Portrait of Perfection


John Hagefstration restores a rare historic home and creates the ideal space to display his remarkable collection of photographs.

Written and photographed by Graham Yelton

March of 2011 was a busy time for John Hagefstration. While working full time in the commercial real estate development business at Graham & Company, he started developing a project with 36 houses on Smith Lake, and he was also serving as chairman of the Greater Birmingham Habitat for Humanity and was president of the Photography Guild. As if that wasn’t enough, he decided to buy and restore one of Birmingham’s most interesting mid-century homes, the Trophy House.

Fifty years prior, Al and Becky Woodward hired famed Birmingham architect Henry Sprott Long to design a guesthouse just 100 feet from their current home on Cherokee Road. The family enjoyed hunting and had acquired an impressive amount of large game trophies, including a full-size black bear. They were looking for the perfect place to display their trophies. The “Trophy House” was featured on the 1962 Advent Church of the Cathedral spring home tour, and Becky Woodward was quoted as saying that “the house was designed for people, animals, and parties and had served well in all capacities.” The Woodward family sold both homes in 1972, and the Trophy House then had separate ownership and began to be remodeled as a residence.

The home sat on the market for some time before Hagefstration finally had a vision for its restoration. Over the years, the home had been expanded and remodeled several times using materials and styles that were not consistent with the original home, so it was in need of extensive remodeling when he purchased it. He hoped that the open floor plan, mid-century style, high ceilings, and vast wall space might give him the opportunity to display his own set of trophies: his photography collection.

He enlisted the services of Ben Shepard and Darla Davis, of Shepard & Davis Architects, to come up with a new floor plan that harmonized the house and made it appear as if the home had been constructed at the same time using the same materials. Every inch of the home was remodeled, including new plumbing, wiring, HVAC, bathrooms, and the demolition of two prior additions to the house so that the floor plan could function better. Hagefstration worked closely with Steve Horton of HD Innovations during the construction phase of the project, which began in May. Seven months later, Hagefstration and his golden retriever, Ally, moved into the house.

BMetro_GY_TrophyHouse_055In preparation for the new home and new style, Hagefstration held a very successful “estate” sale and sold virtually everything that he owned. Almost immediately, he began working with Birmingham interior designer Andrew Brown. “I had seen his work before and really liked his style, which is influenced by living in France and Africa when he was in high school. We worked on assembling unique furnishings that span from the 1920s to present era to create a unique style that fit with the new house, without looking like a typical ‘mid century modern style,’” says Hagefstration. Brown started buying furniture the moment Hagefstration closed on the purchase of the property. That process continued for almost a year after Hagefstration moved into the house. “It really does take a lot of time to get the right layers of furniture, and that process emerges over time,” he says.

The end result is sophisticated and urban, yet comfortable. Upon entering the home, you cannot help but notice the antique 1920s doorknobs, original to the house and purchased from England by Mrs. Woodward herself. The original kitchenette has been transformed into a bar and is perfectly situated by the entry. The vast space in the living room proved to be a challenge, but was utilized by creating several different seating areas, each with a perfectly curated gallery of photos. The staircase at the far end of the room takes you into the newly added kitchen and dramatic dining space. The chic red and gold guest bedroom is also situated on the second floor.

Another short flight of stairs takes you into the cozy library den, Hagefstration’s favorite room, which is lacquered in a dark green paint and lined with photography books and animal themes. “We decided to pay homage to the history of the house by incorporating a good bit of furnishings that use animal heads or forms,” he explains. Just off of the den is the crisp, white office, which is layered from floor to ceiling with black and white photos. Another guest bedroom, this one serene and minimal, sits adjacent to the office.

A series of Brooklyn Bridge images are assembled at the top of the stairs that bridge the third floor with the master bedroom on the fourth floor. The bedroom is a playful array of bold textures and dramatic patterns. The bedroom and bathroom open up seamlessly to the backyard pool and lounge areas, all nestled in picturesque wooded seclusion.

Hagefstration certainly has an eye for buying and displaying photography, but admits he had some guidance from Suzanne Stephens of the Birmingham Museum of Art. “Her knowledge of the history of photography is amazing, and she has really helped me build my collection,” he says.

Over the last decade, Hagefstration has developed an impressive photography collection that spans 120 years. His oldest photograph, Alfred Stieglitz’s “The Terminal” dates back to 1893. “The display of my photography collection played a major role in how the home was designed. It influenced the style of the furnishings to some degree. The entire interior, other than the den, is painted white. I wanted the walls to be neutral so that the art would be the focal point—like in a museum—but the home has a much warmer feeling with the furniture and fabrics that we selected,” he says.

Hagefstration adds 10–20 photos to his collection every year and sells or donates pieces that he’s ready to part with. He recently donated 12 pieces to the BMA, including several Ansel Adams prints. Currently the BMA has two Bernice Abbott photographs on loan in the well-received Vanguard Views show. Hagefstration also has three photographs on loan for the opening of the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Art at UAB. “My art tends to move around a lot!” he says. At least now it has the perfect Trophy House to come home to.

4 Responses to “Portrait of Perfection”

  1. James Gunter says:

    wish i had know yall were going to do this article. This was my moms house growing up. i have a million original pictures from back then

    • B-Metro says:

      James–how cool! This article is from about 1 1/2 years ago, but we’re glad you discovered it!

      • John Hagefstration says:

        James-I own this house and you came over with your whole family to see it after my renovation was completed. Why don’t you bring me the photos to look at some time. I’d really like to see more photos of the house from the early days.

  2. Lynn Duvall says:

    Looking at the photos in this story, I was thinking, Hmm what a nice home. Then I saw the dead animal heads. Won’t it be refreshing when we stop killing animals for decoration? Just like us, they have spirits, lives and a place in the world … and it isn’t hanging over a fireplace.

    Lynn Duvall
    Alabama Wildlife Rescue Service volunteer
    1991-1999

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