A Historic Austill Avenue Home Built for Entertaining

Jenny and Richard Tremayne found more than a home when they bought a historic property on Austill Avenue — they discovered a love for entertaining.

The inset porch in the gable of the Tremaynes’ 1901 house was influenced by the antebellum Austill house just a stone’s throw away. Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

An incredible number of historic houses get ruined as the decades pass. Each new owner, each new generation, each new aesthetic brings with it remodels, updates and demolitions. But occasionally you’ll find a time capsule — a house that never had a bad 1960s pink bathroom added, a 1970s brown kitchen remodel or a 1980s ceramic tile living room install. When one owner keeps an old house for their lifetime, the structure is sometimes preserved with all its original components — hardware, millwork, floors and everything else — intact. These gems are rare and a source of excitement for lovers of old houses.

Such was the case with the house at the corner of Old Shell Road and Austill Avenue. Many Mobilians drove past it every day but never took much notice. The volunteer ligustrum and camphor had taken over the property and almost completely obscured the 1901 Coastal Craftsman bungalow. But when Anne Goode passed away in 2015, after spending an entire lifetime in that home, her nephew decided to bring the place back to life.

It was never going to be a fix-it-and-flip kind of renovation, and that was the home’s second saving grace. When Fairhope’s David Sewell inherited the property, which measures almost an acre, he intended to move in full time. Because of that, the house wasn’t just updated, it was restored. Working with architect Douglas Kearley, no detail was overlooked, down to the new custom working shutters, identical to the ones that had once hung on the windows. 

His plans changed, however, and the house was eventually put on the market. That’s when Jenny and Richard Tremayne snatched it up. She is a self-described old-house person, and she adds that while he is not, he is handy and owns a really nice set of tools. Sounds like the perfect team to take on life in a historic structure.

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When the couple moved in, Richard continued the work of digging the house out of the foliage, removing dozens of volunteer trees and heaps of vines. Lifelong neighbors Ruth Austill and Nedra Greer came by to welcome the Tremaynes, bringing a photo album of early life on Austill Avenue. A 1923 photo shows the home as it sat when the Goode family purchased it from the Austills, and while the paint colors can’t be perceived from the photo, during the renovation Sewell found a solution. He scraped down the layers of paint on the siding and found a chip of a butterscotch brown under layers of white and other colors. He took it to the paint store and got it matched. Today, the original wood siding shines a rich caramel color with deep green — almost black — shutters, a color combination true to its era.

The original “living hall” of the home (above center) is now used as an inviting dining room that seats ten people. The built-in china cabinets display family heirlooms and serving pieces. A big and bold painting hanging in the library (above right) features Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame musician Gus Cannon. The banjoist helped popularize jug bands in the 1920s and ’30s. The painting hung in the Maison Bourbon in New Orleans for decades, “beaten and abused,” says Richard. The couple picked it up at Daphne Antique Galleria. 

A New Leaf

When the Tremaynes moved in just a few years ago, they were practically newlyweds. Both graduates of Murphy from the late eighties and early nineties, they claim to have never met until a friend set them up on a blind date just eight years ago. “My sister was in his class at Murphy, though,” Jenny says, “so she vouched for him.” 

The couple enlisted the help of Rachel Anderson with March + May to help with decor. They told the designer they wanted color and elegance, and then handed her the reigns. 

“Working with Rachel was great because she fully embraced the art that we already owned,” explains Jenny, who has amassed an eclectic collection of folk art, realist paintings and historic prints. Not everything made the cut, however. “The hunting camp took a lot of my old stuff,” laughs Richard.

While they collaborated with Anderson on rooms, such as the cozy library or expansive living-hall-turned-dining room, the kitchen at the back of the home didn’t need a thing. Sewell had given the space a full, but period-appropriate, renovation before selling. An apron-front sink, glass-door cabinets, beadboard and airy cafe curtains give the kitchen a homey, last-century feel. And it is from here that so many new memories have been formed.

“We weren’t big entertainers before we moved to this house,” Richard says. “The house has really brought it out in us.” They have added family Christmas gatherings, debutante oyster roasts, Easter egg hunts for big kids with alcohol miniatures scattered all over the yard, and international dinners with foreign colleagues to their recent roster of soirees. “I’m kind of a control freak,” Jenny laughs, “so I don’t usually do potlucks.” She instead opts for a salad or appetizer plated on the table to start, followed by a serve-yourself buffet. Shrimp Creole makes a regular appearance, as Jenny says it’s great for a crowd, and her go-to chafing dishes are the ideal way to keep it warm and ready. 

