A love of ecclesiastical antiques and European architecture inspired Jan and Stan’s unique home in America’s Deep South
With its steep pitched roof, exposed timber frame and mellow flagstone walls, Jan Cash’s Arts and Crafts-style house is an unexpected slice of English architecture, transplanted to southern America. Visitors are often forgiven for thinking that the house is a century old, and Jan – an interior designer – takes the mistake as a great compliment.
She had always wanted to build her own home, and has long been an admirer of ‘the old-world feel of British vernacular architecture.’ Jan and her husband Stan took the first step towards realising this dream in the early 1980s when they bought a 1920s Tudor-style property in the historic Redmont area of Birmingham, Alabama. The house came with generous grounds on which they hoped to build something in their own design. However, the land beside the house was empty for a reason. ‘ We’d been picturing the perfect house for so long that we were oblivious to the fact that the plot was virtually a ravine! It took 18 years before building could begin,’ says Jan. ‘But it gave me plenty of time to gather my ideas together.’
The neighbourhood is on the USA’s National Register of Historic Places, and so the house had to be sympathetic to the surrounding architecture, most of which dates back to the early 20th century. The couple hired McAlpine Tankersley, a firm
of architects who specialise in building historic and traditional-looking houses, and Jan presented them with a raft of ideas that had a very definite fairy-tale quality to them. ‘A kind of romantic folly,’ recalls Greg Tankersley, who was happy to work to Jan’s brief. ‘In e ect she supplied the ‘once upon a time’, and it was our job to deliver the ‘happily ever after’.’
Jan was delighted with the result and threw herself into decorating the interiors in an ‘eclectic European’ style. ‘Our rooms are firmly anchored with period pieces and antiques from a lifetime of collecting both here and abroad. In fact, our love of travel was a major influence on all of our choices.’
While the exterior of the house is a testament to the couple’s fondness for ‘that country, just over the pond’, the interiors scheme that Jan has devised is a celebration of all things European. ‘I prefer a timeless look, which is best achieved with antiques, historical colours and personal objects,’ she explains, adding that she first began amassing religious antiques after a holiday spent travelling around Europe with her husband. ‘It was the exquisite carvings and decoration in French and Italian churches that really inspired us.’ And in the years it took for the couple to finalise the plans for their new home, Jan gathered together decorative antiques and architectural salvage, such as fonts and ornate sculptures, in a local storage unit.
Jan’s favourite piece is an ornate German angel from the 18th- century, which she found in a tiny antiques shop in Munich. ‘It was our first day in Germany, and we were both seriously jet-lagged,’ she laughs, remembering how they spotted the gilded figure half-hidden in a shop window. ‘As it was a Sunday, all of the stores were closed, so I begged Stan to take me back the next day.’ Although originally
It was the exquisite carvings and decoration in French and Italian churches that really inspired us
Antique tapestries are another passion and Jan has used them all over the house as hangings and upholstery
purchased as a Christmas decoration, Jan loves the angel so much that it stays on display all year round.
Antique tapestries are another passion and Jan has used them all over the house, either in the form of hangings, upholstery or cushions. ‘I love the way tapestry fragments look when framed, and I also like to make them into cushions.’ A 16th- century Belgian piece in the dining room is her best buy to date: an elegant tangle of gold and blue that depicts Pomona, the goddess of fruitful abundance. It is a fitting subject in a house that was clearly built with entertaining in mind.
Never is this more striking than at Christmas, when table tops and mantelpieces are adorned with swags of fresh greenery, lengths of silk ribbon and antique glass baubles. As well as on the front door, each of the windows is hung with a large wreath studded with unusual berries and succulents. In the dining room, an enormous spray of flowers, fruits and foliage is reminiscent of an 18th- century Dutch painting. A focal point in the living room, the Christmas tree was custom-made with swathes of rustic grapevine. ‘I’ve never seen another tree like it!’ says Jan.
Traditionally, Christmas Eve is spent with friends and Christmas Day with family. ‘I make sure that there’s plenty of soft candlelight and fresh greenery and we follow the same menu every year.’ Stan serves festive drinks from a bar built from an ornately carved English church altar topped with salvaged limestone. But, decorations aside, Jan’s Christmas celebrations wouldn’t be complete without her mother’s ‘fresh coconut cake with a pineapple-and- orange filling and divinity frosting’. A far cry from the heavy fruit cakes favoured in Jan’s beloved Europe but, as she says, ‘it just wouldn’t be Christmas in our house without it!’
The living room is Jan’s favourite part of the house. The ceiling is 17ft high – the beams came from the 125-year- old oaks that were felled to clear the plot before building work began. The shutters are made from pecky cypress, which has a distinctive ‘aged’ pattern
ABOVE In the sitting room, a 17th- century bookcase is lled with antique books and carvings. The chair in front has its original needlepoint and dates from around 1890. Opposite is a William-and- Mary chair with caned back. An Italian book from the mid 1700s rests on the round table FACING PAGE TOP Jan’s collection of angels can be found dotted around her home. This example was found in Munich. It came from an 18thcentury church that was due to be demolished
ABOVE LEFT The kitchen balances modern convenience with old- world charm. The worktops, splashback and the canopy above the Viking Range cooker, are limestone, as are the oor tiles ABOVE RIGHT Jan bought the gilded Italian console table at auction in London. The lambs inside the cabinet are 19th- century Staffordshire pottery