As you drive up to designer Beth McMillan’s Birmingham house, you know something different is going on right away. On a street lined with charming bungalows and neo-Tudor redos, the McMillan house stands out for the crisp path of concrete pavers that bridges the front lawn (“My landing pad,” laughs Beth.) Arranged on the terrace, as though flanking a pool, are modern metal outdoor chairs and a high-backed banquette. The gabled, shingled facade is painted a steel gray, trim and all.
The front door opens directly into the living room, a common arrangement in compact mid-century homes. To accommodate traffic, McMillan arranged the living room as a pass-through, with the family room at the back of the house serving for family gatherings and entertaining. The soft folds of drapery panels add dimension to a “big, blank wall” behind the desk. The hide-covered vintage stools add contrast to the French gilt chairs.
Since the living room serves as a high-traffic pass-through to the back of the house, McMillan furnished it only with two large chairs and a tea table “for one-on-one conversations.” She stripped out the predictable colonial mantel flanked by built-in bookshelves and replaced them with a limed oak surround. “I didn’t want lots of stuff cluttering it, so I kept it skinny,” she explains. The Persian rug injects some of the only color into the neutral scheme. Its salmon pink, chocolate, and ivory add softness to the modern room.
Chairs: Oly Studio
A glimpse from the living room into the adjoining dining room shows McMillan’s penchant for style smashups: the modern dining table in the foreground contrasts with the gilt French mirror and console.
The petite dining room “really only seats four people,” says McMillan. To combat the space limitations, McMillan painted opposing walls a deep chocolate brown to make them recede. She also raised the chandelier high so she could use tall flower arrangements, injecting glamour into cramped quarters. Furniture maker Michael Morrow built the Deco-style buffet, as well as many other pieces in the house.
McMillan’s love of neutrals extends to her place settings with off-white china and wood bead placemats. Bight floral arrangements add a shot of color to the scene.
Tableware: Table Matters
The double-height family room is the center of family activity. It is separated from the kitchen by a floating wall so that it can also serve for entertaining company. “I don’t like kitchen/family rooms,” says McMillan. “I don’t want to see all that mess.” To fill in the vertical height, the designer used a tall mirrored screen, oversize lampshades, and a tall chandelier. Teak outdoor folding chairs were chosen for their golden tones and to echo other vintage teak finishes. “I also liked the metal frames and the way they tie in with the stainless finishes in the kitchen.” The metallic pillow fabric carries out the theme.
McMillan applied large-scale metallic wallpaper over one wall of the family room. “It is expensive,” says McMillan, “so I only used it on one wall.” The large-scale lampshades help fill in the tall vertical space. Resilient fabric on the sofa makes the room kid-proof.
Rug: Stark Carpet
McMillan’s son, John, plays on the landing of the staircase to the upstairs bedrooms. In keeping with the family room’s metal accents, McMillan covered the risers with metallic tile and encased the bottom stairs in brushed stainless steel.
Tile: Ann Sacks
McMillan removed all upper cabinets in her kitchen redo and ran subway tile all the way to the ceiling. “Then there were these vast walls to fill, so I framed these photographs. But I didn’t want to pierce the tile to hang them. I had these metal shelves just lying around, so I turned them on their sides and propped the photographs against the wall, and it worked,” she says. The counters are stained walnut, and the cabinets are a lacquered finish with bronze pulls.
Tile: Walker Zanger
Space constraints prevented McMillan from hanging curtains at the bedside, so she compromised with a lavish cornice trimmed in fringe. The bedside lamps cast more light than needed for bedtime reading, so she added the small apothecary lamps.
A small extra bedroom became a guest room and favorite hangout for the children with a daybed and layered bedding set in front of a window. A large mirror found a home in the corner where it creates the illusion of more space.
McMillan's version of modern style is filtered through a softly romantic lens. She is fond of wearing Tory Burch, and in fact, the preppy-chic look is a good analogy to her style of home decorating -- thoroughly up-to-date but rooted in a glamorous past.