by Bridget Kulla


A closer look at the Southern Living 2016 Idea House

by Bridget Kulla

It’s finally that time—Southern Living is unveiling this year’s Idea House. Perched in a valley in Mt Laurel (16 miles outside of Birmingham, Ala.) with views of Double Oak Mountain, this modified Dutch plantation house looks like it’s been here for decades. 

The home was envisioned and built with modern building products in traditional Southern style, and it truly is a sight to see.  If you’re jonesing to take a peek in person, you can. For the next few months (from June 25-Dec. 18) the home is open to the public and will likely see thousands of visitors pass through its doors. 

To learn more about the exterior design decisions of this Southern gem with jaw-dropping curb appeal, we spoke to the architect, Birmingham–based Bill Ingram, as well as the Project Manager Bryan Phillips and the Developer Ray Jackson. 

This cottage-inspired classic beauty fits well with the three most common styles of homes in the area, according to Developer Ray Jackson. It was planned with nature in mind in the community of Mt Laurel, where green space reins supreme and it’s a priority to “leave the trees.” In fact, it’s the town’s motto, Jackson says.  

When Architect Bill Ingram took on the project, he started by immersing himself in old Southern home research, looking at countless homes and blueprints for inspiration and ideas. Then it was on to location scouting. He saw the home’s possible location and immediately knew it was the perfect place for the 2016 Idea House. No other lots needed to be seen. 

And it makes sense; the land sits in a valley with epic views of Double Oak Mountain and surrounding nature trails. He made preserving the land’s history a priority in the home’s design.  The space is nestled between two quiet streets, and Ingram took this into consideration when designing the home and gave it two fronts, with two large connecting porches on each side. The longer of the two sides faces a ravine with trails and a nature preserve, and is a true focal point of the house. 


When you see the home, the first thing you notice is the raised Southern style wrap around porch, which feels like an outdoor dining room. Built 7 feet from the ground—with its classic pine bead board ceiling in traditional robin’s egg blue— you feel as though you are perched among the trees.

Down the porch steps, in the side yard is another outdoor entertaining area with standout landscape design by Landscape Architect David Brush, a Mt Laurel resident. With a mix of old trees and new local varieties, every choice feels intentional and inviting.


Taking a step back and looking at the home, you’ll notice the traditional style and modern palette of siding and trim hues that feel right at home within the neighborhood. 

“We wanted it to feel like a traditional Southern home, but have all the performance characteristics of newer homes,” says Project Manager Bryan Phillips. “Selecting the James Hardie® building products was a homerun, because we were able to maintain the traditional look and provide the performance home buyers demand today.” 

When selecting the exterior’s colors, Ingram wanted the main HardiePlank® lap siding color to feel traditional with a modern spin, so he opted for elegant Iron Gray.  The fresh white trim adds a pop that makes the home standout, as it’s one of the only homes in the area with such bold white trim, Ingram says. The back side of the house and garage is clad with diagonal Artisan V-Rustic siding in Arctic White. The direction of the boards adds a unique and modern edge to the home and matches the crisp, white trim for a unified look. And James Hardie’s ColorPlus® Technology safeguards the color from prematurely fading in the Southern sun. 

“I love the traditional look of clean white and forest green in older Southern exteriors, but this color palette has a little broader appeal—it blends the marriage of old and new,” Ingram says. 

The 9-foot shutters in lime green complement the dark siding hue, while adding a hint of freshness to the home’s facade. “The right lime green is my go-to accent,” Ingram says. “And I loved the way it turned out on these shutters.” 

Building the beauty didn’t come without its challenges, according to Phillips. “We have to compete with excessive heat and high humidity, which require a durable exterior material to withstand the elements over an extended amount of time,” Phillips says. 
Thankfully, Hardie® siding and trim are engineered with the Southern climate in mind. The exterior products are durable and well designed, made to protect homes from heat, humidity and blistering sun. 

The timeless Southern style continues with the home’s crisp, white double French doors that match the trim and seem to say, “Welcome home.”  And the tasteful, slender 10-inch columns feel just the right size, not competing with any of the home’s exterior elements. The three vertical dormer windows elongate the look of the 1.5 story home, and the 9-foot walkout windows on the first floor wrap around the home and steal the show with their matching 9-foot pop shutters. 

“On this project everyone was open to try new and innovative products—such as 9-foot windows, James Hardie siding and trim with ColorPlus Technology, and the Velux Solar Power Skylight, which made the process exciting,” says Project Manager Bryan Phillips. 

The entire home balances beauty, Southern charm and longevity. Even the garage, with access from the back alley and a guest room above, resembles an out building that an old Southern home might have. 

Once inside the home, the Southern elegance is in abundance, especially with the formal dining room and the central dogtrot-style hallways. If you tour the home, be sure to check out the team’s favorite spaces including the foyer, the upper and lower hallways and the upstairs Gathering Room.

For Ingram, a huge task with the space was finding the home’s interior flow. “There needed to be distinct spaces in distinct rooms,” Ingram says, “They all should flow with no dead ends, and I think we accomplished it.” 

We agree, Southern Living’s 2016 Idea House is well thought out with movement and meaning in every nook and cranny. The house blends modern building products and southern tradition and style to make you feel right at home (once you pick your jaw off the ground).