You might think sitting in your car in an elementary school carpool line would be an unlikely scenario in which to spot your dream home. You also might find it difficult to see the “dream” part through the wild vines choking the structure’s dilapidated exterior. But you’re not Pandy Agnew.
photography by Jean Allsopp
Pandy, a longtime decorator, and her daughter, Sunni Glidewell, co-own The Good Life, a Birmingham shop that specializes in home, gift, and baby items. But on the day Pandy caught sight of what she says appeared to be an “abandoned shack” in Springville, she had recently realized that retirement on the shores of Florida just didn’t suit her.
“My mother is 79 and works every day, and I’ll probably follow in her footsteps,” Pandy says.
Pandy spent five years traveling back and forth between her Florida home and Birmingham, staying alternately with Sunni’s family and with her mother. “It gets old, and you wear out your welcome,” she says. So Pandy was in the market for a house of her own closer to family.
She was waiting in line to pick up her grandchildren from school when the well-worn house with the “For Sale” sign in the front yard caught her eye. The ramshackle building enticed her with its wraparound porch complete with an old swing, and the giant oak and walnut trees that towered overhead.
“This was in my period of living within my means,” Pandy says. “And for $75,000, the house looked great!”
It turned out that the house was not simply old, but historical; it was built in 1880 and had served as the Springville postmaster’s house.
The home’s modest size—1,350 square feet—was not a deterrent for Pandy, who treasures simplicity and describes her move from the beach as a cleansing experience. “All I brought from there was a couple of chairs and all my books,” she says. “My years of decorating have taught me that I need less than anybody, and I don’t want to have anything to take care of.”
Smart Storage for Small Spaces
Pandy Agnew knows firsthand how important it is to be creative and resourceful when finding space in a home where square footage is at a premium.
Think built-ins Bookcases, window seats with storage underneath, and shelves are all functional and attractive space savers.
Stack appliances Pandy's stacked washer and dryer gave her space for hanging clothes on one side and built-in shelving on the other to keep laundry supplies within easy reach.
Redefine usable space There were no closets in Pandy’s home before the renovation. Along one wall in her room, where the washer/dryer and water heater had been, she hung drapes to create a long, spacious closet.
Be creative "It's like a puzzle," Pandy says. "You just have to play with it long enough to figure out where to sneak in storage space."
She decided to use her decorator’s prowess to turn back time on this piece of history. The restoration comprised a top-to-bottom overhaul and took nine months and about twice the budget she had estimated. Builder Mark Nesmith and carpenter Scott Palmer worked with Pandy’s own drawings to transform the home into exactly what she had envisioned. “I didn’t know how much I was going to spend until it was over, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” she says.
Though she didn’t alter the footprint at all, Pandy focused on opening the house up and letting much-needed light into what had been a very dim interior. She accomplished this with large windows and fresh coats of Benjamin Moore’s Seashell paint throughout the home, chosen to match the Wellborn Divinity cabinets in the kitchen.
The airiness of the off-white palette offsets the rich heart-pine wood Pandy salvaged from the original floors and used to create doors for the previously nonexistent closets, as well as a ceiling in the entry. Four-foot pine beams went up in every room to help support the ceilings; they serve double duty in lending warmth and a dose of the charm Pandy is so passionate about.
A happy discovery came when the dropped ceilings were removed to reveal the original tongue-and-groove overhead. The gray-green boards are oddly shaped and bear signs of life previously lived here, including handwriting visible on the wood. Pandy found them delightful in their imperfection. “Quirkiness is part of the charm,” she says. “I’m all about charm, not perfection.”
The finished house is a far cry from the rundown building in which Pandy saw such potential, but it retains its sense of history and the comforts of home. Preserving that was an important consideration for Pandy, and, she notes, should be at the heart of any renovation.
“Be reverent,” she advises anyone considering a home renovation. “Every house has its own personality, and if you really listen and look at it long enough, it will dictate what it needs.”