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Category: Blog

The Appeal of the Semi-Custom Home

semi-custom homes

semi-custom homes

We love to show off just how much you can accomplish working with great architectural talent. But not everyone has the patience for that process. Which is part of the reason we spend so much time developing communities full of semi-custom or even turnkey options. Wondering what that means for your options? We asked Louis Nequette, of Nequette Architecture and Design, to explain this particular design process.

If you come in early in the process, he notes, you’ll have more customization options. But you don’t have to do that to have a home that feels special. The key, as Louis describes it, is to create enough designs that we avoid constant repetition. “We want them to have the individuality and identity of custom homes,” he says, but with a more streamlined process.

“What’s been happening mostly is someone has come in as it’s getting built and slightly customized it,” he says. “And some of the happiest people buy it after it’s done.” That’s especially true in our Smith Lake communities, Silverock Cove and Hawk’s Nest.

“Because let’s face it, those kind of second home purchases are impulse, somewhat. They’re emotional, as they should be. And when you see it and you like it, you’d love to be able to use it.”

We want you to be able to get away from it all, including design decisions. But that doesn’t mean you should accept a sub-par space just to enjoy it as-is. We know there’s another way, and we’d be happy to show it to you.

As Louis explains it, we try “to always be completing unsold houses so that someone has that opportunity to buy it and move right in.” It’s a perspective that works perfectly with Nequette Architecture & Design’s creative process: “We imagine that family before they even exist and try to create the right living environment so that they can step right in and have a good time.”

 

 

Inspiration for Your Kitchen Refresh at Avondale’s Winslet & Rhys

inspiration for your kitchen refresh

inspiration for your kitchen refresh

It’s a common problem, particularly in older homes: the need to update a tired kitchen space with the constraints of a post-purchase budget. Or, the desire to maintain some original features at war with the need for a better functioning kitchen. We’ve found inspiration for your kitchen refresh with simple, crafted tweaks à la Avondale’s Winslet & Rhys.

The store’s kitchenette is a lesson in modern ideas coexisting with older ones. It’s Avondale’s last-century charm filtered through a spare design eye. And it absolutely works.

Here’s how, in just three steps:

 

Paint. Paint. Paint.

Winslet & Rhys’s cabinets are new and streamlined, but what really makes them special is the color. The lovely deep, true blue of the shop’s base cabinets would spruce up existing cabinetry — either of the too-worn original or the used-to-be updated variety. A good paint job truly goes a long way.

 

Embrace wood.

It may seem counterintuitive, especially since we just suggested paint, but hear us out. If you’re facing sad laminate countertops or tile that’s seen better days, consider replacing it with wood. This Old House has a whole feature on the practical considerations. Short of marble, though, wood is probably your best blending of modern tastes and classic materials. And with its lower price point, you may have enough budget left for a modern waterfall edge à la Winslet & Rhys. Just bear in mind that deeper wood stains will look more old school, and pale woods err more Scandinavian modern.

 

Flex your storage space.

Open shelving is a trend with staying power, but Winslet & Rhys uses large-scale pegboard for a clever twist. Replace uppers with open pegboard shelving for a solution that feels charmingly crafted, not to mention flexible. As an added bonus, the pegboard anchor is also a stylish substitute for a standard tile backsplash.

 

 

Urban Style: Bar Stools With Big Impact

satellite urban style bar stools

satellite urban style bar stools

There are lots of ways to personalize your home with big renovations, or even custom installation work. But what if you want big style, no professionals required? For that, we suggest interesting accessories that stand out in streamlined spaces. One key example for urban style: bar stools with big impact.

The sheer power of repetition makes it an effective style trick. When you have three or four of something, after all, it tends to command notice. Be warned that a great bar stool rarely comes cheap, but it is an easy and portable style choice.

And you need not look through decor magazines or even the rabbit hole of Pinterest. We’ve simplified matters by drawing on our own local inspiration. We’ve looked at ideas around town and found these bar stool examples for your kitchen style game.

 

Downtown:

Paramount’s bar stools are unusually linear, a heavy metal frame supporting a pale rectangle of wood. Part of their job is not to overshadow the more flamboyant automotive references in the space, but they’re well designed in their own right. We can easily imagine them adding a bit of industrial edge to a nearby downtown loft.

Harvest plays up the Redmont Hotel’s architectural gravitas with a smart variation on a classic bar stool shape. A single cutout punctuates an upholstered backrest for the custom tailoring of the stool world.

 

Lakeview:

Trimtab Brewing Company’s stools bring an automotive age to mind, befitting the former neighborhood of the Barber Motorsports Museum. The smoothly engineered curves, chrome bases, and integrated armrests remind us of great American cars. They’re sleek but road-tested.  

