A Practical Mom’s Thoughts on the Decorator Showhouse

For years we were mesmerised by the rags-to-riches story of Richard Scrushy and the success of HealthSouth, then watched in horror as the wheels started coming off the “wagon”  (a favored Scrushy metaphor). This years’ Alabama Symphony Orchestra Decorators’ Showhouse is Scrushy’s former Birmingham residence, so we’ve been given a respectable excuse to peer into the domain of this business tycoon. 

The home, Longleaf Estates in Vestavia, is in a lovely setting above the city with a view south toward highway 280 and, surely not coincidentally, the HealthSouth headquarters (Scrushy was known for his close surveillance of the goings-on at the company). 

The guidebook points out that in the foyer, “The visitor immediately recognizes the good taste and wealth of their host…” and this gives me pause, as good taste and wealth do not always correspond (Elvis? Trump?).  You’ll have to look at the “before” photos in each room to see the house as it was found – mostly empty –  after it was auctioned off to help satisfy a judgment in favor of HealthSouth shareholders. 

One thing I’m sure organizers wish had been taken along with everything else was the grand piano left  in the Grand Salon. Most designers would welcome a grand piano as a universal accessory. However, this one has bright red accents and gold legs, more along the look of Liberace (here we go with wealth vs. taste again).  Props go to designer Mallory Smith whose guidebook page tactfully says, “The grand piano, which was original to this room, presented a bit of a challenge in the decor, but its classic tones are perfect for any area.” Way to save it, Mallory. I had to say the same thing about a hand-me-down dining table for years.

The downstairs bar has its own extravagant accessory in the form of a gold-plated swan faucet with wing-like knobs. Sure, man-made swans spewing water are an expected motif in public fountains. But those are public fountains

*Enough of that; let’s review this from a practical mom’s perspective. The Scrushy’s added to the original house, so there are rooms of every sort both upstairs and down. My question is, how do you successfully rally each member of the family to get in one place so you can leave on time? How can you hear the  assuring, “I’m coming!” hollered from the far back bedroom when you are already in the garage blowing your horn because you’re late? Maybe it would be easier to never leave, and why would you, when you have six rooms per person on the familly compound. 

*There are two commercial refrigerators on opposite sides of the kitchen, in addition to numerous smaller refrigerators throughout the home. I’m sure these required a staff just to keep them all stocked with fresh sodas and to cull the expired yogurt cups. What do you do if you are craving a slice of cheese at midnight? Walk down one of the three staircases to get to the main kitchen, or just hope there’s some colby jack in the nearest small fridge? Forget the pleasures of discovering the last slice of pie, because you’d never find it again.

*Kids lose things all the time. How do you find the mate to a shoe when there are 66 rooms where it could be? How do you corral the kids visiting for a sleepover or call to the one whose mom just drove up? Forget about having a party for the teenagers – waaay too many spaces to monitor. And how do you ever house-train a dog, who has to develop a routine starting with a dozen doors that lead outside? Oh well, the English nobility managed somehow for hundreds of years.

 So the showhouse offers plenty of decorating ideas and food for thought on how extravagant and yet complicated living can become (remember this is only one of several residences the Scrushys maintained). I’m sure Scrushy misses his gold-legged piano and swimming pool with the music note motif. But after spending years monitoring every move at headquarters, shuttling between houses, and keeping shareholders/investigators at bay, I would propose that a small space in a tightly controlled environment  – i.e., jail – is providing some serious time to think. I’m just glad the Symphony gets to benefit.

The ASO Decorators’ Showhouse runs from April 17 – May 2. Parking is at the Mountain Brook Community Church on Hwy 280.