“I had plans of building a new home … a white, contemporary glass box,” says homeowner and designer Em Lee of DesignWorks by Em Lee. But her vision of a light-filled future in a minimalist residence was interrupted by a different kind of light: her children and grandchildren, who urged her to stay close. Em and her husband gave in and found an intriguing home just five minutes away from her playful brood of seven grandchildren, an arresting, although somewhat dated, residence originally designed by legendary local architect Sprott Long in 1988. Em’s goal with this home renovation was to create “a happy home for family and friends full of color, joy and surprise!”
“The house was very French, covered in iron and so froufrou, but I fell in love with some of the core architectural elements — the ‘bones’ — of the house, like the double staircase and the double height dining room with the bridge crossing over it,” says Em. “It just needed ‘de-fussying.’” So she set about a year-long renovation of the home. She knew early on, for example, that she wanted to paint the walls of the entryway black, intermingled with bold, happy colors, including her current color inspiration, “Pink, pink and more pink of all shades, but mixed with black to give it an edge. I’m so thankful that color and whimsy has come back! I was never a fan of the beige or neutral look.”
In addition to a palette of bold, happy colors, Em incorporated contemporary art from artists around the world, including art of her own creation and works by her daughter, artist Wellon Bridgers. “And I’ve always been a fool for cool lamps, quirky sculpture and fantastic contemporary lighting,” she says, adding, “and the most refined and elegant Italian antique furniture — preferably found on a trip to Florence!” Her one unifying requirement when it comes to interior decor: Will it make her and her family happy? She even commissioned a portrait and asked the artist to hide a lizard among the flowers, so that her grandchildren would have to spot the creature among the blossoms, just like the family does together in the Alabama summers.
She admits that designing her own home was much harder than designing for her clients, but, even though the process can be fraught with difficult decisions, she encourages homeowners to infuse happiness and lightheartedness to the process. “Have fun! Mix it up! Nothing is so sacred that it can’t be mixed with varying levels of style, age, texture and surprise, so it’s never too serious,” she says. “Contemporary art, bold sculpture, natural elements and finishes that make you smile … all of these mixed in with antiques, both quirky and fine, make me happy!”
Now that the year of remodeling is complete, Em and her husband — and often her children and grandchildren — can be found enjoying every room in the home. “I enjoy each and every day the natural light mixes with the stark contrast of the bold colors and edgy black — and the fact that I’m blessed to be in a wonderful home with my dear husband of 42 years.” It is indeed a happy home full of color, joy and surprise, just like Em wanted.
Thank you to Jean Allsopp for today’s beautiful photography.
Original Architecture: Sprott Long
Renovation design & Interior design: Em Lee of DesignWorks by Em Lee, [email protected]
Landscape architecture: Clarke Bohorfoush of Boho Designs, LLC
Flooring: Alabama Hardwood Floors, (205) 338-6878
Art: Wellon Bridgers, Diana Watson, Allison Cosmos, LGG Creative Art, John Hyche, Dirk Walker, Em Lee
Brass Fabrication: McCrary Studio, (205) 425-6263
Steel Fabrication: Forrest Millsap of Millsap Studios, (205) 317-8561
Other metal fabrication: Justin Cordes of Toro-Cordes Iron Arts, (205) 510-0014
Lighted wine racks: Jeremy Roegner of Artistic Birmingham Iron
Paint: Pierce Taber
Decorative painting: Santiago Rodriguez, Daniel Whitsett of Paintworks Design Studio, Elizabeth Holmes
Fabrics: Met Design Center, Ellie Cashman
Glass: Nelson Glass
Electrical contractor: Bailey Electric Company
Lighting: Daikon Lighting, ADG, DLDesignworks
Hardware & Plumbing: V&W Supply; Brandino Brass; Matt Lawson of Lawson Woodworking
Furniture, Drapery & Upholstery: Daryl McAvoy, Charles Wade, Custom Furniture Creations, Mary Adams, Cynthia Henderson
Special Appreciation: Luis Chavez