Slice Pizza & Brewhouse combines the retro feel of red vinyl with a sleek sculptural base. The color shines against a reclaimed wood bar and ties in nicely with other new restaurant openings in the area like Cashio’s Meatball Market and Babalu Tacos and Tapas. The base offers a place for the eye to linger and a nice reminder of the area’s recent industrial past.

 

Avondale:

Satellite plays up its space age styling with the stool version of a modern molded plastic chair. Long wooden legs angle out from the base with simple black supports. It’s a dose of nostalgia that still feels fresh, much like its 41st Street scene.

Hot Diggity Dogs has the most retro offering, which works for a brick-and-mortar hot dog stand in this neighborhood of casual nostalgia. The chrome stools with vinyl seats are a familiar shape with room for personalization.

 

 

The Garage Take on Neighborhood Character

garage birmingham

garage birmingham

Nothing quite captures the borderlands between Highland Park and Five Points South like the Garage. On an orphaned block behind an apartment building, it’s a bar you head to rather than stumble upon. Not anxious for outsiders, despite GQ’s travel recommendation. But it’s the ultimate neighborhood hangout for folks who love the eclecticism of Five Points South and the restful air of Highland Park.

To get there, park on 10th Terrace South (or walk from your Highland Park home). Then walk past scattered garden urns and reclaimed doors accented with holiday lights and neon beer signs. Inside, you’ll find a dimly lit, cash-only bar surrounded by simple wooden booths. It’s perfect in its bare-bones appeal, where the fanciest cocktail you’re prepared to order is a Bloody Mary (which Southern Living recommends, by the way).

But the real magic is out back, which looks like the domain of a twentieth century Miss Havisham. Filled with the detritus of another age, it’s now the perfect host for an evening with friends. Particularly ones you’re inclined to reminisce with.

Accented by fairy lights and studded with slightly uncomfortable seating, the patio may be the most authentic space in town. Some perfect amalgamation of Dave’s Pub, Rojo, and the Donnelly House, the Garage could only exist right where it is.

Main Street America says that downtowns are attractive because they’ve aged in a way that suburban communities haven’t. Yet the organization also recommends the kind of creative rehabilitation we’ve seen (and loved) in downtown Birmingham.

But the Garage suggests an alternative approach to celebrating an area’s age. The French way, at least as the New York Times describes it, which involves quality products, perhaps a treatment or three, but no harsh remodeling. That’s generally been the story of places in Highland Park and Five Points South, where things wear their age with grace but also comfort. In the way of tile honed by decades with a hairline crack for character.

 

 

Birmingham for Everyman at Bottega & Bottega Café

Bottega Café

Bottega Café

We’ve been known to describe Bottega Café as Bottega’s more affordable option. Which is true–entree prices average a good $10 lower on the café side–but almost missing the point. Where Bottega is a tailored fine dining experience, Bottega Café is the everyday foodie option.

Still, the magic of Frank Stitt’s fine dining is that he’s also carved out entry points. Like the blend of historic apartments and grand homes in the Five Points South and Highland Park neighborhoods surrounding Bottega and Bottega Café, there’s something for everyone. Wherever you are on your professional course, there’s a version of the Stitt experience you can (and really should) manage.

The café menu is eclectic, covering your dining needs from light snacks with wines by-the-glass to a multi-course meal with a bottle of bubbly. Or, as the café website describes it, a “relaxed spot where you can come for lunch and stay for dinner with a menu celebrating the warm spirit of Italian cuisine, while honoring the purest seasonal ingredients of the American South.”

It’s the easy fun of Five Points mixed with the grand influences of Highland Park. It’s also emblematic of the way Frank Stitt has helped define the Birmingham food scene and, with it, the city. He’s famous for his fine dining, but, as the Birmingham Business Journal reported in 2013, Stitt also helped lay the track for our city’s accessible foodie finds. The big flavors and easy atmosphere of places like Trattoria Centrale are rooted in Stitt’s food culture.

Then there’s the building, Bottega Favorita, for which the restaurants are named. “The overall structural form, massing and building materials reflect historic associations with the Italian Renaissance,” noted the building’s application to the National Register of Historic Places, “but the architectural detailing is typical of the popular 1920s trend toward the precision streamlined appearance of the modern machine age.”

Like so many Birmingham buildings of its era, there’s a reverence for the old coupled with ideas of its age (see also: the John Hand Building). And Bottega’s food, described on the restaurant website as a blend of Italian traditions and Southern foodstuffs, is the ultimate example of revival style on a plate.

 

 

Foodie Necessities at Western on Highland

Western on Highland

Western on Highland

Quick Quiz: Where can you get a sewing kit, local organic milk and a rotisserie chicken at midnight? The answer: Western Market on Highland Avenue. Long before the downtown Publix was a twinkle in a (much loved) developer’s eye, the Western on Highland was plying Five Points South and Highland Park residents with grocery essentials on their own scheduling terms.

