Mary Clark arrived in town five years ago and opened one of the most sophisticated shops in Birmingham—Beach Dwelling—an ethereal, light-filled space that oozed of european glamour.
There are a few things that Mary Clark just can’t live without—no mattter where she lives. The daybed in her SoHo loft has been recovered at least four times Mary says. “It’s one of those pieces that you can always make work somewhere—whether it’s a bedroom, living room, or study.” A wall of bookshelves defines the far wall where Mary color coordinates book jackets. A classic Knoll table suits library pleasures or cocktail hour. The silverplate Art Nouveau chandelier with its Swarovski crystals is a prized find.
photography by Jean Allsopp
With no real contacts or friends in the city, the buzz around town was “Who is she? Where did she come from?” Mary’s anonymity created just as much intrigue as the lofty shop in SoHo filled with pristine white furnishings, decadent chandeliers, and European flair. “I didn’t know anyone when I moved here,” Mary says. “My only claim to fame in Alabama is that my brother married Bear Bryant’s niece.” Despite her one connection, Mary certainly made her own way establishing herself as a design force in Birmingham.
Mary spent her childhood on a small farm in Arkansas under the influence of her creative mother. Her adult life took her to Memphis, then Nashville. Her first career was as an accountant with one of the Big 6 corporate firms. Trading her left brain for her right, she tapped into her creative side in Nashville and partnered with who she calls “a real interior designer,” Jessica Hawkins, to open Beach Dwelling—an online store.
Just as Birmingham’s retail version of Beach Dwelling was gaining momentum and Mary was gaining notoriety in Birmingham design circles, she left. She held a quick “going out of business sale,” packed her bags and retreated to Santa Fe.
Thankfully, her hiatus didn’t last long. Mary Clark is back in town, and has rejoined forces with Jessica and her talented team (click here for more) to open a brand new shop, Bellewether. Located in English Village, Bellewether is a little more gifty (jewelry, apothecary items), a little more contemporary, and more accessible to high style sensibilities on a budget.
Knowing she just might return because of husband Joe’s work, the couple maintained their 2,400 square foot live-above-the-shop loft at SoHo Square. “We bought one of the complex’s few two-story spaces,” says Mary. Originally closed in and leaning too much towards a typical condo look, Mary began her transformation. “I had never done a renovation before and thought it would be easy. That wasn’t the case,” Mary says. Permits and and structural restraints later, Mary’s home was ready for install. “I knew I wanted to lighten it up,” Mary says.
Employing her trusted craftsmen from Nashville, Mary designed a new kitchen, a wall of bookshelves, and worked with a few treasured items to create an atmosphere of loft living. There are no walls to separate the living, dining, kitchen, and study. Instead, Mary smartly delineated the areas with built-ins and furniture placement. The kitchen, above, is streamlined galley style with stainless steel and floating shelves. The backsplash is swathed in subway tile. Honed carrera marble tops a large island. “Some people might say, ‘Oh, another marble kitchen with floating shelves,’ but I love the simplicity,” Mary says.
The effect is much like walking into a Philipe Stark or Ian Schrager Hotel. “I still love the Delano Hotel in South Beach,” says Mary. “It may have been designed 15 years ago but it is still fresh and exciting,” Mary says.
The hoteliers’s influence is evident throughout Mary’s space. It’s part industrial, part cosmopolitan, part glamour, and it hosts a creative blend of sculptural furnishings. Assorted chairs scatter about—a Philippe Stark signature move—and the overall effect is dramatic with its wash of white on the floors, walls, and ceilings. “White is the best color,” says Mary. “To quote designer Richard Meier, ‘I think white is the most wonderful color because within it one can find all the colors of the rainbow.’”
In the dining area, Mary hung a collage of silhouettes and interesting textural items such as the feathered African Juju hat and battered empty frames. “This area needed a focal point,” she says. “I arranged them in a haphazard manner so the assortment could easily be added on to.” A modern floor lamp, handcrafted by New York artists, takes the place of a chandelier.
Mary says editing is the key to space design. “I’m constantly replacing things to fit the space I am in,” she says. “There are only a few things I take with me everytime I move: my daybed and my lighting.” Despite the completely modern feel, even antiques find their place here. The dining table is a German picnic table flanked by slipcovered sofas. A Swedish console serves electronic needs. “When I travel, I’m always looking—for old stuff, vintage pieces, and new items that are unique or handcrafted. “It’s the same kind of look we are carrying in Bellewether,” Mary says. “But unlike Beach Dwelling, we plan to rotate vingettes and styles that suit our whims.” Mary says her eclectic look isn’t one that is easy to achieve—even for her. “It’s a slow process. I never just move into a space and say, ‘Ah, it’s done.’”
Bellewether designers: Mary Clark, Jessica Hawkins, Rory Jelks, Monica Helms 2006 Cahaba Road; Birmingham, AL 35223; 205.637.5840 • www.shopbellwether.com • www.beachdwelling.com SoHo Square Realestate: www.alrealestate.com/SoHoFlats Custom cabinetry: kitchen and bookshelves: Kurt McKeithan Design www.kurtmckeithandesign.com
refrigerator: Sub-Zero • www.SubZero.com stove: Viking range corporation • www.vikingrange.com upholstery: Keel Refinishing & Upholstery 2416 4th Avenue South; Birmingham, AL; 35233-2206 • 205.251.6778