She admits she is not much of a baker, so when a crowd is coming over, she picks up the phone and dials Dropout Bakery for the sweet stuff. Ordering one course certainly makes entertaining a little less stressful.

 When it’s just family, however, Jenny’s meals get a bit more homey. “I love to cook old family recipes, like spaghetti or pork chops. It’s Sunday supper kind of comfort food.” And those recipes are perfect for when the Tremaynes need to feed Richard’s two hungry teenage sons. “Anything that makes good leftovers is ideal!” he says. 

The back porch (above left) was enclosed after Hurricane Frederic, improving the connectivity to the kitchen. The Tremaynes painted the porch floor a diamond pattern using the same dark green paint from the shutters. March + May added tailored drapery to lend an unfussy feel to the historic central hall (above middle).

Adding a New Chapter

Regardless of whether it is a bustling party, dinner with the boys, or a quiet night in, the bones of the Tremayne home set the stage. Ten-foot ceilings, coal-burning fireplaces, original plaster walls and wavy glass windows are the backdrop for these new family memories. And the Tremaynes are celebrating the home’s history along with their own. 

“Did you know that during World War II, some British officers lived upstairs while their vessel was being repaired down at the docks?” Richard asks. Jenny shows a small watercolor print of a British soldier she had framed to hang with her collection of art, commemorating that anecdote. Between stories of what Austill Avenue was like when it was nothing more than a dirt path, to whispers about what Anne Goode did for the FBI during her career (“Was she a secretary or a spy?”), it becomes clear that the Tremaynes intend to preserve this home for another generation. As only the third owner of this more than 100-year-old dwelling, the task is simple. Just don’t screw it up.

Go-to Entertaining Recipes from The Tremaynes

Shrimp Creole

This is an old-fashioned recipe from the Junior League “Jubilee” cookbook. It uses bacon grease, margarine and some vague quantities. The results, however, are amazing! The dish is great to make ahead for a crowd and is served over hot rice with French bread and salad. 

Jenny serves shrimp Creole on her mother’s wedding china — Royal Dalton Canterbury.

1 tablespoon bacon grease
1 stick margarine
3 large onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 large bell peppers, chopped
1 bunch celery, chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped
3 large cans diced tomatoes
1 large can tomato juice
1 can tomato paste
1 bottle catsup
sugar, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
pinch of thyme
1 bay leaf
10 pounds raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

1. Melt bacon grease and margarine in a large pot. 

2. Add onions, garlic, peppers, celery and parsley, and sauté until browned. 

3. Add tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato paste and catsup. Let sauce cook the better part of the day. 

4. Add remaining ingredients and continue a gentle simmer for about one hour.

5. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature for several hours. Reheat about 20 minutes before serving. Serves 25

Grape and Walnut Slaw

This slaw pairs well with crispy fried shrimp.

3/4 cup walnut pieces
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup sour cream
1 small or 1/2 large head green cabbage, finely shredded
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
8 scallions, chopped
2 cups chopped seedless green grapes

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread walnuts on baking sheet and toast lightly, about 5 – 7 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop. 

2. Whisk vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil until well blended, then whisk in sour cream.

3. Add cabbage, cilantro, dill, tarragon, scallions, grapes and toasted walnuts to the bowl. Toss to coat with dressing. Cover and refrigerate for 1 – 4 hours before serving. Serves 6 – 8

Southern Fried Shrimp

canola oil, for frying
1 1/2 pounds large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Line a platter with paper towels and set aside.

2. Whisk together eggs and buttermilk in a shallow dish. Add 1/2 teaspoons of salt and pepper. In another dish, mix the batter ingredients. Add all shrimp to the egg mixture and toss. A few at a time, add the shrimp to the dredge and toss to coat completely. Set aside while breading remaining shrimp. 

3. Add shrimp to skillet in a single layer without overcrowding. Let shrimp fry for 3 minutes, turning, until crispy and golden brown. Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon to platter lined with paper towels. Continue until all shrimp is fried. Serve immediately. Serves 6 – 8

Dropout Bakery

Mobile’s Lacey Evans has always loved baking. After moving back home from Los Angeles, her dessert posts gained such a following on social media that she just launched a brick and mortar pop-up at Innovation Portal! Look for her hand-rolled croissants and other French delicacies three days a week until they are sold out! Instagram | Facebook

Jenny Tremayne is serving: Grapefruit tarts made with grapefruit curd and topped with rainbow vanilla meringue  and white chocolate macadamia nut tart made with macadamia praline, swirled with an espresso infused white chocolate ganache and vanilla bean pastry cream, topped with vanilla meringue and a chocolate medallion

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