By Keysha Drexel
When the living room of Kate and Ryan Thompson’s home on Woodfern Drive in Homewood started looking like a giant toy box a few years ago, the couple knew it was time to move out of the 1,250-square-foot home to a bigger house that would better accommodate their growing family.
But there was just one problem–they didn’t want to move.
“We bought that first house on Woodfern Drive in November of 2006 when we were newlyweds and it was perfect for us–for a while. When we found out we were expecting our second son, we knew we needed more space, but we loved being in Homewood,” Kate said.
So the couple embarked on a home search that was more about community than closet space.
“We really had to weigh our priorities when it was time to move out of our starter home,” Ryan said. “It came down to the fact that we were willing to sacrifice square footage because we knew we didn’t want to move very far.”
And they didn’t. In June, the family moved less than a mile away to a home on Roseland Drive in the heart of city they couldn’t bear to leave.
The Craftsman style house, which was built in the 1940s, gave the Thompsons the extra room they needed to enjoy with their sons, 2-year-old Phipps and 5-month-old Oliver.
“It had everything we wanted–a playroom, an additional den, a nice master suite and a large, fenced-in backyard sitting on a great corner lot,” Kate said.
But remember that sacrifice Ryan talked about earlier?
“Yeah, that came in the form of the kitchen in the new house. While everything else in the house was exactly what we were looking for, the kitchen was just the opposite,” Kate said. “It was small, dark and closed off from the heart of the house.”
But the Thompsons had a vision.
“We were inspired to think outside the ‘small Homewood house’ box and think about a way to transform the space into something that would work for our family,” Kate said.
The couple’s main objective when planning the renovation was to open up the kitchen so that it flowed better with the rest of the house.
“We wanted to be able to see the kids if we’re working in the kitchen and they’re playing in the living room,” Ryan said. “Our main objective was to make it more open and more modern.”
Kate said it was important to lighten the mood of the dark, boxy kitchen.
“Both of our families live out of town, and so when everyone’s visiting, we need a big space to entertain and for everyone to get together,” she said.
The couple asked some friends in Homewood who had recently renovated their house to recommend a contractor for their kitchen project
“Our friends used Willow Homes for their addition and renovation project, and we were very impressed with their results,” Ryan said. “Having that recommendation from our friends gave us a lot of comfort during the process.”
After talking to the crew at Willow Homes, the couple decided the best course of action would be to tear down a wall that separated the kitchen and the dining room.
“Then the grand gutting began,” Kate said. “The demolition started on the Fourth of July weekend. All of the cabinetry was removed, and the ceilings had that popcorn finish and that had to be removed.”
A builder who came in to remove the cabinetry struck up a conversation with the couple and suggested they reconfigure the kitchen, Kate said.
“He was really helpful and suggested moving things around to get more bang for our buck,” she said. “We couldn’t make the kitchen a whole lot bigger than it was, but we could improve its functionality.”
Before the renovation, the kitchen sink faced out to the street, but the Thompsons decided to move the sink so that the window above it provides a view to the large backyard.
“That way I can keep an eye on the kids if they’re in the backyard and I’m at the sink,” Kate said.
The couple said they knew they wanted a bright, timeless feeling for their knew kitchen.
That’s until they came across some samples of white marble from Alabama.
“We were really hung up on choosing the stone for the countertops, and then we both just fell in love with this beautiful white marble that comes from right here in Alabama,” Kate said. “We were hesitant about going with the white marble, though, because we were concerned about taking care of it.”
But in the end, the marble became the key piece in the couple’s redesign plan.
“We decided to go with the marble and just be careful with it,” Ryan said. “Ultimately, it’s what we built everything around in the rest of the kitchen.”
The couple added a stainless steel farmhouse sink to coordinate with the stainless steel refrigerator and dishwasher already in the kitchen. They also added a new stainless steel gas range, much to Kate’s delight.
“I grew up with an electric range and never really enjoyed cooking until I got married and we had a gas range,” Kate said. “It’s completely different than cooking on an electric range, and it was definitely a must-have in the new kitchen.”
Kate said she was definitely dreaming of cooking on that new gas range during the five weeks it took to complete the kitchen renovation.
“I think we used our toaster oven so much during that time that I didn’t want to see it for a while once the new kitchen was complete,” Kate said.
Ryan said the family put its grill to good use during the kitchen renovation and were reminded of one of the many reasons they decided to stay in Homewood.
“We’re two blocks away from Oxmoor Road where you have so many great restaurants,” he said. “We definitely took advantage of being close to Saw’s (BBQ) and New York Pizza.”
Having the contractor living about five minutes from their home also helped make the renovation project go faster, Kate said.
“Jason Hale was the contractor, and he lives here in Homewood and would pop in to make sure everything was going well,” she said. “It was like having a neighbor helping you with your kitchen renovation, and that’s another example of why we love Homewood so much.”
Neither Kate nor Ryan is a Birmingham area native. Both came to the Over the Mountain area to attend college at Samford University.
Ryan grew up in Collierville, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis, and Kate grew up in Social Circle, Ga., a small rural town about 45 miles east of Atlanta.
The couple met the second week of their freshman year at Samford and will celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary in April.
Ryan has a bachelor’s degree in history from Samford and a juris doctorate from the Cumberland School of Law. He’s an attorney at Burr and Foreman LLP. Kate earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Samford, worked for six years at Southern Living and is now a stay-at-home mom.
“After graduation, we both got jobs here and were really glad we got to stay here,” Ryan said. “We loved the convenience of Homewood, of being so close to downtown Birmingham but living in this very welcoming community where you can pretty much walk anywhere you need to go.”
Kate said growing up in a small town in Georgia makes her appreciate Homewood’s walkability, which recently earned the city the state’s Most Walkable City title.
“When you live in a rural place, you have to drive everywhere, and you couldn’t get the stroller out and walk with the kids just anywhere,” she said. “Homewood offers the kind of lifestyle I always wanted.”
Ryan said he likes that he and his neighbors know each other and that he doesn’t have to go far to get good food or see a good show.
“Homewood offers all the amenities of a bigger city without the traffic and the noise, yet you still have great restaurants and so many options when it comes to art, music and other cultural events,” he said.
And now that they have two sons, the couple says one of their favorite things about their Roseland Drive home is its proximity to the elementary school Phipps and Oliver will attend in a few years.
“We’re within two blocks of Edgewood Elementary School, and we envision the boys being able to walk to school every day,” Kate said. “When I was a kid, I never saw anyone walk to school unless it was on TV. I’m glad we’re raising our children in this community.”
And while they updated and renovated the Roseland Drive home’s kitchen to make it better fit their lifestyle, the Thompsons said they were careful to preserve the house’s original character.
“This house holds the stories of families before us, and we realize that is part of the charm of this house, so we didn’t want to come in and completely take away that charm,” Kate said.
The couple refinished the original hardwood pine floors in the kitchen as a nod to the home’s past.
“We also kept the original doors and the glass doorknobs because there are some things that you can’t just run to the home store and buy,” Kate said. “It’s good to keep a little of the old mixed in with the new.”