A Nice Little Escape

One young couple renovates by letting the home shine through.

Written by Brett Levine

Photography by Graham Yelton

Styling by  Kathy D’Agostino


For Cana and Andy Grooms, renovating their 1957 home began with appreciating just what it was they had. “It was a one-story ranch that was a little rough around the edges,” Cana explains. “But it had an original stone fireplace with great character and these unusual plaster domes set into the ceiling in the dining room and the hall.” Rather than simply gut the house and begin again, they decided that the project was more about understanding how the spaces could be reworked than it was about a clean slate.

Hospitality meets humor on the front porch with a print by Yellowhammer Creative reminding visitors that “It’s Nice to Have You In Birmingham.” Through the turquoise front door, the house does not instantly reveal itself. Instead, visitors are greeted by the simplicity of floor-to-ceiling warm wood paneling, an Eames shell chair, and a metal niche holding a flower. The niche is lined with the same metal used to construct a custom range hood, which comes into view later, only after transitioning past the custom concrete combination island and shelving unit that transforms into a bar. The bar was made by John Ward of Concrete Farmer, a local Birmingham company. “The counter was poured in place,” Cana says. The concrete bar now also provides a nice foundation for vignettes of Cana’s small prints and objects, including a handmade cutting board by Joanna Ballentine of the Birmingham company Felix Glenn.

bmetro_grooms_016Working with the team at Bilt in Alabama, the couple reconfigured the layout, turning a compact kitchen into an expansive, open-plan space. “It was completely closed-off,” Cana says. “It had saloon doors on one end and a swinging door on the other. Now, one of the most incredible aspects of the kitchen is the element of surprise that you get when you first see it as you come in past the entryway. We removed the breakfast nook since we had both a dining room and the bar. It seemed better to simply put in lower cabinets and a window.” So now the saloon doors have definitely swung shut on the prior renovation, leaving an open expanse between the kitchen and the dining room. “Entertaining is my favorite thing on earth,” Cana says. “It was really important to create a space where I could be with my guests while I was cooking or preparing meals.”

An eclectic mix of industrial, vintage, midcentury, and modern touches characterize Cana’s and Andy’s design styles. “I don’t shy away from a variety of textures and materials,” Cana explains. This is clear in the dining room’s nine-foot table, which is large but light. “The table was made by Urban Wood Goods. It was made with wood recycled from a barn outside Chicago,” she says. The Groomses’ love of the handmade, particularly in relation to handcrafted furniture, is further seen in a clean chair with elegant lines nearby. “This chair is made by the Plenty Design Co-op, which is based in Birmingham,” Cana says. “We really try to support creative people working locally, and chairs like these are beautiful and beautifully made.” And when they are not buying locally made pieces, the two still enjoy shopping locally. The red metal barstools came from Leaf and Petal.

Cana uses her graphic design training to create unique works of art that are found throughout their home. “I am very resourceful when it comes to art,” she says with a smile. “I collect prints, and as a graphic designer, I enjoy making my own works, although I rarely have the time for it that I wish I had.” A pair of works over the sofa were constructed by piecing together images from Kinfolk magazine. One of the works in the dining room was purchased because it embodied a graphic mix of vintage and modern imagery in a clean, defined way. At times, the works are deeply personal. Over the sofa, a colorful painting was a gift to Andy’s father from one of his patients. In each instance, the works embody an idea, evoke a memory, or explore a possibility.

bmetro_grooms_038Their style is eclectic yet practical, which is clear in their furniture choices. “Andy really loves midcentury classics,” Cana explains. An Eames lounge and ottoman anchor the living room while a Gus Modern sofa sits nearby. In the dining room a pair of upholstered chairs sit at the heads of the table, which is  flanked by café tables on each side.

Though clean-cut, their home offers true playfulness, especially in two particular places. In the kitchen, a door is painted with chalkboard paint. Not simply a fad or a fashionable idea, this is literally a canvas for Cana’s ideas. “The majority of the time, it is a to-do list or goals for the week. But if we host a party, I’ll put the menu on it. Sometimes it is just a design or an illustration. I probably spend more time on it than I should,” she says.

And at the far end of the dining room, by the windows, is a hammock. Cana explains that after seeing one in a friend’s cozy New York apartment during an internship, it became something she wanted to do. “It is really amazing,” she says. “After dinner, here, since we are not in front of the TV, it is really a place to totally relax. I sleep like a baby in that hammock.”

Both the idea of relaxing and the whimsical sense of humor continue in one bedroom where a series of Polaroid prints, rather than a single artwork, occupies a wall. Over the bed, a bare branch hangs, taking the place of the ubiquitous taxidermied or cardboard pair of antlers making its presence felt in contemporary interiors today. Here, one of Cana’s preferred palettes—“I like black, white, and grey,” she says—comes to the fore, creating a quiet, relaxing space.

Cana and Andy Grooms have taken a home with potential and are slowly and lovingly making it their own. With an understanding of how to make it modern without necessarily taking it back to the studs, they are respecting the features that gave it the character that made them love it in the first place. From opening spaces to create clear views to installing windows to let light in, this midcentury ranch house is receiving the attention it needs to be a lived-in and loved home for years to come. It is a place of peace and quiet, away from the city even while being right in its center. It is a home surrounded by trees but with beautiful glimpses of Birmingham. It is, in the words of Cana and Andy Grooms, “a nice little escape.”

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