Culturally Contemporary

Items from this couple’s travels blend the homeowner’s French and Italian roots together to create a modern masterpiece

Written by Vicki Johnson

Photography by Beau Gustafson

Parisian transplant Martine Sebbag moved to Birmingham over 35 years ago and has been a successful hairstylist in the Mountain Brook area for 30 years. She was introduced to her now husband, Vincenzo Guarcello, a Sicilian who has now been here for 24 years, through a mutual friend who is half-Italian, half-French. Now they’ve woven their roots together in a modern home in Birmingham.

After 10 years of apartment life, they found a house in the area they wanted to call home and purchased the property 16 years ago. The house had a great location — close to both work and school — but it needed some improvements.

“It was an ugly, traditional, one floor, American 1940s home,” Sebbag says.  Renovations and remodeling began immediately as the couple spent years working on sections of the house bit by bit.

In 2009, they decided to complete the renovation of all renovations. The seven- month process transformed the dated, traditional home into a contemporary livable space that suited their needs. And the 3000 square-foot-home underwent rapid changes. The now downstairs was completely gutted and redone (although the layout remained the same), and a second upstairs level was added.

When discussing options with her architect, Sebbag had a specific look in mind for the façade of the house and was adamant that it not look like a traditional house. “I did not want a beach-y looking house, but also one that was not too modern or cold,” she says. “It’s a mixture really of modern flair and open spaces.”

Light was an important element they wanted to incorporate into the remodel. “I wanted to open it up,” Sebbag notes. “I wanted big windows, and I wanted light inside the house. The house we had before had small windows, and it was dark. I wanted to see nature, and I wanted to see lots of light, so we opened it up and raised the ceilings.”

Every window in the house is custom made and energy efficient. In the dining room and den, floor-to-ceiling windows draw in the light. In the foyer, a 21-foot ceiling and geometric windows add drama and showcase the glass and metal chandelier that emulates cascading icicles dripping off a tree branch.

The four-bedroom, four-bath home has been transformed into 4000 square feet that now consists of a large master suite and two additional bedrooms, two full baths and three half baths, a new kitchen, dining room, living room and multi-purpose exercise/office/library and playroom area.

Sebbag notes that the remodel was also inspired by their needs for later in life and the ability to have easier, more fluid access around the house. “We did build this with the intention to have our old days here because everything is on the ground floor,” she says. “The laundry room, bedroom, bathrooms, kitchen, it’s all on one plane.”

And the house is all about practicality. Sebbag and Guarcello spend a lot of time entertaining in both the dining room and kitchen with small dinner parties. The spacious, open kitchen allows them to cook and entertain simultaneously. The custom kitchen cabinets are easy to clean, and the material reflects a lot of light. The walls, a soft gray color, are painted with outdoor-quality paint that is washable and durable.

Perhaps the most striking piece is the dining room table. Made of leather that’s been coated with a high-gloss finish, the purple and gray hues melt into each other and draw in the eye for a closer look. Not only does the table seat 16, but each of the eight pairs of dark gray chairs has a different geometric -shaped cutout back that adds some fun to the space. “I was really desperate to find a modern table to go into that big room,” Sebbag says. “When I saw it I just fell in love with it immediately.”

Two large crystal-ball chandeliers hang in the kitchen and dining room and punch up the rooms with glamour. The Canadian-made chandeliers feature Egyptian crystal and an elegant cascading design.

The hardwood flooring, a red cherry wood from South America, has  a warm, rich color and flows seamlessly between the rooms. The décor is a very eclectic mix of styles. “I like more modern, clean-cut design, although I like to look like I live in it, so a little mess doesn’t bother me,” Sebbag says, laughing.

As far as her design choices, Sebbag is not afraid of color and insists on having lots in her house. A bright, burnt-orange rug pairs beautifully with rich, dark-gray leather sofas and a granite and metal coffee table in the den.

The living room features buttery-colored leather armchairs and a sofa, a glass coffee table, a custom-built entertainment center that houses many collectibles and a large painting by E. Abeshaus that Sebbag picked up on a trip to Israel. The painting, titled “All is Vanity,” is a self-portrait of the artist’s life painted with gold leaf and features Russian money and a locket of his own hair.

Much of the vibrant art on the walls was done by Sebbag, who has been painting abstracts and still lifes with acrylic and oil for 25 years. The sculptures and art found around the house has been collected on the couple’s travels all over the world. From a sculpture of a child made from Alabama stone to hand- blown glass from Murano, Italy, a sculpture from Michigan and another from Israel, each has an interesting story to go along with it.

For homeowners Sebbag and Guarcello, their home is uniquely theirs. They’ve filled it with collectibles, striking furniture, art and items from all over the world. Each piece helps create a home rich in culture, history and style.  •


•Architect: Dick Pigford, Architecture Works, LLC.

•General Contractor: Aztec Building

•Paint Colors: Benjamin Moore “Carrington Beige”, master bedroom in Benjamin Moore “Abington Putty”

•Furnishings and Accessories: carpeting by Hiltz-Lauber; bedding, sofa, mirror from At Home in Homewood; rug from King’s House; custom built cabinet by S& H Cabinet Works; a mixture of family heirlooms and select pieces picked by the homeowner’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law

•Concrete flooring: Jeffco Concrete Contractors in Tuscaloosa-downstairs concrete stained in Sonora tan

•Landscape Architect/Design: Greg Sawyer from Earth Works Landscape Supply, LLC

•Horse ring and driveway: Chris and Michael Glenn from Glenn Contracting and Paving Co., Inc. in Birmingham

•Barn doors, stall fronts and windows: Lucas Equine Equipment in Kentucky

•Lighting Fixtures/Backsplash: Crossville Stone and Tile in Mountain Brook

•Kitchen Design/Appliances: custom cabinetry, GE Stainless Steel appliances

•Stained concrete surfaces: Urban Earth in Birmingham- kitchen sink in mocha, kitchen island in baked oyster, tack room counter in Betsy Brown, and master bath counter in Willoby with scooped his and hers sinks

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