The Circle of Life

Home 6A 1960s Fritz Woehle home returns to glory.

Written by Brett Levine  

Photography by Graham Yelton

For Deanna and Alain Bouchard, restoring their 1960s Fritz Woehle-designed house in Birmingham was a labor of love. “We lived in the home for four years before we began, trying to simply make repairs as we went while we figured out the best way to proceed,” Alain explains. “Previous renovations had made some aspects of the house less than ideal, like having to go out the front door and around to the side of the house to get into the basement,” Deanna explains of their starting point for the renovation.

Initially designed as a circle—one of three homes in Birmingham Woehle designed with a pure geometry, which also included a square home on Green Valley Road and a predominantly triangular home a few blocks away—the patio had long since been enclosed, fundamentally altering the perception of the home’s form. “Kris Nikolich and Marshall Anderson of Design Initiative came up with a fantastic solution,” the Bouchards say. “Their redesign included enclosing the existing patio footprint in a glass and steel enclosure, but opening up the space in its entirety. They then redefined the space with a steel and cable rail that mirrors where the home’s original round perimeter would have ended.”

The result is breathtaking. As the project progressed, Andrew Bryant led the onsite management for the Design Initiative team. He carefully and considerately ensured that the challenges the project presented could be conveyed to the amazing people who would bring them to life. “We weren’t quite sure what to expect,” the Bouchards explain, “but the results speak for themselves. The only significant change this required, which really improved the flow of the house, was to move the front door a few feet forward.” In the home’s original design, the front door was set further into the house, making a journey into the dining room the only available option. Now, with Design Initiative’s enhancements, visitors have a range of options upon entry, but they are more likely to move toward the communal living spaces.

Home 10The build was completed by the team at Philip Woods Home Builder, who carefully worked with a home with almost no right angles. “I can only imagine the challenges a house like this presents,”Alain says with a smile, “but they did an amazing job.” The redesign involved moving only a few internal walls to create new spaces. The home still radiates from its round brick masonry core. It is capped with a translucent skylight that allows in a soft natural light that changes throughout the day. There, the Bouchards’ art collection comes to the fore. A series of Jackson Echols photographs lead one toward a suite of works by Sonja Rieger. Rieger’s works are particularly well represented, with both numerous works from her The Club series as well as a major piece from Dazzling. Speaking of the collection, Alain and Deanna remark, “We’ve been very fortunate to work with Guido Maus at beta pictoris/maus contemporary as we’ve built this collection. He has been instrumental in supporting exceptional works by talented local artists, and one of the motivations for our renovation was to be able to better showcase these works.”

As well as beautiful art, the dining room features several beautiful art deco pieces. Interior decorator Patti Woods suggested the Bouchards recover the chairs in red leather. It captures the brick tones and the highlights of the Bouchards’ many ceramics, providing a pop of color in a room rich with natural materials.

Home 1Off the dining room, each individual room is like a spoke, or, more accurately, a slice of pie. One of the amazing aspects of the home, a combination of Woehle’s original design and Design Initiative’s renovation, is that people flow elegantly through each room rather than simply circling an inner core. Spaces are separated by pocket doors—not usually something someone would comment upon until these are seen—with push-in trigger locks and flush mounts that make their elegance and simplicity incredible.

One of the boldest yet most peaceful rooms is the master bedroom. “We initially had it planned facing inward,” the Bouchards explain. The idea to flip the room, placing the bed in a dialogue with an expanse of picture windows, came from Patti Woods. As she explains, “I couldn’t quite understand why the focus of the room was facing inward. When I suggested we change the room’s orientation entirely, the space simply came into focus.” Woods worked closely with local furniture maker Michael Morrow to custom design a bed that included a curved headboard and built-in side tables. “I knew that a custom piece that included everything they could possibly need would work best,” she explains.

Off the master, a marble tiled bathroom is warm and light. Dark wood cabinets echo the bed, tying the two rooms together. Filtered light comes in through frosted windows, again blurring the distinctions between inside and out. From the bedroom, one flows back into the living room where Woods salvaged and recovered two incredible chairs that had been left by a previous owner. “They were literally falling apart,” she says, “but their shape is incredible. I thought they could be rebuilt and recovered and provide a wonderful link to the home’s history.”  Everything sits on a custom rug designed by local artist Jane Timberlake Cooper.

The heart of the living room is a metal-clad fireplace, its tones, color, and pattern mirroring the rhythms of the masonry nearby. Then, the room opens onto a cable rail system that reveals the true expanse created by glazing the patio footprint. Stairs lead to an additional living area, which doubles as a music room, housing a piano and the Bouchards’ guitars. An Eames lounge provides a relaxing place to view more amazing art, including paintings by Amy Pleasant, John Fields, and Jurgen Tarrasch, as well as a photograph by Bayete Ross Smith.

Home 8Any renovation is a labor of love. Sadly, in Birmingham, classic modernist homes fall victim to the wrecking ball far more often than they are recognized, lovingly restored, and utilized for the significant contributions to architecture that they are. Here, Deanna and Alain Bouchard, working with a talented team willing to focus on the most minute details, were able to restore and enhance one of Birmingham’s most iconic homes for the future. Walking through recently, Woehle himself remarked on the central curves of the masonry core. If only the preservation of significant architecture were at the core of every project.


3 Responses to “The Circle of Life”

  1. Jon Coffelt says:

    Im so glad that this beautiful home was artfully restored and that the owners are enjoying their newly renovated digs. It’s awesome to see a home full of art and design come together the way this one has.

  2. Carla Hamilton says:

    Hats off to the Bouchards and the professionals they employed! The apparent success of this project comes with the recognition of the structure’s architectural significance, the desire to do right by it as well as that of their prominent art collection, and the means to make it all come together. Birmingham is fortunate to have this Fritz Woehle treasure restored so lovingly and the Bouchards are likely very grateful for their time within this beauty’s walls.

  3. Michael Breed says:

    Since 1968 I have been aware of Fritz Woehle’s significant imprint on progressive architecture in Birmingham. Never one to go anywhere near the cookie cutter format that is all too common; even among others that could afford a more creative effort. Too many of Mr. Woehle’s works have been destroyed or altered so much that the original creative concept has been lost.

    I salute the Bouchards, the designers, builders, artists and craftsmen like Michael Morrow, Jane Timberlake Cooper, Amy Pleasant, John Fields, Jurgen Tarrasch, Bayete Ross Smith. Birmingham has great creative resources that typically go unnoticed flying just under the public radar like Guido Maus at beta pictoris/maus contemporary.

    Tradesmen like mason, carpenters, landscapers, etc. and all that have laid hands on this concept should not be overlooked as they all too often left out of public recognition deserve high praise as well. Hopefully the public will have a chance to experience the full impact on a future home tour.

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