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Mark D. Sikes Works Midcentury Magic on a Southern Ranch House

The California designer honors an Alabama home’s past with lovely layers of pattern and playful decorating touches.

    

It’s said that every house tells a story. If so, Ragan Cain’s Mountain Brook, Alabama, home’s is, simply put, a love story. As with many a romance, it begins with a vivacious gal and an unsuspecting suitor: in this case, a 1950s home on the market by its original owners. At first glance Cain was unimpressed with the façade—it was far from the grand Tudor or sweeping colonial she’d always envisioned. But it did offer an unheard-of nine acres inside city limits, which appealed to her, as she and her husband Brad were craving space and a place to put down roots. As she walked through the midcentury rooms for the first time, its intact architecture (original elements like interior shutters, a sweet ’50s kitchen, a groovy sunroom bar with bifold doors, to name a few) whispered in her ear. She was, to her surprise, smitten.

So smitten that after the couple purchased the home, Cain didn’t have the heart to rip out all those little details that had charmed her in the first place. “I love, love, love old houses. The way they make you feel, the stories they have to tell. Really nothing makes me happier,” she says.“I decided to embrace the home’s quirks and imperfections and simply decorate it.”

The garden view in the dining room is always in bloom with a hand-painted wallcovering by Gracie. The table is by Century and the lighting is by Visual Comfort & Co.AMY NEUNSINGER

Enter California designer Mark D. Sikes, who she’d met when he delivered the keynote at the 2016 Birmingham Botanical Gardens’s Antiques at the Garden show. Cain, who served as a cochair of the event that year, had been a longtime admirer of his work. “I gravitated toward his use of color and pattern, his love of beautiful pieces and the history of things,” she explains. On a whim, she asked if the noted designer would be willing to come take a look at her home. He said yes.

Mark D. Sikes’ Alabama House Tour

The Farm

Three Finnsheep graze in the backyard of the 1950s Mountain Brook, Alabama, house.

That one meeting was all it took for Sikes, in turn, to be charmed by Cain and her vision of keeping the bones and simply updating the decor. “The property reminded me so much of my grandparents’ white rancher. Little details like the door hardware felt familiar. A lot of young people would have wanted to rip out everything. Ragan did not,” he recalls. “She didn’t want to lose the spirit of the place.”

Inspired by the enigma of a young woman enthralled with an old house, Sikes envisioned rooms with equal parts Southern gentility and youthful edge. Color played an important role in marrying the two. Zinging shades of green and yellow—two of the least buttoned-up colors in the rainbow—are revisited from room to room, taking the edge off formal spaces. The living room, for instance, is replete with chintz and fine china, but is also swathed in sunny yellow walls that replace static traditionalism with exuberance and energy.

Dramatic wallpapers similarly awakened the midcentury rooms. In the kitchen, Sikes incorporated a dense floral to bring an of-the-moment je ne sais quoi to the relatively modest cook space (which, to the shock of her friends, Cain left nearly as is, but for the addition of a new window, range hood, and island). “Ragan isn’t afraid when it comes to decor,” Sikes says. “The home teems with little decorative flourishes—wallpapered ceilings, painted millwork—that other clients might have shied away from.” But that never occurred to her. “I completely trusted Mark. I told him ‘more is more’ and to let his creativity run wild.”

The upstairs landing’s mash-up of patterns—checks (Claremont), florals (Duralee on the sofa and Soane wallcovering), and stripes (MDS Rugs for Merida)—is surprisingly soothing thanks to its restricted palette.AMY NEUNSINGER

Also integral to the home’s design was Cain’s passion for heirlooms and antiques. Growing up in Eufaula, Alabama—a veritable mecca for Southern antiquities, with streets lined with historic antebellum homes—she cultivated an early appreciation for pieces with soul.“From the time I was in college, I’ve always been on the hunt for antiques. I bought what I loved and then figured out what to do with it later,” she explains. Those years of hunting and gathering meant that Sikes had a number of treasured pieces at his disposal, including a grand English hutch he placed in the dining room and mahogany twin beds he dressed up with white linen slipcovers. Continuing the spirited juxtaposition of young and old, he matched patinaed furnishings with modern touches. In one of the guest bedrooms, for instance, an antique bamboo mirror hangs alongside an original abstract painting by Texas-born artist Susan Hable.

“My job as a decorator is to create beautiful spaces, but more importantly, to create spaces that reflect who my clients are,” Sikes says. Indeed, the meandering home is a kaleidoscope of inviting patterns and hues and personal collections, all of which are an embodiment of Cain’s vibrancy and warmth. “It’s as if this house says ‘hello’ when you walk in, it tells you a story, then it sings to you,” he adds. “And when you leave, you feel loved.”

This story originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Veranda.

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