “I knew it would take a lot of time – and a lot of furniture.”
But Umphrey, who said he was taken with “those beautiful windows” in the living room, set about coming up with a manageable plan.
“First, I intentionally chose pale shades to keep the room light,” he said. “I have pale blue, white, clear and stainless steel plus a little brown instead of gray, which is what I usually use.
“The second thing was that I knew the room had to be divided if you didn’t want it to look like a big hospital waiting room.”
To that end, he created two separate seating areas. One, in front of the fireplace, includes a microfiber sectional sofa that’s been taken apart. Facing the sofa, which has a metal base, are two armless leather chairs.
The other seating area, with two wooden chairs with slipcovered cushions, faces the patio.
Separating the two sections is a sofa table made of brushed stainless steel. On top of it is a striking horse statue made in Asia from driftwood.
“The horse is the dividing line,” Umphrey said.
The designer said he always pays special attention to artwork when he’s creating a room.
“This room is no different except that I have more photos here,” he said.
One of his favorite photographs is of Penny, a playful dog, atop a rusty Birmingham Hide and Tallow sign.
“If you grew up in Birmingham, you knew Penny,” Umphrey said. “I grew up in Jasper, and when we’d come into Birmingham on Highway 78, that sign was a landmark. When I saw it, I’d know where we were.”
When the sign was taken down, “I panicked,” he said, laughing. But he said he was glad the sign has been restored and is now at Birmingham’s Regions Field.
Another eye-catching piece is an agamograph, a series of images that change at different angles. This kind of work is named after Israeli sculptor Yaacov Agam, who’s known for his optical and kinetic art. A larger example of one of Agam’s creations is across the front of the Callahan Eye Hospital at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“My partner, Jim, collects his art,” Umphrey said. “We have nine of his pieces in our foyer.”
One fun photo shows a happy dog diving into water.
“That’s my favorite,” Umphrey said.
While Umphrey said he didn’t set out to have a doggy theme, there’s also a tiny dog statue sitting next to an acrylic pedestal. And in the adjacent bar, he put together a lighthearted poster with photos of dogs paired with drink recipes like the Bloodhound Martini and the Salty Chihuahua.
The wall behind the shelves in the bar is blue; the paint was custom-blended to match the Tibetan lamb pillows in the living room. The same blue was used in the insets on either side of the fireplace.
“I’ll use only a few colors – but I’ll use eight shades of that color and 14 textures,” Umphrey said.
The designer is again leading a ShowHouse seminar, “But It Matches the Sofa,” at 1:30 p.m. May 5.
“I do the same thing every year,” he said. “It’s on the right way to choose and hang art. Art is something personal. It’s all about the way you frame it and present it. Hanging it at the right height is important; everybody hangs things too high.”
Umphrey said he hopes ShowHouse visitors won’t rush through the living room.
“When you come into my space, stop and take it in,” he said. “It may look simple, but if you stand there and look, you’ll see little things.”
For more information, visit www.umphreyinteriors.com. ϖ