From the street, at first glance, very little distinguishes Barry Harrison’s East Coast-style frame home from several of the other “row” houses lining the same block in Birmingham. Harrison, co-owner along with Arturo Sanchez of Art | Harrison Interiors, says that when the residences were constructed in 1942, almost all of them were identical. Today, many — including Harrison’s — continue to have architectural traits in common. “I wanted to keep my exterior consistent with my neighbors’ exteriors,” he says.
But from the moment you zero in on the home’s stunning and unique front yard landscape treatment, you sense there’s going to be a lot of magic here — both inside and out.
In the front of the house, not one blade of grass exists. Instead, crushed granite has been meticulously laid in the shape of an X. “The center of that X marks the spot for a sculpture I plan to make eventually,” the multitalented homeowner says. Luscious green myrtle and pachysandra have been carefully planted in shiny, black-brown cocoa mulch along the perimeter of the X. A huge rectangular planter, made out of galvanized steel, then acid-etched to look like lead, graces the front porch, along with a few small terracotta pots. “I like to fill them with succulents and sedum, which are both drought-type plants, so I only have to water them once or twice a month,” the designer says.
The backyard is unique, as well — and, once again, there’s not a blade of grass to be found. The patio, made out of crushed granite, is surrounded on all four sides by a moat, and you have to step across a bridge made out of a thick slab of granite in order to reach it. (The moat contains 14 koi fish that were brought to Michigan from the Kentucky farm that Harrison, a Kentucky native, recently sold.) At the far end of the patio, a wooden potting shed/fountain, painted white and designed and built by Harrison, provides a continuous soothing, splashing sound. Harrison says he and Sanchez also constructed the great-looking, obelisk-shaped structure, made out of cedar and painted white, that cleverly hides both the home’s air conditioner and garden tools.
Inside the home (originally 800 square feet and now 2,100), which Harrison purchased 22 years ago because of its “proximity to Birmingham and because it was the right scale,” room after room is filled with delightful furniture and accessories. Much of the furniture was designed and crafted by Harrison and Sanchez in the studio located just behind their Royal Oak office. “Where I grew up in Berea, Ky., we didn’t just go out and buy our furniture,” Harrison says. “We made it.”
In the breakfast area, two upholstered wooden benches, crafted by the pair, sit on either side of a handsome table made out of 2-inch-thick walnut planks.
The kitchen, originally a bedroom, is just beyond. “With its white marble counters and white subway tile, which makes every surface washable, Barry was ahead of the curve when he did this kitchen,” Sanchez says. In homage to Harrison’s Kentucky roots, the kitchen’s knotty-pine cupboards are chock-full of blue-and-white pottery from Bybee, the oldest operating pottery west of the Appalachians.
In the family room, two imposing 52-inch-high wing chairs that Harrison designed 25 years ago flank a rattan cocktail table whose original legs were cut off and replaced with casters. Built-in shelves hold the designer’s Kentucky-based collection of ceramic chicken feeders. “They’re made out of what were originally shoulder jugs for whiskey,” he says. “They’re pretty rare, and I’ve got them in all kinds of sizes.”
Located on the second floor and above the garage, the knotty pine-paneled library, an addition, overlooks St. James Park and is Harrison’s personal workspace. “It’s my favorite room in the house because I can paint and sculpt and sit and read there,” he says. “It purposely has no place to nap because it’s a functional studio.
“This house is a blend of all the designs we do for our clients,” Harrison continues. “However, none of my house is formal, even though we do a lot of formal houses. It’s a pleasure to live here.”