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Mountain Brook Modern

This refreshingly inspired home pays homage to the designs of Mountain Brook’s midcentury beginnings.

Article by Ashley Cirilli Farlow

Photography by Clay Morrison

Originally published in Birmingham Lifestyle

Elevated along one of the charming winding roads of Cherokee Bend in Mountain Brook, near the Mountain Brook Club golf course, is the Bell family’s home, which came to completion in 2021 after they partnered with Gary Justiss, architect, to bring their design dreams to an even sweeter reality. 
Scott Bell, CEO of High Level Marketing, had begun commuting to work in Birmingham from the family’s home in Montgomery when he and wife Tiffany began considering where to land. “With Scott commuting and our twins approaching the start of kindergarten, we really started to think about where we needed to be,” says Tiffany. “Having family and an office in Birmingham definitely moved it to the top of the list.” 
While driving around Mountain Brook with open minds, a “For Sale by Owner” sign on a vacant lot widened their eyes. After walking around the property and then shortly afterward contacting Gary to see if he might be up for the job, they looked at each other and said — let’s do it! 
The Bells had become enthusiasts of Gary’s work while living and working amongst it at Hampstead, the highly acclaimed new urbanism community where they lived in Montgomery and where Tiffany was Hampstead’s communications director, and while vacationing for many years at the architecturally ethereal 30A community of Alys Beach. 
After graduating from Auburn’s architecture school and working for firms in Birmingham, Gary established his own one-man firm in 1993. He’s based in Chelsea, Alabama, where he and his wife, parents to three children, live on a sprawling piece of land with their dogs and dozens of chickens. 

Gary was part of the original architecture charrettes for both Hampstead and Alys Beach and has designs throughout both communities, as well as all over the world. It may be said neither destination would induce the awe-inspired, heart-eyed gasps they do without the contribution of Gary’s authentic artistry and ingenuity of whimsical details. He does this also as a connoisseur of intentional restraint, which results in spaces that give off high doses of calm — one of the main traits the Bells envisioned for their own home. 

With beach-town builds always keeping him busy, Gary embraced the opportunity to design a Mountain Brook dwelling. Much like along 30A, vacant lots are precious territory along the longstanding streets of Mountain Brook, and as with any home, Gary prioritizes creating something that feels specific to the family. His craft is one of “client-oriented architecture,” and Scott and Tiffany brought him all their inspiration. “Our two favorite styles are that of Alys Beach, and we’ve also just been huge fans of and fascinated by any midcentury houses — if you think about bringing Alys and midcentury together, that’s where we were going,” says Scott. 
Gary is accustomed to, and proficient in, blending aesthetics. From the start at Alys, the idea was to create hybrids of the courtyard homes of Bermuda with Antiguan styles, and at Hampstead, developers and architects worked together to combine English influences with characteristics of historic parts of Montgomery. 
“It was most interesting working within midcentury modern style,” Gary says. “I've grown to love it, and this was my first chance to work within that style.” With its marriage of muses, the home encompasses iconic midcentury ethos — sans pink tile or shag carpet — with clean lines, earthy elements, and minimalism of materials. With the incorporation of plants, sights and sounds of water, continuity between indoor and outdoor areas, whether the large sliding doors are open or closed, the open-air rooms fuse with the interiors — not only a pillar of midcentury style but also a key element at Alys. “My favorite feature has to be the courtyard pool,” Scott says. “It's not only a space where our family has a lot of fun year-round, but its design enhances the aesthetic of the property."
The architecture spotlights laid-back living and exceptional design in equal measure. The look of the cedar paneling on the front exterior is carried throughout the home’s interior and exterior spaces from the kitchen to even the pantry and closets. Every detail relates to another, from the square-shaped recessed lighting, which recalls the home’s straight lines, to the inclusion of the captivating breeze blocks in the courtyard, which tie in to the recyclable architectural-grade concrete of the Peacock Pavers. Black aluminum framed windows showcase peaceful views and saturate the home in natural light. “I wanted the materials to feel earthy and seamless between the indoors and outdoors,” Tiffany says. “When all the trees are full, it really can feel like we’re up in a treehouse, and I love that.”
Whitewashed Birmingham-esque brick and bright white walls create a quiet backdrop for a bustling family life and busy schedules. “I have days I wake up and can’t believe an empty lot and a wild concept all came together and is ours to enjoy,” Tiffany says. In the kitchen, warmly stained white oak cabinets and matte black hardware keep things earthy and modern atop concrete-looking porcelain tiles on the main level, with heavier actual concrete flooring on the lower level. The 16-foot honed marble island has become Grand Central for the family. “The kitchen is truly where we live,” says Tiffany. “Starting with breakfast before school, then homework after school — it's where we do crafts, projects, cooking, baking, and visit with friends. It all seems to just naturally and comfortably happen around the island.” 

At its completion, the house’s architecture is nearly identical to its very first sketch — all it needed was the four Bells who would morph that drawing from work of art to home. 

Architect: Gary Justiss
Builder: Hancock Construction
Interior Design: Amanda Reynolds
Kitchen Island: Alabama Stone Works 
Landscape Design: Millhouse Howell
Pool: Cox Pools
Greenery provided by Mark Thompson, SHOPPE. 
Artwork: Beverly Erdreich, Canary Gallery
Breeze Blocks: Villa Lagoon Tile