A Lady on the Lake

Written by Brett Levine  Photographed by Graham Yelton


For so many Alabamians, spending time at the lake—Lake Martin specifically—is a cherished pastime. It’s because the lake so perfectly balances a laid-back lifestyle, Alabama’s remarkable beauty, and community. One of the most important elements for the Russell Lands Company as they began to consider their development Russell Cabin Point was how to respect the small-scale history and lifestyle of what the Russell family has always loved about Lake Martin while bringing the comforts of community to the present day.

“The Russell family began relocating small cabins to land they owned on Lake Martin decades ago,” explains Steve Arnberg of Russell Lands. “We also built a few cabins in the early 2000s. But it wasn’t until we began working on Nichols Cove that we focused on developing a cabin with a specific Alabama vernacular that also had a defined maximum footprint of 3,500 square feet. We really wanted to respect the history of the traditional lake property and make the lake lifestyle and the outdoors the focus of the experience.”

This vision, as well as that Alabama beauty, is executed in Tree Top, the home designed by architect Taylor Dawson. The home is defined by its ability to blur the distinctions between inside and outside. On the main level an open plan kitchen and combined living and dining room both spill onto porches. A set of French doors from the living room leads onto a screen porch running the entire width of the house and providing expansive views of the lake.

Inside, one finds incredible décor by Kelly Seibels, Suzy Seibels, and Trissy Holladay of Seibels in Homewood. Known for their deft touch and understanding of lake interiors, Seibels and his team filled rooms with a mix of custom and specially sourced pieces for the Tree Top house. “The design approach we took with the home was to think of it as a contemporary cabin,” Kelly Siebels says. This approach led Seibels to source a unique entertainment unit from Wisconsin that used iron barn-door style fittings and doors made with timber salvaged from the dairy industry.

Another of the home’s signature pieces is a custom headboard designed by Seibels specifically for the residence. In one bedroom, a set of massive, rustic wooden beams are constructed to form the structure for the delicate, soft headboard. “We used timber that we sourced locally from Evolutia here in Birmingham,” Seibels says. “When we work on a project like this, we think about two things. One is the opportunity to work with homeowners to create unique objects that use salvaged or antique materials and are made specifically for their home. The other is the chance to consider pieces that we have designed in-house that are in production or that we can put into production.” Seibels also understands that there are opportunities in lake homes to use fun design elements to create a relaxed environment. In another bedroom, a wooden four-poster bed combines seamlessly with a Queen Anne headboard, fusing Shaker-like simplicity with the influences of 19th-century décor.

One thing that makes Tree Top so special is that the team at Seibels strives to create interiors from Alabama-designed pieces wherever possible. “It is simply amazing how many incredible pieces are designed here in the state,” Seibels says. He and his team strive to contribute to this through the ongoing design, development, production, and promotion of Alabama-made pieces or pieces made in the Seibels shop. The bunk-beds are custom Seibels creations. Their wooden sides and cast-iron rails tie them in seamlessly with the rest of the home, combining rustic charm with clean lines. A champion of local artistry, Seibels says that “we are really fortunate to work with some exceptional craftsmen in our shop.” This attention to workmanship and an emphasis on creativity allows Seibels and his team to constantly create new pieces that are best described as being contemporary with a rustic edge.

Ultimately, Tree Top is the sum of the visions of many people who care about both the environment and the experience of life at Lake Martin. Seibels is quick to recognize the members of the Russell Lands team who made a contribution to the project. “The interiors would not be what they are without the creativity of Nan Jackson, who works directly with Russell on every aspect of the job,” he says. And Steve Arnberg points out that Tree Top is simply the most recent in an ongoing series of plans and designs by many wonderful Alabama architects who have contributed to making Lake Martin an incredible place to live. “To think that this all started by building what were basically some fish camp cabins to rent down by the lake is amazing,” he says. “And since then we have had the pleasure of working with great people, including Bill Ingram and residential designer Bill Farshee in addition to Taylor Dawson.” Russell Lands will continue to explore the beauty of Lake Martin, bringing beautiful, comfortable homes to a place that is so dear to many Alabamians. Arnberg says that’s the ultimate hope of Russell Lands. “This is all the vision of Benjamin Russell. Mr. Russell loves Lake Martin, and he wants every step he takes in its development to be well thought out,” Arnberg says. “Mr. Russell and Russell Lands have always been respectful of the lake’s environment, and part of his personal long-term vision includes a commitment that this beautiful, designated [by former Gov. Bob Riley] ‘Treasured Alabama Lake’ can be enjoyed by as many people as possible for years and years to come.”

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