The following article, a design for a family weekend house at Lake Martin, Alabama, appeared in the September issue of House Beautiful magazine.
We are reprinting it with their kind permission. As a bonus for our blog readers, I’ve included some of our original design drawings of the house. The article was written by Lisa Cregan and photographed by Francesco Lagnese.


Lisa Cregan: How do you create rooms that glow?

Susan Ferrier: Dark walls illuminate everything — even people. There’s no need to be timid with black! To experience the full beauty of light, I really think you need the presence of darkness. This house is on a peninsula with a cove on one side and a big lake on the other. Because the windows are the brightest things in the rooms, they catch your eye, and sparkling water seems to be everywhere. You’re totally in the landscape; you don’t shut the door and leave the lake behind.


For a new house, it feels spun from the past.

Natural wood darkens over the years, so these ebony-stained pine walls imply age; they give the house instant history. This place is meant to look like it might have already been here in the 1920s or ’30s — and that was my directive. The husband asked me to re-create the cabin from the movie On Golden Pond.


But this looks absolutely nothing like On Golden Pond.

That’s good! Because I rented the movie and thought, This couldn’t possibly be right. I mean, photos are thumbtacked to walls, and there’s almost no furniture. I knew my client didn’t want that. Then I realized he was talking about the emotion, not the exact aesthetic. He and his wife have six-year-old twins, and this is their weekend home. They want to grow into that movie, to create intimate family moments, and I love that idea. I’ve worked with this house’s architect, Bobby McAlpine, for 15 years, and we’re always less about decorating, more about capturing a mood.


Is that why you chose such a dreamy, misty palette?

The colors are purposely atmospheric — faded, foggy tones with only small pops of white to add crisp outlines. The little bit of white in the lampshades and curtains stands at attention here and keeps things percolating.

Weren’t you at all tempted to add a primary color?

No way. I think colors should blend, not jolt you awake; I never want to add anything bright. Stark contrast would have taken the power out of these muted, washed-out shades of green and blue. A color like orange, for example, would look synthetic, unrelated to what’s natural here — the way the mossy green of the living room screen picks up the undergrowth beneath the trees, and the way the grays feel like an extension of the fieldstone walls. The blues even have a little bit of a green undertone, like lichen on a stone.


I love that there are so many places to gather.

I thought a lot about that. The coffee table in the living room lifts up and down, so it can be used for games and puzzles. I never think a low, square coffee table engages the center of a room enough — this clover shape gives people a reason to congregate. This house was designed for family interaction. Fabrics are mostly carefree linens, and the living room furniture is straightforward, not overembellished, so it’s inviting. There’s a wonderful screened dining porch and even a bunk room for the children and their friends. It’s all very low-key.

With the possible exception of these outrageous oversize chandeliers in the living room and dining porch.

I’m all about generous gestures. These are 12-foot-high ceilings, and if you have the space, you should fill it! Spread out and relax. Don’t punctuate a big wall with a small painting — that feels so stingy. And a tall ceiling with a tiny light fixture is like a fly in the room. I want to take a swat at it.


If an all-white kitchen had a polar opposite, this would be it.

We thought it would be nice to make the kitchen cozy and dark to encourage quiet conversation. It has a lower ceiling than the rest of the house, and that makes it feel even darker, which I like. The wife’s parents have a home nearby, so we designed the room with visiting family and friends in mind. The dining chairs and counter ottomans are the same height to be interchangeable, and you look up from them to the working island and out to the lake. It all flows up. This kitchen shows how I feel about dark spaces — if the room is dark, go darker. Just go with it.


You lightened up for the guest bedroom, though.

I like to use all the colors in my palette in the heart of the home, then edit, using some of those hues as I work out from the center. The guest room is where blue landed, but it’s a greenish gray-blue, much cooler than navy. And the brown isn’t a chocolate, it’s more gray. There’s not much contrast, so it’s peaceful.


Do you think there’s something primal that draws people to live on the water?

I think what people enjoy most is the boundary — the place where land and water meet. You can say you love the water, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to live on a boat, right? There’s a romance to being on the shore and looking out at the water, being close but observing it from the warmth and darkness of the earth. That’s what this house is all about. When I have clients who say they don’t want dark walls, I bring them here. And they always say this is exactly what they want.




TEMP002 copy


TEMP001 copy


Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley


  1. Melinda says:

    This home makes my heart swell…….

  2. Greg and Susan, Beautiful work… as always!

  3. Pat Selkirk says:

    Absolutely gorgeous!!!

  4. This is absolutely perfect!
    Clapping hands………….

  5. Dee says:

    Greg! This is just the best….but then that is no surprise!

  6. Janine Dunn says:

    I think this interview is brilliant. You explain and describe this project so beautifully!! You’ve given me a new way to see so much more than I would have before reading your article. All of you are wonderfully brilliant and always seem so kind and in tune to so much more than simply designing, building and decorating houses. That’s really an understatement. Thank you for all that you create and share.
    Janine Dunn

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