On August 10, 2015, Marian Humphries went to work excited for the beginning of a new school year at Vestavia Hills Elementary School Central, where she served as principal before retiring. She was gathered with school staff in preparation for students returning three days later when she received a devastating call from her husband, Maurice. The Liberty Park home they had built together was on fire.
Marian and their two adult children—also educators—rushed home as firefighters fought to extinguish the flames. “We all felt so blessed when we saw that my husband, their dad was ok. After all, material things are not what makes life worthwhile.”
Officials allowed the Humphries to survey the damage outside. Everything was covered in soot and ash, but amidst the destruction, they saw a huge philodendron toppled on its side. The plant had been given to their daughter by a family friend named John Wiley nearly 30 years prior.
“The inside was still burning,” shares Marian. “They made us put on boots and full gear and we walked down the side and around the back of the house with the firemen. I yelled out, ‘John Wiley!’ They thought it was a person, they didn’t understand it was a plant! We were so glad to see something we could save. I told them John Wiley’s a survivor like us.”
The Humphries home of seven years was deemed a total loss. They moved into a hotel for six weeks and then to an apartment in downtown Homewood while they determined where to live permanently. While they had enjoyed raising their two children in the suburbs, their temporary residence introduced them to the joys of living in a more central location within walking distance to restaurants and shops.
“We had such a good experience building in Liberty Park, but we didn’t want to build there again because of the memories of the fire,” says Marian. “We started looking and looking for the right place.”
As Co-Founder, President and C.O.O. and of LAH Real Estate, Maurice had plenty of experience and lots of friends helping search for their perfect home. They were at a company holiday party when a friend told them about a home he was building in Birmingham’s historic Redmont neighborhood near English Village, but worried would be too much space for him. The Humphries went to see the construction in progress and, after three years of searching, knew they had found the place to call home.
“The house was 75 percent finished,” Marian recalls. “We came in at just the right time and got to pick out the jewelry, the fun part—the paint colors, the chandeliers and light fixtures, the hardwood floors. We had inherited so many things from family over the years. It was hard to lose so much, but we decided to take our time and pick out the items we really wanted.”
The Humphries were able to save several pieces of furniture—a leather-covered desk, two console tables, a pair of antique chests, a beloved mirror, pieces of art—and a few other items like a crystal vase that somehow survived unscathed. They were amazed to see the transformation brought by restoration specialists to pieces heavily damaged by fire, smoke and water. The Humphries have enjoyed sourcing furniture and accessories from local shops and picking out art pieces during their travels.
The home was built by Gip Plott, who specializes in commercial real estate projects. He expertly planned the home to sit on the footprint of the original house, making it seem as though the home has always been part of the historic surroundings.
“The bones of the house were here,” says Maurice. “The builder preserved as much of the brick as possible. Instead of bringing in new brick, he salvaged it from old buildings like the Waites downtown.”
Inside guests are welcomed into the grand foyer, which features one of the home’s four fireplaces and opens into the spacious den, beautiful deep blue kitchen and elegant dining area that comprise the main living space. The main level features an office and three large bedrooms.
At the top of the delightfully designed staircase is a small den the Humphries grandkids love to claim as their own. Marian utilizes the basement as an art studio.
The true gems of the property are the outdoor spaces. The Humphries had long admired the courtyard gardens of England but could never achieve the feeling in spacious Liberty Park. Their new home is tucked into its surroundings with privacy walls and gated courtyards that encompass soothing fountains and lovely garden areas.
The stone walls feature unusual elements like glass balls, old tools and hidden stone faces. Out the back door is a covered patio complete with stone fireplace, generous seating and a large-screen TV—the perfect spot for the family to gather to watch a fall football game.
The couple’s favorite feature is their new neighborhood. “It’s a really convenient location,” says Maurice. “It’s five minutes to Homewood, five minutes to downtown, five minutes to Crestline.”
“We have wonderful neighbors,” Marian shares. “We love walking the sidewalks. The English Village Garden Club is a caring and entertaining group who really cares about the best interest of our neighborhood and the city. We like to walk to Vino and Chez Lulu to eat or have a glass of wine. And the grandkids love to walk down to Continental Bakery to get cookies when they visit. We just love living in English Village.”