Whimsical Wonderland

By Lisa Stephens Rahn • Photography by Brian W. McDonald

     The Brantley, Alabama, home of Michael and Jackie Barnes has basically gone untouched since it was built in 1909, the integrity of its origins preserved, the couple choosing history over luxury. But at Christmas, the opposite is true—no surface escapes gild, as the homeowners mount a florid display of this joyful season—walls, mantels, tables, doors and windows festooned with lavish embellishments. It’s a dichotomy that somehow works wonderfully, the abundant, extravagant layers of holiday splendor rising above aged original floors, scuffed with character.

The couple bought the house two decades ago from Jackie’s great-aunt and great-uncle, who had owned it since 1952. “It’s like an old homeplace to us,” Michael says. “It was the perfect house—it hadn’t been updated.” When the Barnes took possession, one room still had knob and tube wiring, an aspect the homeowners revised, although they continue to forgo some modern conveniences like central heating and cooling in an effort to uphold the home’s heritage. “I don’t want to modernize it. They can do that when I’m dead,” Michael says. “Maybe one day, we’ll take the bathrooms up to the 20th century.”

     Michael personally upgraded the counter and backsplash in the kitchen, added a bedroom to the attic space, built on a back porch, employed repurposed wood to create molding, tore out all the sheetrock and added fresh paint. But otherwise, the home has escaped the transitions that often come with time.  

     To say the Barnes’ style is unique is a vast understatement, as the eclectic-country vibe is a melding of rudimentary remnants with elaborately lush accents. “It just happens by accident,” Michael tells. “I just have to experiment.” And while the inclusions may seem like a random and imaginative arrangement, some commonalities hold the look together, like the repetition of colors and patterns. [subscribe to read full article]