Written by Rosalind Fournier//Photography by Edward Badham
At the time Alan Walker developed an interest in collecting mid-century modern furniture pieces, he didn’t even have a place yet to put them. He was thinking of finding and maybe renovating a home in Vestavia Hills—but in the meantime he was living in a house in Hoover with roommates and had to store them wherever he could. “I had a lot of friends joke about how I had a furniture dealership back in the sunroom, because I had the pieces collected back there,” he says, adding that he found several through a local Facebook group called Magic City Modern. “The mid-century pieces really intrigued me. They’re more like works of art than furniture.”
Then a couple of years ago, Walker found the house he was looking for—though it took some vision, because the house, which sits on a quiet, shady street near the Vestavia City Center, was in foreclosure, suffering from neglect and hiding behind so much overgrown foliage it was nearly invisible to passersby. “It needed a lot of work,” he says, “but I saw the lines in it and really liked what I saw as its potential.”
Walker bought it out of foreclosure and dug into the project. From the beginning, he saw the house as a blank canvas and an opportunity to draw on the artistic side of his personality that he inherited from his father, prominent local artist Dirk Walker.
An early revamping began with the windows. The living room at the front of the house had a huge window pane broken up with mullions. It was one of the things that first attracted him to the house, but he wanted to replace it with a storefront window and make one big opening. Then he did the same with a window in the adjacent kitchen. “The open lighting and large, clear windows really bring in a lot of natural light. It makes the space feel bigger, and you get a lot of different reflections off the different materials inside the house.”
Then he tackled the rest of the kitchen, beginning with tearing down a non load-bearing wall that closed off the kitchen from the rest of the house. He also tore out a hodgepodge of old wooden cabinets, replacing them with all-white, high-laminate cabinets he ordered from Ikea (and received, Ikea style, in at least 100 pieces, which he then assembled himself). He topped them with a quartz countertop, also in high-gloss white.
In fact, Walker chose white for the walls, bathroom tiling (previously sea-foam green), vanities and sinks throughout the house. He even whitewashed the home’s original hardwoods with what’s sometimes referred to as a pickled finish to better show off the lines, textures, and colors of the mid-century furniture and design elements that he loves.
“I wanted to go with all white and then dress it up with the colors that make the artwork and pieces stand out,” he explains, adding that a white background lays the groundwork for a design that blends mid-century modern with a minimalist aesthetic. “With a smaller space and wanting it to feel bigger than it is, I placed items strategically and didn’t clutter the walls too much—and when I get new pieces, I swap them out.”
Though Walker is mostly interested in true vintage pieces, he’s seen the mid-century modern look grow in popularity in recent years with retailers coming out with brand-new lines that feature the style, which he welcomes. But he notes that in his case, the look goes beyond just the furnishings, accessories and art. The house itself and even the neighborhood lay claim to a style many consider both trendy and timeless.
“I grew up in Vestavia, and so did my father,” Walker says. “I think the time period when these were built in the 1950s is when that retro style was pretty popular, and my dad says it’s kind of Vestavia’s style.”
In that sense, Walker’s renovation can be seen in the spirit of preservation for a neighborhood he loves. This house, for instance, had sat on the market for a while, camouflaged behind the trees with a drab, faded green exterior. When the purchase finally went through, he kept the classic lines but added new interest with a white-on-gray color scheme accented with an orange door and windows that exude warm lighting at night.
The crown jewel is the mailbox (called a Mod Box) that is an exact replica of a style hugely popular in the ’50s. “It was one of the last things,” Walker says, “and after I put the door in, it kind of tied the place together.”
His neighbors have taken notice. “A couple of times people have mentioned it to me,” Walker says. “I came home one day and found a note in my mailbox: ‘Dear Sir, please continue renovating houses on Old Creek Trail. I love your style of renovating old houses.’”
Walker welcomes the encouragement, because he’s already been thinking the same thing. “I made this house the way I wanted,” he says, “and now I see potential in others. It’s become a thing I’m passionate about, and I guess it brings out my artistic side, putting something together like this.
“So maybe this is a new beginning. That’s kind of where I’ve come to explore the option of doing this again.”