By Donna Cornelius
Journal features writer
The 2014 Decorators’ ShowHouse inspired designers with its Mediterranean style, which includes spacious rooms and an open floor plan.
But the openness of the 12,000-square-foot Villa D’Ambra in Hoover’s Greystone neighborhood also meant some designers had to use a bit of teamwork.
The rooms chosen by Robin McCorquodale of Castle Creations and Donald Jay Howton of Howton and Associates aren’t separated by walls. While Howton’s dining room is a defined space, it opens onto McCorquodale’s living room.
Both designers used a common starting point: the blue tones in a dining room rug that belongs to homeowners Michael and Michelle D’Ambra.
In the living room, McCorquodale incorporated blue hues with fabrics and some accent pieces—then mixed in another color.
“We pulled the blue from the dining room rug and livened it up with apple green,” McCorquodale said.
Howton used blue on the dining room walls, choosing Benjamin Moore’s Whipple Blue paint, he said.
There’s still time to see the ideas of these two designers and others participating in this year’s ShowHouse. The Alabama Symphony Orchestra fundraiser is open until May 11.
ShowHouse hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays and 2-6 p.m. on Sundays.
Tickets are $20 and available at the door. Groups of 20 or more can get tickets for $15 each.
For more information, visit ShowHouse-Al.com or call 980-7242.
There’s no parking allowed at the ShowHouse. Shuttle parking is at the Church at Brook Hills, 3145 Brook Highland Parkway. The last shuttle leaves one hour before the house closes each day.
When ShowHouse visitors enter the foyer, they immediately see the high-ceilinged, expansive living room. While living rooms are traditionally on the formal side, designer Robin McCorquodale wanted this space to be both elegant and approachable.
“I wanted to invite someone to be comfortable in this room,” he said. “This is not only a villa–it’s a home.”
Those who attend the ShowHouse year after year know the Castle Creations designer always makes an impact with color. This year, he blended blue and apple green. The star of that colorful combination is the sofa fabric.
“My favorite thing in the room is the floral linen on the sofa,” he said.
Two chairs show different ways to use blue. A wing chair’s fabric is blue embroidery on white, while another chair wears a tufted leopard print for a more lighthearted look.
Two chaise lounges, covered in apple green chenille in a tone-on-tone herringbone pattern, are mirror images of each other.
“One is a lefty and the other is a righty,” McCorquodale said.
The sofa and end tables are gilded but with contemporary lines, he said. And he’s especially proud of the tea set he’s displayed on the coffee table.
“Try to find blue and green china—it’s hard,” he said, smiling. “This is called Forget Me Not.”
ShowHouse visitors will find another memorable piece in the room: a reproduction walnut secretary-bureau.
“It was made in England from reclaimed walnut,” McCorquodale said. “The details are what I love. It has detailed pigeonholes and banded drawers, and the faux books in the design are actually hiding places.”
Over the fireplace are three gilded pieces that the designer calls “The Incurable Collector.” He hung them vertically to show off a striking display of blue and white pieces.
More gilded furniture belonging to the homeowners is in the foyer, which McCorquodale also decorated.
“These gilded pieces are appropriate for a villa,” he said. “They welcome you in a grand fashion.”
Donald Jay Howton
Jay Howton and Associates
While homeowners might be willing to think creatively when they’re decorating some rooms, the dining room is often a space where conventional style rules.
Designer Donald Jay Howton wanted to create a more refreshing environment in the ShowHouse dining room.
“This is an elegant room, but I wanted it to have wit, style and grace,” he said.
Dispelling any overly-stilted atmosphere is a large painting of a 1950s-style bathing beauty in a bright blue pool. Elise Remender’s painting, “Emerge,” makes a splash against the room’s blue walls.
“I fell in love with that lady,” Howton said. “I loved her red polka-dot swim cap.”
The designer, who owns Howton and Associates, also chose to display three photographs of downtown Birmingham scenes from the early 1900s. The prints are applied to aluminum, Howton said.
“I thought these complemented the blue wall and also that they would appeal to young people who are living in downtown Birmingham loft spaces,” he said.
On the glass-topped dining room table, which belongs to the homeowners, Howton created an inviting setting with Anna Weatherley china on L’Objet chargers, Waterford stemware and Rogers flatware. The placemats are hand-embroidered Madeira linen, he said.
The designer named his room “A Collection from a Dream.”
