Written by Lindsey Osborne
Photography by Edward Badham
When designer Leigh Ann Harris and her husband, Brent, made the move to Birmingham last year—both for Brent’s job and to be closer to Leigh Ann’s family—they knew they wanted to invest in a fixer upper. “We wanted an older home that we could rehab and put our own spin on. We figured that since we’re picky, we’d want to tear everything out and do it ourselves even if we bought something updated,” explains Leigh Ann. With a history of flipping houses and the promise of help from her family in their arsenal of tools, the pair took the jump together and purchased their Bluff Park home in December of 2014, though they didn’t move in until the following May. “We liked the home and its potential, but we really fell in love with the Bluff Park community,” she says. “It has a very quaint ‘small town’ feel, which we love.”
Since then, they have brought their 1938 home into the 21st century, while maintaining—and in fact restoring—much of its original charm. Like any old house, it came complete with lots of quirks and great bones that the Harrises were excited to reveal again. “When we purchased the home, it was having a bit of identity crisis. Various owners over the years had left their marks on the home—some good, some bad, and some interesting!” Leigh Ann says. “We really wanted to take the home back to its roots, when it was just a simple cottage on top of a hill.” Indeed, their home is like stepping inside of a coastal retreat in Maine, though one glance out of their expanse of dining room windows reminds you they’re right on the Bluff in Birmingham (and reminds Leigh Ann that she needs to learn how to do something with figs, since they have a budding fig tree right in their backyard.)
The couple, along with Leigh Ann’s parents and a few subcontractors (they did hire a plumber), got to work right away, and their initial rehab took about four months to complete. Much of the inside of their home was filled with wood paneling (and in some cases, wood paneling covered by wallpaper and paint), and they chose to maintain that original feature. They stripped the wallpaper and updated the paneling with fresh coats of white paint throughout. They closed off part of the entryway (it was originally double its current size) and used that space for a brand-new, modern master bathroom—complete with a decadent soaking tub, of course. Their master bathroom is in what they believe was once the living room, which means it’s complete with a working fireplace, which they painted white. They also added a wall to one of the guest bedrooms (which have the most inviting bed-and-breakfast-by-the-sea feel) and redid the floors throughout.
Leigh Ann, who owns both Burrow Interior Design and Sweet Auburn Studio (a jewelry shop that you can find on Etsy), carried out the New England cottage vibe throughout her home. Bright whites and calming hues of sea green mix alongside a collection of curated antiques and art. “[My favorite part] is our living room,” Leigh Ann says. “It’s bright and airy and has a great picture window—the sunset views are amazing!” She admits that as an interior designer herself, she will likely always be adding to the house. “I don’t think I’ll ever be done—much to my husband’s dismay!” she says. They do have a couple of bigger projects to complete, namely a kitchen renovation and an update to the outside of the house. “We’d like to do some exterior work to bring back that cottage appeal,” she explains, noting that they envision painting the current brick—likely white, but they’re going to think on it for awhile longer.
Even with the extra updates on the horizon, the home is exactly what they were looking for and they—along with their cats, Mini and Nimi, who especially enjoy the sunroom—love calling it home: “I think this could definitely be our forever home,” says Leigh Ann.