The Baker Home
By Lisa Stephens Rahn • Photography by Brian W. McDonald
When Stephanie and Matt Baker first viewed the home where they now reside in the heart of Troy, Alabama, they thought it was a long shot. “We looked at the house out of curiosity; we didn’t think it would be a reality,” Stephanie admits.
Built in 1869, the residence is on the National Register of Historic Places. Named “the Henderson-Baker House,” it was the childhood home of former Alabama Gov. Charles Henderson, built by his father, Jeremiah Henderson. The property was in the possession of Patricia Barnes, “Sister Schubert,” when the Bakers purchased it in 2010. With oversight from a historical architect, Barnes had renovated the home to reclaim its past prominence with plans to make it a bed-and-breakfast.
“The first thing my husband said when we walked in the front door was, ‘this is where we would put the Christmas tree,’ pointing to a spot in front of a window in the foyer. It’s the exact spot where our large, formal tree goes each year,” Stephanie shares. “As a child, I wanted to live on this street. This really is a dream come true for us.”
Even with the instant connection the couple felt with the home, a few changes were necessary to make it suit the everyday life of the young family of four, the main one being the expansion of the kitchen. “This was really the only part of the house we gutted,” Stephanie says. Adding square footage and opening it to neighboring portions of the house, the Bakers did away with a long hallway and created an airy space coated in creamy custom cabinetry, marble counters, an island of honed granite and seating grounded by wooden floors. For architectural interest, they added coffered ceilings that echo those in the dining and living rooms.
Reflecting the kitchen’s tones is a flocked Christmas tree glazed with driftwood garland and whimsical adornments. Preserved boxwood wreaths over the windows further brighten the feel of this space, busy with activity during the holiday season. “This is the most modern part of the house,” Stephanie notes. “This was the area I got to have the most influence in,” she adds, mentioning she kept the drapes and wallpaper Barnes installed elsewhere in the home.
The Bakers added stained glass by Charles Adams atop the columns that divide the living room and kitchen from the back stairwell, which is lined with Christmas cards this time of year. “Christmas cards are definitely one of my favorite parts of the season,” Stephanie says. “I decorate with my Christmas cards. It’s fun for visitors and my girls to see their friends. I collect and save them each year.”
The homeowners relocated a pie pantry that formerly resided in the kitchen to the living room for use as an entertainment center. “We wanted to keep it with the home, but it didn’t make sense for it to be in the kitchen, so we moved it in here,” Stephanie says. “It’s old, it’s pine, the doors don’t close, but it’s solid.” This piece is united with a mixture of distinguished and relaxed furnishings to create a comfortable elegance that balances the formality of the older home with real life for Matt and Stephanie, and their daughters, 9-year-old Campbell and 6-year-old Sara Gray. “This is where we watch football and the kids pull out sleeping bags and have sleepovers and there’s popcorn everywhere,” Stephanie says. “While this is a beautiful home and we love the historic heritage, this is a family home, not a museum.”
Stephanie adds in regards to the living room, “This is Christmas headquarters. Santa comes here. ... This particular tree is all Christian icons—there are a lot of crosses, mothers and sons and angels. A lot were not made as ornaments—I had a cross collection years ago and they made their way from the wall to the tree.”
In the neighboring dining room, a relief above the fireplace acts as the focal point. A gift from Jeremiah Henderson to his wife, Millie, it sets the tone for the room. “We use that as a sort of inspiration in here, playing off the cherubs and the gold,” Stephanie says. Large, heavy antiques collected over time combine with historical pieces, documents and photos dating back to the Henderson family to honor the style and heritage of the house. “It makes me appreciate my home more because we’re one of a long line of families that have lived here,” Stephanie acknowledges. “The furniture, portraits, the pieces—they don’t belong to us, they belong to the home, and if for some reason we’re not with the home, they will stay here.”
Creating a rich melding of traditions by personalizing the room with Baker family heirlooms, the table is set with Stephanie’s grandmother’s crystal, her mother’s china and Matt’s grandfather’s goblets. “It’s important to me to incorporate family pieces, though I might do it in a little different way,” Stephanie asserts.
This harmonizing of the past with modern-day life is also evident upstairs, where each bedroom features mature antiques paired with just enough playful touches to show the homeowners don’t take themselves or their living space too seriously. “I do have some eclectic art. That’s not typical of a historical home,” Stephanie affirms. “Every piece of art is local or I know the artist or it has a story behind it.” Year-round, angels are the subject of many of the works. “I love history, but I’ve still got somewhat of a modern style. It’s been fun to mix the two,” Stephanie remarks.
Each daughter’s bedroom includes a tree designed to fit her interests, and off of the downstairs guest room, the Baker children have a hideaway playroom, once intended as the innkeeper’s sitting area, that also gets its own tree at Christmas. “This was a good way for me to incorporate ornaments they bring home from school,” Stephanie says.
Now spending their fifth holiday season in the house, Stephanie reflects, “The first year we were here, I think I had six Christmas parties. ... It is fun to decorate and have people in our home, and I guess the essence of it is sharing our family and home and faith with others.”
The spacious rooms of the abode are particularly useful when the whole family of 30 to 40 comes over for a “Santa” Fe soup dinner Christmas Eve after strolling together to church. “It’s a formal setting, but it’s really not a formal affair,” Stephanie tells. “We have lots of musicians in the family, so they play and we have a sing-along. People are yelling over each other, and it’s loud, but it’s really fun."
“Everybody that comes in this house says this is a happy home. I think it’s all the windows and all the light, and we used light colors. I also think there is a spirit of joy here. I love that we can walk to church every Sunday and we walk to the farmers’ market downtown and there are kids in the neighborhood,” Stephanie says. “This feels right to me. This is what home should feel like.”
“Christmas is an opportunity for us to show our hospitality,” she continues. “It’s definitely about celebrating Jesus’ birth and the hope we can find in that. It’s family, and it’s about us finding ways to return our blessings or help others in the spirit of giving, and a time for us to stop and be thankful.”
“Santa” Fe Soup
2 pounds ground round
1 onion, chopped
2 (1-ounce) packages ranch dressing mix
2 (1.25-ounce) packages taco seasoning mix
1 (16-ounce) can black beans
1 (16-ounce) can kidney beans
1 (16-ounce) can pinto beans
1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 (16-ounce) can Mexican stewed tomatoes
1 (16-ounce) can shoepeg corn
1 (16-ounce) can Mexican corn
2 (16-ounce) cups water
Sour cream, to garnish
Shredded cheese, to garnish
Sliced green onions, to garnish
Black olives, to garnish
Tortilla chips, to serve
Brown beef with onion. Stir in ranch dressing and taco seasoning mixes. Add remaining ingredients without draining. Cover. Simmer for 2 hours. Add additional water to keep soup from getting too thick. Add garnishes, as desired. Serve with tortilla chips. Serves 8 to 10.