“I envisioned this as being the home of a French diplomat, who would have a collection of things from his travels,” he said.
Unusual items that fit into that theme include a blue hand-blown glass bowl by artist David Thai, who emigrated from Vietnam to Canada, and a grouping of more rustic pieces in one corner of the room. Two whisky jugs and a gathering basket are all from the late 1800s, Howton said.
The designer said he had two reasons for placing a harp in the room.
“First, it’s a nod to the Alabama Symphony,” he said. “Also, going back to the collections of my imaginary couple, the harp seems to be something you might see in their home.”
This is Howton’s seventh year to participate in the Decorators’ ShowHouse, he said.
A Contemporary Read
Stylish bookworms will feel right at home in Perry Umphrey’s library, where fuchsia and raspberry pop against grey, white and silver.
The designer said he drew those colors from an oversized abstract painting that was his inspiration for the room.
“It’s by an Atlanta artist, and I bought it at an estate sale,” Umphrey said. “What you see in it depends on the person, but it has lots of movement.”
The room already had built-in bookcases. Behind the shelves, Umphrey installed raspberry-painted boards.
“Anything you put in front of them will stand out, and they can easily be removed if you want to change the color,” Umphrey said.
A club-style sofa combines charcoal and silver, and two modified wing chairs are sleekly upholstered in faux white leather. Umphrey bought a floor lamp base at a secondhand store, he said, and then topped it with a custom lampshade in fuchsia and silver.
ShowHouse visitors should take their time in order not to take in the details in the room, Umphrey said. There’s a teacup that came from an Istanbul bazaar and a Frabel glass peach. On the draperies, tassels have tiny silver caps.
Umphrey said his favorite thing in the room is one that might easily be missed. Visitors should look closely to see a miniscule glass figure of a man that’s perched on a table edge.
The designer said he also was pleased with the way one of his imaginative ideas turned out. He dipped artificial flowers in white plaster to give them a sculpture-like quality.
Umphrey said he wanted the library to “look like a Tiffany box.”
“This is a perfect spot,” he said. “You could sit here by yourself or with guys or girlfriends.”
Umphrey also was the mentor for a team of Virginia College School of Design students who worked on the ShowHouse’s home office.
“They envisioned it as being the office of an up-and-coming shoe designer,” he said. “We used shoes for artwork.”
The room is lively, with bright colors, zebra rugs and a sleek drafting desk.
Here, too, details aren’t forgotten. Umphrey’s students added burlap flowers to a lampshade and cleverly used belts to tie back the draperies.
The Villa D’Ambra was an excellent choice for the ShowHouse, Umphrey said.
“I am in love with this house because it’s a contemporary interpretation of an Italian villa,” he said.
Cahaba Design Group
To update the ShowHouse kitchen, designer Kelly Kirkland transformed two major elements of the room: the backsplash and the cabinets.
“I designed the backsplash tile with a custom mold so beveled pieces can interlock with non-beveled,” she said. “The flat tiles have a flat finish, and the raised tiles have a glazed finish.”
The dove grey tiles are from Triton Stone, she said, and were installed by Magic City Tile.
Kirkland freshened up the cabinets by glazing them and adding new hardware to the doors and drawers. The new pulls, with an antique pewter finish, were provided by Southern Pipe, she said.
While the cabinets and backsplash underwent major changes, Kirkland filled the kitchen with eye-catchers on a smaller scale. She made a wreath from silver trays, attaching bowls to large platters. Instead of a light fixture over the island, she used rope to suspend a plank that holds candles.
“We have three different barstools for an industrial look,” Kirkland said. “All the heights are adjustable.”
One barstool with footrests has a leather seat. Another stool’s seat is metal, and the third is covered in fabric.
The kitchen windows do more than let in light from the garden.
“For the windows over the sink, we attached small bud vases to the panes. You can put flowers in the vases and add some color,” Kirkland said.
Designer Jean Clayton of Christine’s used a butterfly motif in the adjoining breakfast room, so Kirkland decided to mount butterfly-themed art on the kitchen windows that look out on the backyard.
On the countertops are a carved footed tray that holds goblets, an open-ended gathering basket and a wooden spice pot from Nepal. An antique scale is on the island.
This is Kirkland’s first time to design a ShowHouse room. The Cahaba Design Group owner is a faux finisher as well as a designer, she said.