Roy & Liane’s Design-Build Home

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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Name: Roy and Liane Burns, their baby Walt, and dog Zee
Location: Bluff Park — Birmingham, Alabama
Size: 2,600 square feet
Years lived in: 2 — owned

When graphic designers Roy and Liane Burns set out to buy their first house, they sought modern, affordable, and sustainable living. After an unavailing search, they met co-founders Matthew Finley (of Matthew & Mikel’s DIY Water+Works Remodel) and Will Brothers from the design-build practice Green Bottle Workshop. Over coffee and rice krispies treats, a GBW fav, Roy and Liane became convinced that their budget need not prevent them from building their dream home.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

After living in New York and Boston, Roy and Liane returned to their southern roots in Birmingham, Alabama where they could afford to settle down, buy a house, and start a family. Their favorite potential property, in the Bluff Park neighborhood, was initially listed well outside their budget. But after 5 months on the market resulted in a significant price decrease, the land and Roy and Liane’s dreams to build became attainable. In stepped Matthew and Will from Green Bottle Workshop to kick their grassroots architectural design for the Burns Residence into high gear.

It’s not often that future homeowners, like Liane and Roy, have their designers actually construct their home. Yet graduating from the likes of Auburn University’s Rural Studio, Green Bottle Workshop expected nothing less for them. Working collaboratively with GBW, they stayed involved with everything from the selection of Greenguard Certified building insulation to the red powder coated paint that Russell’s Speed Shop used to transform their off-the-shelf industrial pendant lamps. With Roy and Liane’s impeccable taste showing itself through every furnishing, faucet and fixture, coupled with GBW’s extraordinary resourcefulness and hands-on process, they have a home oozing with innovation, light, rustic materiality, and modern warmth.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Rural Modern

Inspiration: Eichler. Rapson. Mockbee and the Rural Studio.

We’d initially looked for a nice MCM/Ranch house to renovate, and found a number of places with potential. Unfortunately, they were all in the higher reaches of our modest-but-respectable budget and would leave us with nothing for updates and improvements.

After more months of searching, a realtor friend of ours invited us to look at a recently completed modernist cottage reno. We were smitten! However, the house was considerably outside of what we were able to spend.

While viewing the house, we were excited to discover that it was one of the first projects by a local, fledgling Design/Build practice — Green Bottle Workshop — started by recent graduates of Auburn University’s renowned architectural program (and the late, great Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio).

Being longtime fans of the Rural Studio, we felt compelled to seek out the architects — Will Brothers and Matthew Finley — and offer our appreciation. Also, we thought we’d inquire about possible current or future reno projects that might be more in line with our budget. As it turned out, they were agreeable to our budget for the design and build of a new construction residence! All we had to do, was find a place to build.

Favorite Element: Do we have to pick just one?

We love the exterior entryway piece. It has a dynamic quality and adds to the front elevation through its contrasting materials (wood and deliberately weathered steel to the house’s clean, white, fiber-cement board siding). The centerpiece — a bespoke steel pendant light designed and fabricated by Will and Matthew — acts as an interesting sculptural moment during the day. At night, the lit pendant transforms the entire structure into a giant lantern, dramatically casting light upward and downward.

Inside, we love the way the custom birch plywood-cladded “volume” and entryway wall — alternately painted and stained — beautifully contrasts a mostly white interior. The “volume” anchors the house, providing its visual core. As well, it smartly houses all of the electrical and plumbing.

The master bath vanity is quite nice as well. Fabricated by Green Bottle utilizing Ikea Pax cabinet elements, a butcher block countertop, and custom-designed steel frame vanity mirrors.

Biggest Challenge: Finding a place to build!

Locating affordable property close to the city was easily our biggest challenge (taking nearly a year of almost constant searching.)

What Friends Say: Our friends and family are in awe of the finished house (as are we!). We get loads of requests to move in. Mainly, no one can believe that: A) we were brave enough to tackle a project of this scale and unique design and B) we were able to afford it. We can’t either!

Biggest Embarrassment: One very early, very cold Sunday morning while checking out the work on the upstairs balcony, we managed to lock ourselves out. After 10 minutes of panic and 15 minutes of running through various exit scenarios — including everything from jumping, to breaking and entering, to calling our sleeping friends who’d never let us live it down — we were just about to resign ourselves to having the builders discover our bodies the next morning, when we decided to call Will and sheepishly explain our predicament. As it turns out, he was in the middle of brunch with his wife Gia. We were extremely embarrassed and apologized profusely. Typically and unsurprisingly Will was nothing but gracious. 20 short minutes later, he and Gia came to our rescue.

