A BEAUTIFUL PLACE
History and elegance step into the present
story Tom Wofford Photos by Emmie Arendall and Mary C. Fehr
When Russell and Adelaide Vandevelde decided to leave their home in Colonial Hills, they chose a house long admired
for its unmatched curb appeal and well-earned history. From the street, their new home appeared to have aged well but the interior told a different story.
A near-faithful homage to the Virginia mansion Mount Vernon, home to the father of our country, this English Village landmark served as the first Decorators’ ShowHouse in the spring of 1976—the inaugural-turned-annual fundraiser for the Alabama Symphony. A peek at the program from that premier event offers a nod to local involvement and wistful nostalgia—Bromberg’s presented the formal dining room while Loveman’s interior design department detailed the Master’s Retreat.
“The house needed a lot of updating,” said Adelaide, “many of the bathrooms had heavy, colored tile from the original construction.” To turn the majestic-but-neglected house into a home for Russell, Adelaide and their four daughters wouldn’t require quite a total renovation, but near enough.
Interior designer Lisa Caldwell Flake, tasked with bringing this elegant home into the present suspected the distinctive tile in one bathroom dated to the original construction of the house, so she began a search for verification with a call to her mother. In fact the intriguing thing about this project for Lisa is the home’s builder was her great, great-grandfather—local industrialist W.D. Tynes. “My mother remembers the house vividly from her childhood and the family connection made this project even more personal,” Flake said.
One of the first of the grand homes constructed in the part of Shades Valley that would become the core of Mountain Brook later in the 1940s, the plans for the original 400-acre “Mountain Brook Estates” project were announced in 1926, and the development officially opened in 1929. W.D. Tynes began work on his $100,000 home in 1928 and the house was finished for the opening of the exclusive new neighborhood. The project would be one of the last developments of Robert Jemison Jr., often referred to as the “Father of Mountain Brook.”
Jemison’s list of achievements as a Birmingham city father is too long to detail, but among them is his position, during a period of substantial growth for the Magic City, as the single individual who most shaped the Birmingham District physically.
He was picking up where his father, Robert Jemison Sr., one of the leading developers of the late 1800s, left off.
The elder Jemison had created not only the vast working-class East Lake neighborhood, but also Birmingham’s first gated community, Glen Iris.
Early on Robert Jemison Jr. grew to dislike the grid design of his first residential plan and for twenty years he refined his ideal of integrating streets and home sites in a harmonic relationship with the Birmingham area’s dynamic terrain. Jemison looked east beyond Highland Avenue for his Mountain Terrace, Forest Hills and Glen View developments (all now part of Forest Park), then after the Birmingham Country Club moved to its current site, he built the Redmont Park neighborhood, before planning his ultimate project, “Mountain Brook Estates.”
From Mediterranean Revival to English Manor, early Mountain Brook was perfect for any number of architectural styles, but the Tynes’ choice of George Washington’s Mount Vernon as model for their home gave it the most American of pedigrees.
The first president’s home was of the Palladian style, as are many well-known buildings from the Revolutionary Period (including Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello).
Tynes chose the now-legendary architectural firm of Warren, Knight and Davis to design the house. The firm had recently completed the landmark Alabama Power headquarters in 1925 while working on the famed Theodore Swann residence in Redmont. Tynes died only four years after moving into the home, but it remained in his family for another forty years.
Taking the Vandevelde’s lead, Flake envisioned bringing this special history into the present-day all the while maintaining a welcoming feel.
To open up the floor plan and give a feel of expansive space, she raised doorways and ceilings. To provide a sense of continuity, Flake incorporated pieces from the Vandeveldes’ prior home, but for the most part, new furnishings were carefully chosen—no stone unturned to find perfect pieces to enhance the fresh feel.
Flake used white as the predominant color for most of the interiors, resulting in a clean, welcoming atmosphere for the 8,000-square-foot home that includes five bedrooms, five bathrooms and plenty of extra closet space. The new interior is light and lively, a beautiful and livable contrast to the staidness of the façade. Flake carefully reflected each daughter’s personality with individually requested design flourishes in the bedrooms.
Russell Vandevelde admits that his dark-paneled office is a personal favorite. “I have a cedar closet for all my hunting gear and I enjoy spending time in my get away space.”
While the clean, open interior entices visitors into the home, the wall of windows across the rear of the residence pulls one outside to the pool, surrounded by elegant landscaping and a rare view of the Botanical Gardens as well as the forests beyond.
The pool house, with a slightly more whimsical take on the main house’s crisp interiors, is comprised of two bedrooms and two baths. Tucked away conveniently adjacent to the pool house sits a five-car garage.
Taking full advantage of its inherent qualities, Flake and the Vadeveldes along with several invaluable contributors delivered this historic home into the present using a blend of traditional formality, Southern hospitality, fresh renovations and welcoming interiors to reflect the warmth and respect of its new owners.