The high grounds rising above Downtown Mobile have long been home to the monumental and picturesque. From its earliest days, tree-canopied Spring Hill has been peppered with villa estates and later developments, which are renowned across the region for their beauty. A swerve into a curved drive accessing the residence of architect L. Craig Roberts and his partner Rob Spicer affords an experience of a living tradition of landscape and design excellence.
Roberts, an established and respected member of Mobile’s architectural community, has designed many notable homes in Spring Hill over the past three decades. A list of his clients is a veritable who’s who in Mobile. When it came time to design his own home in 2000, Roberts did not have to look far for the right site. The spacious corner lot at Bit and Spur Road and Westfield Avenue was within sight of his old house. When the lot became available, he and Spicer jumped at the opportunity, and the home they created in no way disappoints.
Though I have visited Roberts and Spicer on several occasions, each time the experience is relived anew. I am running late, but I take a second to absorb my surroundings. The ordered but organic orchestration of lush landscaping about the walled enclosures and built forms makes for an ever-changing scene of seasonal bounty. A hedge-bordered curve (one which I narrowly missed clipping) affords egress to a court designed to accommodate the reception of guests. A garden shed taking the form of a dovecote provides whimsy without forsaking practicality.
The grounds require meticulous attention. Roberts and Spicer, who do much of the work themselves, are both avid gardeners. (Roberts served as lead architect for the Festival of Flowers from 2011 until 2013.) Billowing upper-, medium- and lower-story plantings provide a balanced nuance to the whole complex. Local plantings are prioritized; seasonal inclusions add dashes of color. It is this landscape that frames one’s view of the main house and sets the stage for the views from within its walls.
The house is undeniably the anchor. The brick dwelling, with its spreading eaves, telescopes into the triangular lot. Roberts receives me, most informally and graciously, at the guest entrance. As we walk through the house, he speaks of his respect for and indebtedness to A. Hays Town. That late, great architect, a master of the regional traditions, championed Creole and coastal design legacies. The deep galleries, brick courts and overhanging eaves are very much of a Townsian persuasion. Roberts goes beyond Town in that he takes lessons from Mobile’s past and tailors them to the present. Cast-iron components “lace” massings and define contours without confining boundaries.
Inspiration and region are important, but they do not go the full distance in making a house a home.Roberts’ and Spicer’s house is just that — a home. Beyond the front door, that simple reality is made clear when one catches sight of the “great room.” If there is a space that lives up to that name, it is this one. One can happily spend days in this single room.
A fireplace anchors this multivalent space. Wide floorboards and an exposed beam ceiling (both made of materials salvaged from an old tobacco barn) lend patina to living and dining zones. Glassed cabinets afford a direct dialogue with the kitchen beyond. Spicer is an incredible chef, so flavors are smelt and felt. Bookshelves with collections of varying sort surround the room. Furnishings and collections catch the eye and inspire thought. Artwork by local painters lines walls (Benjamin Trimmer’s “Where’s the Limo, ” the oil featured on the cover of Frank Daugherty’s “Postmodern Times, ” decorates the laundry room!). The room’s height, textures of woodwork and decor, and the light filtered through the galleries and courtyards make for a broad space to be enjoyed throughout the day.
Public and private realms flow seamlessly from the great room and into the grounds. Roberts’ office is on axis with the dovecote, while the master bedroom looks out on a spacious garden. A tout ensemble and a true tour de force, the house an architect built and calls his own is an inspiration. Still in awe, I almost clip the hedge again as I drive away.
ABOVE LEFT Walled courtyards and sheltering galleries embrace the house. Cascading fountains and lush foliage enliven interior and exterior landscapes.
ABOVE RIGHT An entrance sets a tone. The front door to Roberts’ and Spicer’s house provides the perfect bridge from the outdoor to the indoor.
ABOVE LEFT Bubbling fountains and charming canines coexist. Hilde, the resident schnauzer, enjoys the cooling waters.
ABOVE RIGHT The “great room’s” fireplace is more than vertical accent. Here, art and comfort are one.
ABOVE This view of the house’s “great room” captures the free-flowing nature of the whole ensemble.
ABOVE The kitchen and bathrooms alike are at once elegant and functional, with pristine marble, wainscoting and bronze fixtures.
ABOVE Roberts’ office abounds with inspiration, as one should expect in the home of an architect.
text by Cart blackwell • photos by summer ennis