The Lake House

A family retreat was also a family project.

by Mary Ellen Stancill, Photos by Beau Gustafson

Plenty of Birmingham families enjoy gathering at the lake, especially this time of year. Generations of a clan spend time water skiing, fishing, cooking out and just relaxing together during the hot summer months. But not many families share in the actual building and furnishing of a lake house quite like the family of designer Mallory Smith. “My brother-in-law was the builder, and I was the designer,” explains Smith. Maison de France Antiques in Leeds is also owned by two family members, so antique furniture, lighting, doors and even a pair of chimney pots were loaded up on trucks and now fill the home that reflects the family’s love for European architecture. “The house feels like a French chateau,” says the homeowner. “But at night when we eat out on the patio, I feel like I’m in Italy with all the children running around. It’s so much fun.”

Though the home was completed just three years ago, carefully selected details and materials give the structure an aged appearance. Outside, a mix of Alabama brownstone and bluestone, smooth stucco and a cedar shake roof give an Old World feel to the home. Inside, reclaimed barn wood used for ceilings and beams in most living spaces adds to the aged look. “The family really wanted to accommodate their antiques from France, and it was important that the aesthetic of the exterior match the interior pieces they collect,” says architect Chris Reebals, who is also a long-time family friend. “At the same time, I wanted to be sure that every room in the house has a water view.” The front of the house with a pea gravel courtyard and custom carriage-style garage doors has a decidedly Country French feel. The back of the house is filled with windows, connecting the interior to the lake beyond.

Mallory’s brother-in-law Ben Smith with CBS Building did much more than build the structure. A skilled welder and woodworker, he hand forged ironwork for the house including outdoor lanterns, sconces and some window and door hardware. He also worked with blacksmith Derek Weldon, and the two designed and built the impressive handrail. Currently Ben is continuing work on cabinetry and wine racks to complete the wine cellar.

Buying trips to Europe three or four times a year for Maison de France provided ample opportunities to also pick up items specifically for the lake house—even before the plans were drawn or ground was broken. “We purchased doors and chandeliers not even knowing where we were going to put them,” Mallory recalls. “A lot of the doors from Europe would come in and would be crooked or didn’t work,” adds Ben. “It was fun because it was a challenge to make the old things work in a new house.” Now all these carefully selected pieces have a home in the house and every room has an antique light fixture.

With four bedrooms, a bunkroom and two playrooms, the floor plan of the home easily accommodates three generations of the family that includes eight grandchildren ranging in age from nine to three months. The wine cellar, sunroom and study are favorite places for the adults to gather and the whole crew is often found in the kitchen, family room or on the stone patio that spans almost the full length of the back of the house. “There are places to get away and not be on top of each other,” says Mallory.

To allow parents to relax worry free, Mallory says, “The rule is that all kids have to wear a life jacket, and they pretty much entertain themselves.” Mallory also chose pretreated fabrics for upholstered furniture to further the relaxation factor. Even in her chosen palette of tone on tone neutrals, the furniture survives spills, wet bathing suits and even magic marker attacks with ease. Though the kitchen has stylish details such as two–and–a–half–inch thick limestone counter tops, Wolfe appliances and open shelving, it has kid friendly aspects as well. In the large central island, Mallory placed a small fridge where kids can help themselves to drinks and there is also a microwave at children’s height. “The older kids can cook their own hot dogs,” she says.

The soothing color palette of the interiors serves as a backdrop for showcasing the numerous 18th and 19th century antique pieces. Hand-woven, wool Oushak rugs add a touch of color while antique paintings provide texture and depth. Flooring in the living spaces is Jerusalem limestone, chosen for its beauty and European feel, but it also stands up to tiny wet feet. Rounded sheetrock corners, numerous archways and niches with storage and bookshelves add even more custom details to the home.

“There were a lot of creative people involved in the house,” says Mallory. “It took a long time to build because we could change things so easily. The house has so many special things because of all the family who worked on it.” •


Interiors: Mallory Smith,

Mallory Smith Interiors

Builder: Ben Smith,

CBS Building LLC

Architect: Chris Reebals, AIA, Christopher and Associates

Landscape Architect:

Kathy Touchstone

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