Architect: Scott Torode, McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, 501 Cloverdale Road, Suite 201, Montgomery, Ala.; (334) 262-8315, mcalpinetankersley.com.
Builder: Mark Semerjian, Semerjian Builders, 308 Dorset Road, Devon; (610) 656-9334, semerjianbuilders.com.
Designer: Susan Ferrier, McAlpine Booth & Ferrier Interiors, 349 Peachtree Hills Ave. N.E., Suite D1, Atlanta, Ga.; (404) 501-9200, mbfinteriors.com.
Grace Jahnle had been doing her homework. So when a desirable piece of land came on the market in Villanova, she was prepared to articulate everything she had in mind for her custom dream home.
Those plans led her all the way to McAlpine Tankersley Architecture in Montgomery, Ala. Named one of the top 100 firms in the country by Architectural Digest, McAlpine Tankersley has found its way onto the pages of House Beautiful, Southern Living, Veranda and many other shelter magazines.
By the time Jahnle and her husband returned from Alabama, they’d hired architect Scott Torode and interior designer Susan Ferrier. But when it came time to hire a builder, the Jahnles wisely stayed close to home, choosing Wayne’s Mark Semerjian. “Mark was excited about the project,” says Jahnle. “He had an interest and enthusiasm about what we were trying to achieve.”
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As you might expect, Semerjian was thrilled to be working with McAlpine Tankersley on the 10,000-square-foot home, which took 18 months to build. “It’s refreshing to have a client thinking outside of the box,” says Semerjian of the Jahnles. “A lot of people don’t go to this extent in building a custom house. Every decision was tailored to their specifications.”
From the moment you see the courtyard of the French Provençal home, you know you’re in for something different. The main room—which Torode calls a salon—features two sitting areas and a dining area. “Our kids are older, and we wanted a place that, when they came back, we’d all be together,” says Jahnle. “When we entertain, we use the whole space.”
In the dining area, floor-to-ceiling drapery runs along tracks to offer privacy and block sunlight. “Since we moved in three years ago, we use it a couple times a week,” says Jahnle. “In our previous house, we’d use our formal dining room twice a year.”
A company in Alabama supplied the floor’s cream pavers, which resemble limestone. “The drapes soften all the wood and concrete,” says Torode.
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McAlpine Tankersley is different from most firms in the way it works from the inside out. “We focus on the interior first,” says Torode. “We start at the center and work our way out. Many home designers today don’t look at how the owners will sit in the room, and what they’ll be looking out onto. Along with being an architect, [co-founder] Bobby McAlpine is an interior designer who believes you should start with the furnishings and allow the house to move as it needs to. It’s kind of an organic plan.”
Jahnle prefers furnishings with clean lines, but she doesn’t consider her style starkly modern. A neutral color scheme in the salon blends gray, brown and cream—something Ferrier appreciates. The interior designer has been recognized for her ability to impart a sense of calm with color. Pecky cypress covers the walls and ceiling. “The wood has great character,” says Torode. “We used a gray-taupe stain to match the aesthetic in this room. So many great spaces are ruined by loud colors—it’s like having too many seasonings in your food.”
Jahnle couldn’t agree more. “I’ve converted my husband over the years to my style,” she says. “All he really wants is a comfortable chair and a big television.”
One of Torode’s favorites, pecky cypress was also used for the kitchen cabinetry, which is visible from the salon. “I like the industrial look of stainless steel, so I didn’t want any of my appliances covered,” says Jahnle.
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The kitchen counters are made of a beautiful Calacatta white marble, which is repeated in the subway-tile backsplash for the stainless-steel Wolf range and hood. Ebony-stained white-oak flooring brings depth to the gray space, and a rolling stainless-steel table serves as the kitchen’s center island. “I wanted something light and airy,” says Jahnle.
The kitchen’s banquette offers a comfortable nook for family meals. It’s also become a favorite spot for a quick snooze. An adjacent workspace houses everything from dishwashers to additional sinks, cabinets and a pantry area. “It allows the kitchen to have more of a showroom look while still being completely functional,” says Semerjian.
Oddly enough, Jahnle’s nursing career came into play in the powder room. “I absolutely had to have the foot pedals to control the faucet,” she says. “I’m used to using them at work.”
A custom-built base hides the mechanisms for the pedals. Other unique touches include a concrete urn sink and a decorative mirror hanging from the ceiling on silver chains. “Everything in this bathroom is unconventional,” says Semerjian. “There are so many elements that bring interest to it.”
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Along those unconventional lines, the master bathroom features back-to-back sinks divided by a double-sided mirror. Floor-to-ceiling cabinetry along one wall allows for maximum storage. “I don’t like to have any clutter around,” says Jahnle.
Being different isn’t such a bad thing. “It’s fun when people say they’ve never been in a house like this,” says Jahnle. “I’ve had friends who’ve built houses and let the builder decide everything down to the faucets. I wanted to be involved in everything. I’d do it again in a second.”
And it’s something Semerjian encourages. “Homeowners are going to get out of it what they put in,” he says. “To get the level of detail this house has, you must have interaction between the owner, builder and architect. And the end result is just spectacular.”