No Fences Makes Good Neighbors


Milo Beloved and Jennifer Gamble create a modern community.

Written by Brett Levine

Photography by Graham Yelton

 

“It’s like renting a vacation home with friends,” says Milo Beloved, speaking of his house and the one of his friend and neighbor Jen Gamble, both located in a quiet neighborhood near Birmingham’s Ruffner Mountain. “I wanted to move here because I wanted to live more simply as I focused on my business Harold & Mod, and this provided me with a great opportunity,” he explains. That sentiment is shared by Gamble, who says that she was “brainstorming with friends about how to be at home with my children more often and to not worry so much about the economics of home ownership.” She and Beloved were exploring East Lake when magic happened. “We were literally driving down the street when we saw some yellow chairs at a yard sale,” Beloved says. “I said, ‘I wish one of these houses would be available,’” Gamble remembers. And in fact, two were, both owned by the same couple and next door to each other. What was more remarkable was that both were architecturally unique and each house met the distinct respective needs of Gamble and Beloved.

Neither had any reservations about the neighborhood or the community in general. “I had lived in Atlanta, and there, the communities are constantly expanding and exploring new areas, so the idea of moving to East Lake was not foreign to me,” Beloved says. “In fact, when I was thinking about becoming part of the neighborhood, I was thinking about it from the perspective of having a unique opportunity to help preserve a community that already exists.” Now, two years later, the neighbors rave about where they live and the wonderful people who live nearby.

“One of the things I most love about living next door to Milo is the sense of openness we have,” Gamble says. “There is a great sense of family between people who are not related, and I love the ways we flow in and out of each other’s lives.” Beloved shares these sentiments, saying that the neighbors really are “going over for a cup of sugar or milk or a bottle of beer or wine.”

While the two share a love for the community, the interiors of each house highlights different design styles with some shared aesthetics. This creates two homes that respect the architectures from which each is built while embodying individuality and innovation.

Beloved’s home is as much a shop and a showroom as it is a living space. His boutique Harold & Mod was literally born inside. “I started out posting images of a lot of the furniture I had on Instagram,” he says. “That transformed into a pop-up shop. One night, there were 125 people here buying things, and I realized I really could make a business from a passion.” Now, his home serves as an incubator for his passions and his ideas.

A chesterfield sofa and a custom wood and metal coffee table by Alabama Funk anchor the living room. The sofa’s days may be numbered: “I have had nine sofas here in the last two years,” Beloved says. “I used to call my design style rustic opulence, but in the past few years, the shapes and curves of midcentury modernism have made me fall in love with that style and period. Because my design style is constantly changing, I have very few sentimental pieces, and the ones that are sentimental are either ones that I have picked up in my travels or ones that have been made for me by friends or have a very personal and intimate meaning.” Unexpectedly, this includes a large painting, Evita, which hangs on the living room wall. “When I started Harold & Mod, my mother, who is vehemently opposed to kitsch, told me that was the one painting I could not sell,” he says, laughing.

In the dining room, midcentury legs hold a table made from a 100-year-old barn door. “I am fascinated by the combination of old and new,” Beloved explains. “I like the patina of age with the streamlined midcentury design.” This love for juxtaposing styles is reinforced by the six white Bertoia chairs that surround the dining table. On the walls are two paintings by Mary Grace Wolnski. “I think it takes time for art to really find its place in a home, so these may start here and be moved somewhere else,” he says. “What I think is important is to begin with art that you love. Where they go is simply a matter of detail.”

Beloved’s eye tends toward the unexpected. In his bedroom, a dresser holds a selection of vintage cologne bottles by Avon. “I am really interested in the masculine shapes,” he says, holding up an example in the shape of a lion. The bedroom also includes an arrow sculpture and a beautiful lamp designed by Zade Denny of Digs Design. “I like being part of the local design community and supporting local designers,” Beloved says. He makes this a key focus area of Harold & Mod by participating in events such as Birmingham Fashion Week. He is also extending his scope into commercial interiors, including his recent project for Wheelhouse Salon in Homewood.

Next door, Gamble’s style is slightly more reserved but no less interesting. “Milo and I share a similar aesthetic,” she explains. “I was thrilled even when we saw these homes because I loved the idea of a craftsman style bungalow.” She has left the interior intact, in part because the architectural features were significant in how she thought about the home. “I love the wraparound porch, the interior arches, and the built-in bookcases,” she says, noting the original characteristics of the 1920s home. Gamble is drawn toward a design style that she describes as combining “natural elements with heirloom pieces and pops of color.”

Gamble and her husband, carpenter Charles Gamble, bring sensitivity to their home with custom herringbone timber benches in the kitchen. “Charles built those with 100-year-old timber salvaged from Chicago,” Gamble says. “It was really the only structural change we made in the house.” The kitchen already featured an original range hood, something she was keen to save, and an open floor plan that carried through to an outdoor area, melding inside and out. “Actually the kitchen itself is an add-on, so there is variation in the flooring, but other than that, the home is entirely original,” she says. One of the hidden benefits is a woodshop downstairs that allowed Charles to construct the herringbone benches onsite.

Other handmade features include the headboard in the bedroom, above which Gamble has hung an antique tobacco-sorting basket. “I love the idea of mixing the functional with the decorative,” she explains. “So something like the tobacco basket is beautiful, but it also reminds me that someone used it to make a living with their hands.” This practical element is important to her; she is a jewelry designer, and she admits that there are similarities between her jewelry and interiors. “I am always inspired by nature first, and maybe that is because I am self-taught,” she says. “As a jeweler, I am fascinated by the many ways metals and gemstones mix, and as a designer, I am more and more interested in the relationships between natural and modern materials.”

Gamble gives a nod to the home’s period style with elegant pieces, including an arts and crafts sideboard, but in general, her approach is one that allows her interiors to constantly evolve. “Whether I find something in a thrift store or a flea market, I like creating stories visually, so my designs are constantly moving and changing,” she says.

Today, when we think of communities, we often think of banal suburban repetition, cookie-cutter similarity, or developer-led architecture. Milo Beloved and Jennifer Gamble remind us that community is none of those things. Their community is not defined by a perimeter fence. It is not defined by a bloodline, by a marriage relationship, by a legal document or by an obligation.

Instead, two friends and their families understand that community is something altogether different in the modern age. Community is something built by love and a mutual respect for shared ideas and values; it is built around shared meals, cups of sugar, bottles of wine, fire pits, yard sales, and barbecues. “Family isn’t just something you are born into,” Gamble says. “We are genuinely invested in each other’s lives, and we all really love that feeling.”

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