The Western’s selection is abbreviated but solid. And it’s open all the time. Literally. It has the snack selection you’d expect plus plenty of prepared foods — sushi, sandwiches, even a Mexican food bar at times — but some local foodie treats that belie its gas station hours.

There’s a case of Heavenly Donut Co. near the cash registers, and Working Cow Dairy products in the milk case. Besides the expected Starbuck’s packs, Western on Highland offers Red Bike, Fairhope Roasting, and O’Henry’s blends.

Located in its own little restaurant row — Galley & Garden, Hot & Hot, and both Bottegas are within two blocks — its foodie bona fides make a little more sense. Even after a fancy dinner, there’s still tomorrow’s eating to deal with, after all. And filling up on a “chicken fried steak” doesn’t save you from needing a quart of milk or a bunch of bananas for morning. Or perhaps just a nightcap.

Beer lovers will find plenty of local crafted cans from Good People, Cahaba, and the like. There are also pithy Monday Night Brewing titles and New Belgium bottles. Even 22-ounce bottles of Miss Fancy’s Tripel and Scrumpy’s Hard Cider, for something a little different. 

We’re most likely to raid the frozen food section, which includes plenty of pizza options and a healthy ice cream selection. Plastic spoons next to the pints of Haagen Das make us wonder if the Western on Highland knows us too well.

But who among us hasn’t had an ice cream emergency? And more often than not, it happens just as larger grocery stores are shutting their doors. Our diets may give it the stink-eye, but our hungry hearts are forever grateful.

 

 

Future Fun at Avondale’s Satellite Coffee Bar

satellite coffee bar

satellite coffee bar

With a big brother like Saturn, the Satellite coffee bar side is bound to get overlooked. It’s bright but not flashy, a lounge rather than a party. But Satellite has built its own quirky atmosphere beyond its bar and coffee shop components. It offers something no place in Avondale does, blending the area’s nostalgic bent with a futuristic spirit.

Satellite is not your average Avondale joint. Its finishes lean smooth and its only exposed brick is exterior. It resides in a foodie neighborhood yet sells foodstuffs like gourmet doughnuts prepared by outside vendors. On the surface, it shouldn’t work, but it respects the one most important Avondale essence: a sense of fun.

From its rocket trash cans to its video games, its Tang-based frozen cocktail to its Sunday cereal brunch, it satisfies your inner child and the adult you’ve become. That’s the basis of hipster culture, after all, whether in handmade pop tarts or Moscow Mule mugs. And Satellite is one more example of why Avondale won the statewide “Brooklyn” title.

Satellite also fills a pretty practical entertainment need, in the end: a place with fun cocktails that more than accommodates the non-drinker. Your pregnant best friend may want to hang out after hours, after all. Or you may want to get your kid a craft soda while you enjoy something more adult. Satellite is just the place.

Its more traditional coffee shop function–fueling the side-hustle–may become less important as the MAKEbhm co-working space evolves, but it’s equipped nevertheless. The shop’s website boasts a bar with integrated charging stations. More important is the air of gleeful creativity, from space-age decor to shared Saturn ethos. It’s a place waiting for your next big idea to land.

In the meantime, we love the Stumptown coffee, and we’ve heard great things about that Tang cocktail. It’s a Steva Casey creation, after all.

 

Weeknight Breakfast at Carrigan’s Downtown

breakfast at Carrigan's

breakfast at Carrigan's

We’ve all hit that point midway through a particularly grueling workweek that demands more than your average comfort. The kind of week that demands breakfast food. Luckily, the good folks at Carrigan’s Public House launched a solution this fall: a “breakfast for supper” special each Wednesday evening.

Carrigan’s has marketed the meal as a reward for making it through your Wednesday. And at $10 for the breakfast dish plus mimosa, it definitely is. It’s also a genius antidote to any hump day blues. As the great Ron Swanson said, “There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food.”

This is no ordinary diner menu, though. It’s a single dish, and it may or may not be announced ahead of time. Past examples have included sausage and egg in a waffle sandwich, goat cheese-topped eggs in a basket nestled against curls of prosciutto, and a bagel and lox served with the prettiest poached eggs. All in keeping with the downtown loft district’s gastropub vibe.

One of our favorite things about the neighborhood is its rotating roster of specialty brunch availability–Saturdays at El Barrio and Feast & Forest, select Saturdays at Yo Mama’s, and Sundays at Trattoria Centrale–but Wednesday evening is a whole new ballgame. We frankly wouldn’t complain if every day was some sort of brunch day, but we’re perfectly happy to celebrate incremental wins.  

