Written by Theresa Rolen Long
Photography by Edward Badham
Global travel inspires interior designer Laura Merrill. And she, in turn, successfully brings it home. Influenced by shopping excursions across the pond, Merrill has channeled her fiery energy and vision into recreating the European ambiance she adores in a Birmingham villa for her family to call their own.
Merrill and her husband, Larry, bought their Vestavia Hills home seven years ago, and immediately embarked on renovating the 70s-style ranch into an Italian country-influenced mini-manor. It was a process over time that left no surface untouched, inside or out.
Existing exterior brick received a new clad of stucco, and front-facing windows were replaced with eyebrow-arched French doors and shutter dog accents. Local architect Joe Swaika assisted with the facelift, designing the uniquely styled cedar post entry that provides distinct European cottage curb appeal.
Warm and muted earth tones—with a few jolts of jewel—set the stage for the comfortable and stylish house. Walls with bull-nosed edges, arched doorways, and iron accents lend a historic, Spanish feel. The sunny living room, with its grand, beamed ceiling, is the perfect layover for reading and sharing wine. An antique Italian marriage chest, juxtaposing an acrylic waterfall console, expresses Merrill’s “euro-country eclectic” style. Souvenir artwork mingles with abstract works from Frances Mayhall (Merrill’s sister-in-law) and Merrill’s own clay creations.
Art adorning walls throughout the house presents a “door” theme. “I love to collect artwork from my travels, and I love doors,” explains Merrill. Every door in the home has received a glaze treatment and fresh iron hardware, thanks to Merrill’s eye for detail.
Within an arched alcove in the powder room, a vanity cabinet displays a Bear Creek glass sink, and a few of Merrill’s own clay sculptures of birds. “Working with clay is a cathartic, creative outlet for me,” she says. A wall collage of art and a Turkish yastik rug provide colorful interest.
The master suite is a study in both symmetry and opposites. A French parquet chest flirts with a nearby mid-century modern console, while matching horsehair benches at the foot of the steel poster bed look on. In the bathroom, wall sconces made from repurposed Italian roof tiles flank another alcove sheltering the bathtub.
In Merrill’s study, purple and gray strike a note, with dark lacquered walls and a lavender ceiling. Anchoring the room is a custom gray-washed, pecky cypress cabinet, hand-finished by Daniel Whitsett, who is also credited with the stucco and ageing glaze work throughout the house. A series of Warhol’s Chanel No. 5 advertising is framed above a sofa accented with custom fuschia bolsters. Layered rugs unify this more modern, slightly feminine room, which still gracefully keeps in tone with the rest of the home.
The den continues the theme of ochre neutrals, with more touches of warm purple and gray. A limestone fireplace surround, found at Architectural Heritage, provides a strong focal point. And cozy chenille and soft linen furnishings are set against a vintage salmon Oushak rug. Contemporary pillows made with Cowtan & Tout animal print velvet balance the old world iron sconces on the wall. A private stone terrace off the den hangs out among lush and dense treetops, romantically enhanced by oversized gas-lit lanterns.
Around the corner, a dark and cozy wet bar is glamourized by a sparkly chandelier found at Village Firefly. A hand-painted gold-leaf backsplash livens gray glazed chicken-wire cabinets. Framed wine labels from some of the couple’s favored Tuscan wines add a conversational touch.
In the kitchen and dining room, ceilings soar with more rough-hewn beams. Chocolate-stained concrete and butcher-block counters top cabinetry designed to mimic antique furniture, replete with chest-style pulls. A natural brass Waterworks faucet adds more warmth. Shelving artfully displays softly colorful pottery. The design is ageless, and leaves one wondering if we are indeed in Tuscany. Darren Hardman designed and created the range hood and shelving. The corbels above the range are antiques from Tricia’s Treasures.
The couple’s three boys occupy the upstairs bedrooms, where Provence style continues, peppered with more English country, masculine elements. Hand-painted Talavera accent tiles in the shared bathroom compliment gothic sconces and a collage of antler mounts. The youngest son’s room has charm fit for a prince, with a gabled ceiling and a castle-like window guarded by an iron grille. “The footboards contain floral murals painted over and personalized with monograms by my sister-in-law,” says Merrill.
A lower-level playroom is where the boys play video games and shoot pool. “The house is always changing,” Merrill comments, noting her need to create through decorating. She has big ideas for finishes for the ceilings and walls, and plans for a bar to occupy a vacant corner. A recently finished project is the powder room, where walls covered in white pine provide a backdrop for a live edge sink vanity. A faucet from V&W and metal sconces from Solaria Lighting add the perfect industrial touch. It is decorating perfection.
As with any European residence, comings and goings are events in and of themselves. A thoughtful front yard redesign grabs visitors as they depart. An unexpected fire-pit surrounded by a cache of Adirondack chairs welcomes a storytelling break and is protected from intrusion by a semi-circle of private hedge. A perfectly unexpected, yet very continental way to relax, entertain, and feel transported to that faraway place.
And Laura Merrill would have it no other way.