Written by Brett Levine
Photography by Edward Badham
For Buffy and Tim York, their renovation raised the roof—literally. “We were married four years ago,” Buffy explains, “and the house had actually undergone a structural renovation previously. That included literally raising the ceiling height two feet.” Architect Marshall Christie designed that original renovation. We are standing in the kitchen, and the original changes are evident. “If you look closely,” she continues, “you can see where the original ceilings were just by tracing the lines of the cabinets.” What makes this approach so successful is that York, a style blogger, understood the home had good bones. “My approach was simply to unify the house, and to make simple alterations that could make the spaces more livable.”
She started by unifying the color scheme. “I always say that happiness is a choice, and I believe that if you can create a light, inviting environment you can go a long way toward creating a beautiful space,” she says. “I prefer classic shapes, clean lines, and light walls, so I chose to paint the entire lower level ‘cream fleece’ by Benjamin Moore. I think the way to add color to a home is by using a technique I learned from Paige Albright. Paige says, ‘Rugs are art for your floors,’ and she’s right.” This approach is nowhere more evident than in a comfortable sitting room immediately off the kitchen. “We call this ‘the fancy room,’” York says with a laugh. “We don’t really watch a lot of television, so our kids usually just use their iPads.” Instead of a television, the room is filled with original art, including numerous works by renowned Birmingham artist Arthur Stewart. Modernist interiors suggest gems by local architects, while classic figure studies highlight Stewart’s deft hand. “My favorite is actually an unfinished portrait that I sat for,” York says. “Not because it is of me, but because you can see how he went about his process.”
The family also kept the kitchen. “The cabinets were beautiful and they fit well with the house,” she explains. “At first we thought about changing the countertops, but Danny Whitsett with Paintworks helped us devise a better approach. He told us that in fact the butcher-block countertops were good quality, so we stained the perimeter counters and the island two different colors. In fact, they are not stained, but coated in Danish wax.” The result is a durable, functional counter achieved by a few simple enhancements. They also added beams over the dining table to create the experience of rooms. “We didn’t want to partition the spaces in any way, but I knew we could create the experience,” York says. “So simply by using techniques like altering the ceiling textures, we were able to create the illusion of a more formal dining area.”
One of York’s interior design strategies is to constantly mix the exceptional with the everyday. A beautiful dining table is surrounded by chairs that she sourced from World Market. “I think the best approach to take is to understand the look you are trying to achieve and then to be willing to simply find the best pieces that achieve that goal,” she recommends. “What matters is how they look.” This practical approach to major decisions allows her to enjoy smaller extravagances, like working with local artists and artisans to make custom pieces, including a pair of end tables for the family’s living room made by blacksmith Billy Riordan of Atlanta. “Everything he does is designed by him and hand-made by him. He is very creative with his designs and practical at the same time,” York says. “The process starts with pencil sketches and ends with installation. He is a one-man show.” (Find out more about Riordan’s work at forgefiredesigns.com.)
Off the kitchen is a patio that has been converted from outside to inside living. “A major change for our home was simply enclosing part of the patio,” York says. “It allowed us to create a more usable three-season space.” Newly installed ceiling fans circulate air during warmer months while screens keep the space pleasant at all times. “It’s great being able to extend onto the porch for family gatherings and parties,” she says. “That’s the biggest benefit of making such a simple addition to an already existing space.” The original warm red bricks, laid in a herringbone pattern, add visual interest to the patio floor, suggesting complexity and depth.
York’s love for neutrals continues in the bedroom where a Chippendale-style stuffed headboard creates a sense of luxuriousness. “I just wanted the sense of calm that we’ve created on the lower level to continue into this part of our home,” she explains, “so I felt that by unifying the paint colors we could create a sense of flow.” At the foot of the bed are two facing chairs, upholstered in deep grey, set in front of a fireplace. An oriental rug enhances the space, again adding pops of color against the warmth of the oak floors.
Upstairs, on the other hand, is where one might say the action happens. York’s office is the command center for her blog, The Style Gathering, which is building a reputation for strong local partnerships and funny, savvy guidance. Most recently York partnered with West Elm at the Summit to present a night of inspiring style, featuring a range of works by Birmingham’s diverse creative talents. “I love the idea of working with local talent and local businesses to build relationships that highlight what our city has to offer,” she says.
Near her office are the children’s rooms. “I always feel like these are opportunities to really play,” she says with a smile. “There is really nothing more at risk than a coat of paint, but when you think carefully and enjoy the process there are a lot of great, simple ways to make children’s rooms really beautiful and really fun at the same time.” The most unusual aspect of all upstairs are the bears, left for the family one Christmas Eve. “We’ve still never learned who left them,” she shares. “The year after they arrived we put them on our Christmas card hoping someone would tell us it was them!”
York began with an understanding that her home would first and foremost be a place for her family to be comfortable and welcome. From this vision, she has created a space that is classic yet modern and open yet intimate. It allows the family to be together, to have privacy, to work, to eat, to share, and to learn. It is, first and foremost, a space for living. But for York, it is more than that—It is a space for her family to feel comfortable and to have fun. “I think you just control what you can, and let the rest happen!” she says.