True brunch may be a meal reserved for leisurely weekends, but fancy breakfast food need not wait that long. The Carrigan’s solution seems both fancy and spartan, going out with a hint of staying in. All in keeping with the mixed use dynamic of downtown loft living.

We can’t promise a solution to all your hump day problems, but breakfast at Carrigan’s is a fine start. Or at least a merciful end. Here’s to hump day!

 

 

Boutique Food on the Downtown Revelator Coffee Menu

downtown Revelator Coffee menu

downtown Revelator Coffee menu

You’d be forgiven for not knowing the downtown Revelator Coffee menu includes food. It’s not online after all, and there are only passing references to it on social media. It’s worth paying attention, though, because there are some easy treasures here.

Focused on basic staples–avocado, hummus, boiled eggs, and fresh veggies–the lunch menu is a fancy version of what you might pack yourself or throw together at home. But with this presentation and price point (around eight dollars, with add-ons from one dollar to one-fifty), why would you?

The presentation is gorgeous but not overdone, as though the space’s architecture has been translated into food. The PM bowl reminds us of bibimbap: an artful arrangement of bite-size color and texture begging to be eaten. There’s creamy hummus, lightly-dressed arugula, and sticks of raw veggies for a lunch that feels positively virtuous in its healthiness but will still fill you up.

The avocado toast is another popular option (they were out of it by the time we swung by for a late lunch). Asher Lutz, son of local style blogger Lindsey Lutz of Life Lutzurious, reportedly loves the avocado toast here. And this is a kid with a favorite Bottega dish, so he clearly knows what’s what.

Food here is slightly less secretive than the coffee cocktail–food options are at least printed–but there’s no permanent online presence. The menu seems designed as an additional offering for an established crowd rather than a real marketing draw. And that strategy makes sense with Revelator’s boutique feel.

It’s as though they cleverly foresaw the move toward actual boutiques downtown and established themselves early in the game. Revelator’s been on the vanguard of this end of the loft district, after all. The Lyric wasn’t yet operating when it opened here, nor had the Pizitz Building or Thomas Jefferson Tower redevelopments begun. So it seems like no accident that they’ve added more complex offerings as this area has become one to linger in.

So, whether you’re looking for a non-sad working lunch or an easy, open-ended chat, it’s worth putting Revelator on your list.

 

Stately Bohemian Style at Rojo in Highland Park

Rojo in Highland Park

Rojo in Highland Park

It’s no secret we love this neighborhood gem. We included it in both our neighborhood roundup and an ode to its weekend-long brunch service. But we also love the feel of it, the way its tree-lined location, full bar, and interior stylings create an excuse to linger. So, how do those interiors create help create the Rojo in Highland Park we know and love? And more importantly, what lessons can they offer for your home, in Highland Park or elsewhere?

When we first considered a post on Rojo’s style, we thought artsy, eclectic, almost Five Points South in feel. But when we revisited photos of the restaurant’s actual interiors, we realized parts of it are downright stately. What we came away with is an approach for making even the grandest homes feel relaxed and fun based on Rojo in Highland Park.

 

Deep impact

There are two things that stand out most about the restaurant: its deep red interiors and its large-scale gunslinger mural. Fortunately, both those things are replicable, at least to a degree, while carving out your own casual style attitude.

Red may be a bit dramatic for your own home space, and so long as your name doesn’t literally translate to “red,” no pressure. Think about other deep tones — a rich navy, a flirty emerald, a cozy charcoal — all still on point for interior colors, especially in high-ceilinged historic homes. Just don’t leave those ceilings white if you’re looking to replicate Rojo’s cozy feel. Houzz has a compelling argument for black ceilings (like Rojo’s), but there are plenty of Pinterest options involving a single deep wall, ceiling, and trim paint color.

Then there’s that mural. The combination of bold color and standout art defines the feel of the space, even while keeping the rest of it pretty low key. Large local art won’t be your cheapest accessorizing option. But there are few splurges we feel better about than buying a nice piece during Art Crawl or one of Rojo’s side-room showings.

 

Built-in definition

The built-in elements are what make this space most compellingly Highland Park. That iconic gunslinger? He’s surrounded by a wall of built-in bookcases with a simple dark stain. The best trick is how the built-ins frame the art so that it owns the room without occupying all that much of it.

Built-ins are the kind of detail that’s expensive to replicated but that well may exist in a historic Highland Park home. In fact, it’s one of the things we love most about them. And while Rojo’s shelves store their extensive collection of libations, yours could just as easily hold books. Perhaps offset with sculptural bookends or the odd accessory piece. Though carving out space for Redmont bottles and small-batch bourbon would be a classy alternative to a bar cart.