Proudest DIY: Our 4-month old son Walt!

Actually, we’re not big DIY types, so grant us a little leeway here.

We did select and assemble the closet units in the office and guest bedroom (Ikea’s Pax system). It took us almost a month of weekends to accomplish (allowing for hiccups), and we’re really pleased with the results. If you were being generous, you might consider our temporary conversion of one of the closest units into a makeshift changing station for Walt DIY (allowing us to have changing stations upstairs and downstairs). We thought it to be pretty ingenious.

We’re proudest of the nursery that we put together in the upstairs loft outside our bedroom. Right now, it’s the coziest, most finished room in the house. Walt seems to like it too!

Biggest Indulgence: The kitchen and guest bath countertops were our only splurge. They are Silestone by Cosentino. Due to budget, we very nearly went with a less-expensive granite option… until Will, tactfully and politely, put his foot down.

Best Advice: Don’t give up on your dream no matter how hard it seems or how many people tell you it can’t be done.

Dream Sources:
• Dwell
• Living Etc.
• Apartment Therapy
“Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency” and “Proceed and Be Bold: Rural Studio After Samuel Mockbee” by Andrea Oppenheimer Dean and Timothy Hursley
• Trips to the Rural Studio (Newbern, AL and the surrounding area)

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Resources of Note:


    • Interior Wall/Ceiling: Benjamin Moore White Dove Satin
    • Trim: Benjamin Moore White Dove Semi-Gloss
    • Volume: Sherwin Williams Urbane Bronze Satin


    • Case Study Storage Unit: Modernica (
    • Herman Miller Eames Hang-it-all: Circa50 (


    • Logo Sofa/Logo Chair: Design Within Reach (
    • Tripod Floor Lamp: Design Within Reach (
    • Kartell Prince Aha Stool: Design Within Reach (
    • Rug: Crate & Barrel (www.crateandbarrel)
    • Drift 2 Door Console: Blu Dot (
    • Offi Scando Table: Design Public (


    • George Nelson Saucer Criss Cross Bubble Pendant: Modernica (
    • Eames Wire Chairs: vintage
    • Herman Miller Eames Round Dining Table: Highbrow Furniture (
    • Herman Miller Eames Storage Unit: Circa50 (


    • Tolix Tabouret Barstools: Antiquaire (
    • Silestone by Cosentino Countertops
    • Stainless Steel Appliances: Jenn-Air
    • Akurum Cabinets & Hardware: Ikea (
    • Industry Pendant Lamps (custom painted): CB2 (
    • La Toscana Elba Faucet – Every Faucet (
    • Dogleg Diner Bowls – Doca Pet (


    • Malm Queen Bed in Birch Veneer (sans headboard): Ikea (
    • Angela Adams Munjoy Bedding: Gilt (
    • Malm 6-drawer Chest in Birch Veneer: Ikea (
    • Herman Miller Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair in Red: Machine Age (
    • Herman Miller Eames Wire Table: Circa50 (
    • Kartell Componibili Round Storage Module in White: Allmodern (


    • Akurum Cabinets & Hardware: Ikea (
    • ENO & Bergne Talking Heads Hooks Coat Hooks: A+R (
    • Tofto Bathmat: Ikea (
    • La Toscana Elba Faucet – Every Faucet (
    • La Toscana Elba Tub Faucet / Double Hande Shower – Every Faucet (
    • American Standard Jetted Tub: Lowe’s (
    • French Petit White Vessel Sink: Overstock (


    • Malm 6-drawer Chest in Birch Veneer: Ikea (
    • Sniglar Crib: Ikea (
    • Herman Miller Eames Wire Table: Circa50 (
    • Kartell Componibili Round Storage Module in Red: Allmodern (
    • Ouef Mini Library Book Shelf: TotsNStyle (
    • Vinnie Cradle Chair in White (a.k.a. Eames Shell Rocker knockoff): Overstock (
    • Yee-Haw Industries Old Time Pickin’ Critter Prints: Etsy (
    • Fibbe Bins (Diaper Pails): Ikea (
    • Flor Rug (discontinued pattern): Flor (
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Thanks, Roy and Liane!

Images: Beth Lundell Garver & Finjay Studio

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