A Tale of Two Houses

Two different takes on living and dining

Written by Brett Levine

Photographed by Graham Yelton


The McFadden Home

Christine McFadden knows how to blend elements of the historical, the midcentury, and the contemporary. She brings an ease to meshing the clean lines of midcentury design with the fine detailing of a Craftsman home. For McFadden, design is all about understanding how to combine a strong foundation of classics and neutrals with, as she says, “a little glam and flash.” McFadden obviously knows what she is talking about. “I am still trying to figure out precisely what these are, but I am pretty certain they are by Milo Baughman,” she explains, speaking of a set of exquisite chairs that surround her dining room table. “I was looking for a poker table for my husband on Craigslist, and these were basically being included. When I saw the chairs, the table was the least of my concerns!” Now paired with the table—a 1950s rosewood table with a leaf—it seems as if they were always made for the space.

Her ability to find just the right piece, to blend stock items with sophisticated finds, and to anchor everything with intensely personal collections are what transform the McFaddens’ elegant house into a home. “I’ve always believed that the best approach to design is to have things that you both love and use. We asked for a rather unusual Kelly Wearstler pattern china for our wedding,” she says. “It formed the foundation for a dinner service where we blend the traditional basics with some olivewood bowls with bone inlays. My husband and I love to entertain, so I always started with the understanding that what we have would be used. I want our house to be comfortable and beautiful, something that people will enjoy without being too concerned about what’s in it.”

This down-to-earth perspective has led McFadden to build an elegant collection together over time, all of it anchored by small yet significant pieces she and her husband have acquired during their travels. “If we have the opportunity to travel, we like to bring back things for our home,” she says. “The tiny bulls we have on the bar are seen everywhere in Peru. People put them on the tops of their homes right after they’re constructed, and always in pairs. We loved them and wanted to have that same feeling of home, combined with a wonderful memory. I think,” she continues, “that when you take the approach of having elements in your home that truly reflect yourself, they have an even deeper meaning, and that makes them even more beautiful.”

Also special are the many original artworks, including pieces by Catherine Jones and Butch Anthony, that fill spaces large and small throughout the living and dining rooms. “We’re fortunate to know a number of amazing Birmingham artists, and we really love their unique personal styles,” McFadden says.

What makes the McFaddens’ home even more wonderful is Christine’s willingness to experiment. “The hutch, which folds open into a bar, was only painted green recently. If you were to take it back layer by layer, it has probably been seven other colors before. What is important is that the interior is a combination of practical and fun.” This understanding underpins everything the McFaddens do. “Since we didn’t have the luxury of simply completing everything at one time, we just know that by understanding our own design style, and by collecting and including pieces that are meaningful to us, we can create a space that is beautiful and comfortable. We started with the simple, neutral basics,” she continues, “and then simply had fun from there.”

Despite the understatement, the McFaddens’ home is a study in casual elegance. It blends a comfort, ease and passion for design with the knowledge that sometimes the best find, the classic furnishing, or the most beautiful artwork is not the one that costs the most, but the one that is found wandering through the streets of a market on vacation, seen adorning a local house, or found serendipitously on Craigslist.


bmetro_nov14_nuby_002The Nuby Home

For Roni Nuby, creating a comfortable environment is all about being willing to make changes until you have it right. “I redesigned this interior four times before I started working with Milo Beloved,” she says, standing in her 1929 Hollywood-style home in Birmingham’s East Lake district. Architecturally, the home was precisely what she and her husband, Les, had been hoping to find. “I’d always dreamed of living in one of the grand homes in Homewood,” she remarks, “and in fact, this house is designed by one of the architects who made those houses so distinctive.”

Focusing on the living and dining rooms, which are the two spaces that Nuby feels are now completed, one can see her respect for history, as well as her understanding of how to blend the traditional with the modern. “One of the biggest challenges, and maybe the biggest opportunities, was to work with the stucco,” she says. Thick, painterly impasto textures cover the walls, and she loves them. “They are part of the character of the house. Of course, I’m sure Les didn’t feel the same way when he began to paint them, but the results speak for themselves,” she says.

Taking a risk, Beloved and Nuby took the home from an undulating series of warm terracottas to a mint green in the living room and a luscious dark charcoal in the dining room. “When the first brushstrokes of the green went on, it was almost too much,” she says, “but as it progressed, it became what really holds the room together.” The color works so well in part because the shade suggests the turquoise tones so popular in midcentury design, and this aesthetic is crucial to the furniture and fixtures that fill the home.

bmetro_nov14_nuby_036This mix of opportunity, happenstance, understanding, and risk characterizes every aspect of Nuby’s approach. The design framework that she developed in consultation with Beloved initially grew from a list of 15 words that she wanted the home of her dreams to embody. “The list included bohemian, unexpected, midcentury, and exotic,” she shares. “We both went away and pulled images of furniture and objects that we felt embodied these ideas. When we met again, we were amazed to see how many identical inspirations we shared. That was when I knew I was ready to move forward.” The ensuing process took almost a year.

“I would describe my design style as midcentury bohemian,” Nuby says. This allows her to anchor the living room with classics that include an Eames style lounge and ottoman and a low profile modernist sofa. The pieces were all sourced locally. “The sofa and lounge specifically came through Milo at Harold and Mod,” she says, “but over the course of the project, I also developed a wonderful relationship with Henry [Kilpatrick] of Magic City Finds. He found the amazing peacock chair,” she continues, gesturing to a mint-condition turquoise wonder anchoring the dining room. “I had initially thought it might be good outside, but when I saw it I knew it was exactly what I needed to complete the look in here. I also sourced several pieces from Steve [Thomas] at Soho Retro, who always has amazing finds.”

The dining room is anchored by a midcentury dining table and a set of Eiffel chairs. Additional seating can be created by pulling up one of many poufs that provide seating in the living room. “My husband loves the idea of soft furnishings,” Nuby explains, “so we love having pillows, ottomans, and other things that can serve a variety of purposes. We also love the fact that they can add an additional layer of color, texture, or both to the room, which allows me to keep the larger pieces of furniture more neutral.” Metallics also provide a layer of color with golds appearing on a midcentury clock now repurposed as a mirror over the stereo, and on the legs of a bench under the dining room window.

Nuby has produced a comfortable and comforting retreat that mixes 20s glamor, midcentury refinement, family history, and casual elegance. “I love what we have created,” she says. “Now, every time I walk into my house I feel good, which is precisely what I wanted. And everything was done with an understanding that we could use the good pieces that I already had—some wonderful lamps, an elegant mirror—and pieces that had family significance, including a Buddha that was my mother’s. Other than that, I was willing to take Milo’s guidance. Then through persistence and the luck of some wonderful estate sale finds, we got precisely what we wanted within a budget we felt we could afford. It allowed us to create a space that is personal and comfortable, but it also shows that you can work with a designer to achieve wonderful results simply by understanding the scope of the project before you begin.”

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