When Bart McCorquodale received an unsolicited offer on his Birmingham, Alabama, home, which he had meticulously renovated to his liking, the veteran mover, who fittingly owns a moving company, barely hesitated. However, this particular move left him unmoored and scouring a competitive real estate market to find a new place to hang his hat. Bart eventually settled on a bit of a white elephant—a behemoth of a house that had formerly been an Alabama Symphony showhouse. “It was originally a well-designed Sprott Long home, but it had been added onto and changed without much consideration for the architecture,” he says. “And because it was a showhouse, every room was different and nothing made sense.”
As Bart struggled with where to begin for renovating and decorating the house, a friend suggested bringing in designer Zoë Gowen for direction. After reviewing Zoë’s plans, he felt confident ceding creative control. The designer then rolled up her sleeves and got down to the business of reimaging the mishmash giant.
As inspiration for the palette, Bart provided Zoë with a piece of Imari china that had a lot of orangey hues. However, the savvy designer noticed that almost every time she met with her client, he was wearing blue. So while she did pay homage to the china pattern’s colors, she also dialed into blue shades in many rooms with injections of yellow and green. Watery blue subway tiles serve as the backsplash in the reworked kitchen, as well as in the bar carved out of a 1980s-era mirrored butler’s pantry. Zoë gave a deeper blue tone to the dining chairs Bart had discovered in New Orleans. And the Chinese Chippendale-style breakfast room chairs, along with the super long banquette in the breakfast room, were covered in paler shades of blue.
“I also saw that Bart was always very smartly but casually dressed every time we met, so I took cues from that as well,” says Zoë. “I knew he liked antiques and traditional design, but I helped him segue a bit from formal to more comfortably elegant and inviting, especially since he entertains a lot.” The pair took a trip to New York to look at fabrics and wallcoverings, and as Zoë presented options, it was quickly apparent that Bart had a preference for chinoiserie motifs. “Many of the houses where I grew up had décor in this genre, so it reminded me of my childhood in the best way,” says Bart.
The designer embraced this ornamentation with hand-painted scenic wallpaper in the dining room and chintz armchairs in the parlor, along with fretwork trim on the window treatments. She also made liberal use of floral and botanical prints that read classic but not stuffy, as seen on the comfortable, sink-in upholstery, as well as in the powder room’s lively wallpaper.
Perhaps the foyer best encapsulates the entire approach to the décor while also offering hints of what’s to come from a palette and scale perspective. “It’s essentially the feel of a tuxedo undone with the black-and-white floors and then the beige-and-white wallpaper,” says Zoë. “We also replaced the heavy wooden stair rail with a custom iron one that has brass rosette accents. This immediately lightened up the space.”
The staircase’s bold floral runner, based on an antique Tibetan carpet remnant, speaks to the colors beyond. “A lot of the selections were made during the height of the pandemic, and the more we felt stuck at home, the more we embraced color and comfort,” says the designer. “This house is so large that it could support a stair carpet like this. Anything too small in scale would look like an afterthought.”
All in all, it’s a new/old house that speaks to Bart’s preference for tradition infused with more lighthearted notes, plenty of color, and a less buttoned-up attitude. “I recognized that Zoë had a different spin on the design, and I liked that,” says Bart. “This house reminds me of my childhood homes but in a freshly articulated voice.”