By Anna Grace Moore
Photos by Blair Ramsey
During their 47 years together, Jim and Laura Griffo have created a beautiful haven full of inspiring, artistic pieces and eclectic design. Their humble abode is a staple of architectural craftsmanship in the heart of Vestavia Hills.
Jim worked as the Director of Corporate Design for an architecture firm, Gresham Smith, in Birmingham for 27 years and now teaches architecture and interior design at Samford University. Laura taught high school English with the last 20 years of her career at the Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School. When Jim and Laura first purchased their home in 1988, he drew up the plans for the home’s three-phase renovation.
“One thing that appealed to us about the house when we first came in was the open ceilings with the tongue and groove design and exposed beams,” Jim says. “We liked that look a lot.”
Before moving in, Jim and Laura focused on updating cosmetics, swapping out fixtures and finishes. They then took down dark wood paneling on the living room and dining room walls, including the mirrored wall where the China hutch now stands.
The couple then gutted the entire kitchen, den and bathrooms, building from the ground up. Laura says the original kitchen floor tile was an off-white color with flecks of red, blue and green.
The house’s original family, who were the only other owners other than the builder, had painted the stone on the outside of the home sage green. Jim says he and Laura lived in the house for a few years before they found someone who could remove the paint from the stone, which afterwards revealed the house’s beautiful, variegated stack stone design.
Jim and Laura’s home architecturally reflects midcentury design with the low-slope roof and exposed ceilings, but their interior decor is more of a plethora of artistic appreciation they consider an expression of their style.
“This isn’t a museum of midcentury modern,” Jim says. “I would describe it as midcentury modern in craftsman style.”
Strolling inside, one first notices beautiful artwork including woven tapestries, Native American pottery, glass work, a vintage model car collection and perhaps most interestingly, baseballs sporting company logos from nearly every decade and state.
“Our home is uniquely us,” Laura says.
Jim and Laura purchased the royal blue sofa and rattan chairs early on in their marriage. Jim designed the travertine marble end tables and had them built for their home. Both the living room and dining rooms’ rugs were also designed by Jim and custom-made for the home.
This beautiful living room painting is by Wulf Barsch. Jim purchased the painting at an art auction years ago, and it has served as a great conversation piece ever since.
“The Hills of Home”
This tapestry is by Kathy Smith, who produced all her tapestries’ colors from vegetable dyes. The piano was a gift from Laura’s mother.
The dining room table and chairs are made of teakwood and reflect a Danish-modern style. The China hutch was a wedding present from Laura’s parents. The focal point of the room, however, is the beautiful Agam-style painting–an original painting on cotton by Cornelia Breitenbach–which is mounted on corrugated fiberglass, producing a 3D effect.
Jim sketched out his ideas for the renovation, and Appleseed Workshop oversaw the final design and construction. Jim notes that the house already had wood ceilings and since they added wood floors, he and Laura opted out of having wood cabinets to avoid the kitchen looking “like a sauna.” Their interior designer, a Samford graduate herself, chose this gray-washed design for the cabinets for a sleek design.
Jim and Laura chose a multicolored granite for their countertops to coordinate nicely with the cabinets and backsplash.
One unique aspect of Jim and Laura’s kitchen is their mudroom/laundry room, which is hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling cabinet door.
The chairs are surprisingly from IKEA, and the table was custom-built to fit this nook.
One of Laura’s favorite aspects of their home is the hanging display case in their kitchen, which showcases some of her favorite glass art pieces she’s acquired from The Netherlands, Italy and of course, thrift shops, too. The stainless-steel case, designed by Appleseed Workshop, has flush lighting shining both from the top and bottom to make the glass art shine and to illuminate the cooktop, too.
Due to the dark coloring on the wood and ceilings, some of the rooms in the original house’s build could get quite dark. Jim made sure to add tall windows in the den to allow natural light to flood the room.
No midcentury modern home is ever complete without this icon of modern design: An Eames chair and ottoman.
An Aspiring Collection
Jim and Laura have traveled all over the world, but some of their favorite places to visit are actually here in the United States, particularly New Mexico. Laura is a connoisseur of Native American pottery, so Jim included display cases in their renovation plans to display her ever-growing collection.
Native American Pottery
Laura loves supporting indigenous artists from a variety of tribes including Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Hopi, Acoma and Mata Ortiz.
Laura has more than 80 pieces in her pottery collection that she’s acquired over her and Jim’s 47 years of joyful union.
Tongue and Groove Ceilings
The tongue and groove wood ceilings and exposed beams are original to the house’s 1957 build.
Bauhaus to Birdhouse
Gresham Smith once made birdhouses to give to their clients, so one of Jim’s friends gave him a birdhouse depiction of the McWane Science Center, which was one of the firm’s projects.
Beauty in All Things
Montgomery-based artist and interior designer Ashley Stahl created this beautiful eggshell piece called “Singing the Blues” for Jim and Laura.
Jim’s Baseball Collection
Jim collects company-logoed baseball memorabilia and displays them around their home.
The textured, acrylic painting adorning the bedroom wall is by Birmingham artist Matthew Mayes.
Master Bedroom Details
The only collection rivaling Laura’s pottery collection is her book collection, which contains more than 500 books throughout the home. The zinnia painting is an original by Laura’s mother, Gerry Aderhold.
The Poinsettia Christmas Tree
Since 1991, Jim and Laura have displayed a full-size Poinsettia Tree in their front picture window. What started out as a pyramid-shaped stack of flowers has become a neighborhood holiday icon that receives fan letters and has its own Facebook page.