Ground Control to Astro-Man


Brian Teasley’s Spaced-Out Renovation

Written By Brett Levine

Photographed by Graham Yelton

 

Although Brian Teasley’s 1896 Avondale home resonates period authenticity from the outside, its interior is a different story entirely. “I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York, where the tendency can be to simply find a midcentury style home and make it authentic,” Teasley explains. “There are certainly some wonderful examples of modern architecture in Birmingham, but when I saw this house, I was as fascinated by its history as I was by its promise.” The previous owner had basically gutted the interior, leaving Teasley an empty shell and endless possibilities. “I knew that the vaulted ceilings and the potential for an open-plan living space would really suit the style of home I wanted, so working with my father and a contractor, I was able to design a space that really met my needs,” he says.

What emerges is a cross between a pop culture museum and a meticulously organized episode of Hoarders. Teasley, the co-owner of Birmingham’s legendary alternative music venue Bottletree, is renowned for having an identifiable sense of interior style that carries over into his personal space. At home, his amazing collections create unique vignettes throughout every one of the living and intimate spaces. The front door opens onto a grand living, dining, and kitchen space punctuated by statement pieces in a variety of media. “Some of the principles that drive my design aesthetic are that pieces should be meaningful and, where possible, they should be local,” he says. “So not only do I find a lot of my furnishings in antique, secondhand, and vintage stores in Birmingham, but I also collect art by a lot of the amazing local artists we have in working in Birmingham.” Teasley’s assertion is evident in the many pieces by Paul Cordes Wilm, Daisy Winfrey, Merrilee Challiss, Byron Sonnier, and Wes Frazer that fill what seems to be every available inch of wall space. Teasley takes his focus on the meaningful and the local even deeper on a wall covered with Seattle Space Needle memorabilia. “My grandfather actually worked on the space needle,” he says. “So apart from my love of it because it represents both modernism and space, it also has a deeply personal significance.

“I think my interiors also blend my love for midcentury modernism with my love for folk art,” he says. “So while my house isn’t midcentury, I furnish it with great midcentury finds, and then I use folk art as one of the primary aesthetics. I got really into folk art as the result of a great film called Athens GA: Inside Out that not only focused on bands I loved, but featured a great interview with Howard Finster. Now, while I don’t specifically collect folk art, I am interested in artists who explore ideas that evolve from the folk art tradition. Artists like Paul Wilm and Byron Sonnier really understand how folk and pop art intersect, which is one of the reasons I am really drawn to their works.”

The living room is furnished with comfort in mind but design in focus. A 50s teak sofa, a 60s chrome and wool oversized sofa, a 50s split-section loveseat with a built-in desk and, if anyone is so inclined, a vintage beauty parlor chair complete with dryer all provide seating. “Whether it is a wall or a room, I always start by filling out big spaces first, and then think of it as an expanding universe,” Teasley says. “I am fascinated by the odd geometry of things.” Given the open floor plan, the bar, and the four-seat kitchen table also provide additional seating for larger crowds, and each adds a unique design element. The living room is also filled with mirrors and other metallic and reflective surfaces. “I like the idea of mirrors and other materials that can create or enhance existing light without having to add light,” Teasley says. “I am partial to ambient lighting and task lighting instead of overhead lighting, as it creates a better sense of intimacy.”

The kitchen and bar are exercises in organization and innovation. “I knew from the outset that one of the biggest shortcomings in any kitchen was storage,” Teasley says. “When we were designing this kitchen, we planned a variety of cabinets, drawers, and alcoves.” A small bar at the kitchen’s entrance defines an intimate space, complete with a bar-height table sporting a Saarinen-style white tulip base and a pair of vintage smoked Lucite chairs. The storage, complete with an intricate labeling system, continues for the kitchen’s length and then crosses to the counter area. “I am really fascinated by type as a design element, so I wanted to use both type and typefaces as a way to decorate and define specific areas,” Teasley says. “It is also a tongue-in-cheek homage to Adam West’s Batcave. If you go back and watch those episodes, you will see everything is labeled ‘Batman’s Experiments’ or ‘Batman’s Disguises.’ I just thought it might be fun to blend the ideas of graphic design and pop culture in a way that would be functional and fun but incredibly subtle at the same time.” An oval Formica table surrounded by four tabouret-style metal chairs brings a 20s-style art deco element to Teasley’s modernist interior.

A love of graphic culture and a respect for artistic creativity come to the forefront in, of all places, the powder room. There, an incredible mural by Paul Wilm encompasses the entire space. “My bathroom is an homage to the Creature from the Black Lagoon,” Teasley says. Wilm’s mural wraps from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, telling a story in fragmentary, cinematic moments. “I wondered what it would be like to immerse myself in a story over and over, and I have always loved the story of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Basically, it is simply a tale of unrequited love.” A television screens the film, without sound, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “It is always on, which means that eventually you will see the entire film, just obviously not sequentially,” he says. So the creature swims across the totality of one wall, frozen in time while the object of his affection disappears just out of reach ascending through the bubbles of another.

Across the hall is Teasley’s bedroom and the careful synergy of pop and modernism does not stop at the door. Inside, bright green paint adorns the walls. “I actually have this room soundproofed because I practice my drums in it, so I wanted a color that was really bright to counter the lack of natural light,” he explains. The high ceiling and happy color makes any lack of light imperceptible. A wall full of framed Man or Astro-man? posters reinforces both Teasley’s identity as the drummer for this well-respected band and his love of pop-punk aesthetics. The folk aesthetic also makes an appearance: On one wall, a packing case for a Philco air conditioner has been fashioned into a valance, while on the other a 1950s wall unit has been reassembled as built-in storage. Strangely, the unit is bordered on the interior by vintage yardsticks. “The unit wasn’t particularly square when I salvaged it, so I spent some time trying to figure out how I could reassemble the pieces and make it better. First, I clad the back wall with burlap, and then after I’d attached all the components, I was able to use the vintage yardsticks as trim along all the exposed edges. It’s something I like to call redneck geometry,” Teasley says.

Teasley’s comments may poke fun, but they hide a deep knowledge of midcentury architecture and design. From the Geiger counter in the bedroom to the Preway-style vintage freestanding electric fireplace in the living room, Teasley’s furniture and furnishings reflect a careful, if eclectic and individual, approach to collecting. From a collection of vintage flashlights that recall Raymond Loewy’s design work on midcentury automobiles to a selection of metal compasses that highlight how design can alter a seemingly identical object, Teasley focuses his eye on collections both large and small, expansive and intimate.

When he began renovating his house, Teasley simply started from the perspective of understanding that a house built in 1896 in Birmingham was likely to have good bones, and since it had been pared back to its most basic elements, there wasn’t anything it couldn’t become. A year and a half of renovations transformed the house into a place that does not proclaim itself loudly from the outside; its period façade is content to simply fit comfortably among its historic neighbors. But inside, Teasley has transformed it into a place where design and art are given pride of place and where the classic and the contemporary sit comfortably together. Teasley’s principles for collecting inform everything that he does and everything he acquires. And although the house appears full, Teasley is open to the idea that there is always room for more. “Although I am not actively collecting anything at the moment, you never know,” he says. “I like going places without an agenda.”

 

2 Responses to “Ground Control to Astro-Man”

  1. Teresa Stahl says:

    What a piece of history along with your energy & time. It is magical! And you do have the best Realtor around!
    Regards,
    Teresa Stahl

  2. Phil says:

    Wow! This isn’t hipster at all! LOL

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