If a Tree Falls in the Forest

Redesigning their Vestavia Hills home, Christopher and Elizabeth Frost found the perfect use for milled cypress her father had been saving for years.

Written by Jane Reynolds; Photography by Edward Badham

In a way, you could say it was a tree falling in the woods 12 years earlier that laid the groundwork for Christopher and Elizabeth Frost’s spectacular kitchen redesign.

Elizabeth’s father, a onetime forester turned judge, was disheartened when a favorite cypress tree on their family’s land in Mississippi was felled after Hurricane Katrina. He decided to have it milled into lumber, with thoughts that one of his children might use it for something one day.

Fast forward to 2017, and the Frosts were ready for a new look for their kitchen. Elizabeth in particular wanted a brighter feel, new countertops and the chance to change out other details. But it was the thought of that wood that kept coming back to them. “We had thought for years about what to do with her family’s cypress wood,” Christopher says, “and for me, when we decided the kitchen/breakfast area was the spot for it, that was the moment I was all in on the project.”

Working with interior designer Shea Bryars, they started to brainstorm, beginning with the wood. Bryars felt it was too dark for the kitchen and suggested instead using it in the adjoining breakfast room. After the Frosts briefly considered but decided against trying to raise the ceiling height, “we decided to go in the other direction,” Christopher says, “and actually celebrate the low ceilings by putting this beautiful wood up there and making the atmosphere a little warmer, which is a nice contrast to the white marble of the kitchen.” They also repeated the wood in several other details—in a cypress band around the bottom of the range hood in the kitchen, made from a piece Christopher hand selected for that purpose, and a live-edge cypress plank used as the counter for the dining room dry bar with a matching border/backsplash to frame the perimeter of the bar top.

Other changes centered around Elizabeth’s desire to make the kitchen feel lighter and more spacious. “We wanted it to be traditional but with an updated look,” she says.

The cabinets were made new again with a fresh coat of paint and new marble countertops. They made more dramatic changes to the island—trimming it to a slightly smaller size, topping it with a marble slab in Calacatta Gold Select that has ample overhang to create a comfortable eating space, and refinishing it to create just the right tone. “Before, the island had more of a brown tone,” Elizabeth says. “But Danny Whitsett, who is a talented painter and wood finisher, came over and we showed him some pictures. I wanted a grayish, washed look and he got it perfectly. It reflects the lanterns above and flecks in the marble, so he did a great job on that.”

Another crowning touch is the backsplash around the stove, made of custom-cut marble and glass that was measured, built and hand cut again for installation to create a seamless look. Instead of using it across the entire kitchen, it’s a detail reserved for the space surrounding the stove to create more of a pop.

Bryars notes that the overall look of the redesign reflects a perfect blend of Christopher and Elizabeth’s tastes. “Elizabeth is more about clean lines and light, where Christopher’s tastes are somewhat more rustic,” she says. “With the wood and some of the details we chose (including a pair of lanterns from Circa over the island, with the glass removed to create an antique look), we were able to do both.”

Christopher agrees. “Elizabeth and I joke that, if left to my own devices, I would have nothing but leather, wood, iron and medieval tapestries in the house and that we would be living in a hunting lodge or a Spanish mission (or both). Essentially we have to look for the ‘overlap.’ I think the kitchen and breakfast room do a nice job of hitting that overlap…the marble is white but has some brown tones in it, and the antiqued island adds warm color also. The main overlap, though, is that we both love the wood. It provides some dark texture on top of the clean white look. We left this cypress to its natural tone with all its pecky spots and imperfections.”

Adds Elizabeth, “It makes me happy every time I come in the room and look at it. It reminds me of my parents, and now it’s part of our history, too.”  


Builder: Joseph Smaha, Smaha Building, LLC

Interior Design: Shea Bryars, Shea Bryars Design

Wood Finishing/Painting: Danny Whitsett

Woodwork on Dry Bar: Lewis Moeler

Countertops and Stonework: Triton Stone


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