By Keysha Drexel
Even though she works in a completely different field, Mountain Brook interior designer Dana Wolter is still putting her journalism degree to good use.
Just like a well-written story, Wolter’s Canterbury Road home has multiple layers and dimensions, all pulled together in a way that makes sense for a busy family.
“The goal was to create a well-edited space that would be comfortable and inviting for my family and friends and would fit our sometimes hectic lifestyle,” she said. “There are a lot of different ways to be creative, and putting a room together is kind of like putting a story together.”
Wolter, who studied journalism and English at the University of Alabama, has owned and operated Dana Wolter Interiors since 2005. She will share her ideas and tips on interior design as one of the tastemakers at this year’s Antiques in The Gardens event. Wolter is teaming up with Jeff Dungan of Dungan Nequette to curate the “Fireside Chat” themed booth at the event.
“I’m keeping what we have planned in our booth a surprise, but I think it will be well worth coming out to see,” Wolter said.
But no matter what the curated area she and Dungan create for “Fireside Chat” looks like, it is sure to include certain aspects that have become part of Wolter’s signature as a designer and elements that are evident in her own home.
“My style is all about clean lines, elements that are classic with a little something unexpected thrown in the mix. I love layering and I love texture,” she said.
That style is exactly what visitors to the five bedroom home Wolter shares with her husband, three daughters and tiny Yorkipoo dog will see.
While the house boasts more than 500,000 square feet of living space, it is as serene and inviting as it is open and airy.
The home’s first layer, so to speak, is all about timeless materials, Wolter said.
“We used honed marble, stone finishes, waxed woods, iron—things that really don’t ever go out of style,” Wolter said. “I wanted the basic bones of my house to be things that have lasting appeal.”
The home’s other layers feature durable, kid-and-pet friendly fabrics in a mixture of textures that soften the wood, metal and stone elements and complement the soothing neutral color palette.
And for a busy mother and wife with a thriving business to run, creating a home that is a soothing retreat was Wolter’s aim when she and her husband started planning the house about eight years ago.
The couple worked with architect Dean Robinson to design the house, which Wolter describes as a transitional style house with French-inspired rooflines and other architectural elements.
“I knew we needed a space and rooms that could grow and change with our family. And we knew we needed a lot of open space because I’m one of five children and my husband is one of seven, so when we get the families together, it can turn into quite the crowd,” she said.
And with a living/dining room that measures 20 by 30 feet, Wolter’s family and friends have plenty of space to gather for holidays, birthdays and other festive occasions.
While the living/dining room area boasts huge dimensions, Wolter manages to keep the space warm and inviting with the help of some of her signature designs.
The dining area has a 16-foot banquette on one side of the dining room table with plenty of room for big family meals.
“The banquettes have become one of my signatures. There’s also one in the kitchen, and that’s probably my favorite spot in the whole house. That’s where I sit and check my emails in the mornings,” Wolter said.
The living area opposite the dining area has a sofa, chairs and fireplace that invite dinner guests to linger for conversation. The room also incorporates her daughters’ favorite spots in the house, Wolter said.
“We created these little niches with upholstered benches, and the girls love to sit in these and do their homework or read. They’re just great little spots to cozy up and relax,” she said.
Her husband Danny’s favorite spot is probably in the family room adjacent to the kitchen.
The family room features furnishings slipcovered in durable treated linen and 11-foot ceilings accented with exposed, worn wooden beams.
“My husband’s favorite spot is probably the comfy couch in the family room. That’s also where the TV is,” Wolter said, laughing.
But most of the time, visitors to the Wolter’s family room won’t see the television at all. That’s because it is tucked away in a massive, 10-foot-tall antique cabinet with a light-colored, distressed finish.
“It’s a huge piece, but it’s really slim. I think its crusty surface adds a great texture and really sets the tone for the whole room. It’s from Circa Interiors,” she said.
A huge tortoise shell that hangs above the fireplace in the family room is an example of the unexpected elements Wolter said she likes to add in every room.
“I bought that from an antiques dealer and just loved the colors and that it was something a little different,” she said.
Wolter said she also likes helping her clients find things that are a little different to add to their own homes.
“I like to do that with clients, too—find something to use in an unexpected way to mix it up a little,” she said.
Wolter has been working on residential and small commercial projects at the helm of her own design firm for several years now but said she was initially reluctant about getting into the interior design business.
Wolter, who grew up in Tuscaloosa, originally wanted to be a design major at the University of Alabama. But she took one design class and changed her major.
After college, she dabbled in the interior design business for several years by helping friends with their homes and later buying houses, fixing them up and selling them.
“I had two different friends approach me about starting my own business, but any change can be daunting, and it was a little scary at first,” she said.
Wolter said she’s always considered her most important job being a mother to 16-year-old Lucy, 14-year-old Ellie and 12-year-old Ann and was initially worried the demands of owning her own company would take away from her time with her family.
“Juggling it all can be crazy at times, but we make it work, and it helps to have a calming house to retreat to at the end of the day,” she said.
Wolter said she likes working with clients to help them create their own calming retreats.
And to do that, the designer said, she draws on skills she used in her journalism classes at UA.
“I ask a lot of questions when I consult with my clients. I really try to find out how their families live and how they use the space so we can make the best choices for their design,” she said.
Wolter said she often sees a lot of unused space in clients’ homes and works with them to change that.
“You see a lot of living rooms that are the catch-all for inherited furniture and things people really don’t know what to do with or aren’t using,” she said. “I work with them to edit those pieces and find a way to use that space in a practical way.”
The practicality of a space that a family actually uses and enjoys using is something Wolter said she can attest to herself.
“If you can create a calm space that’s well-used, it does make life a lot less chaotic,” she said.