It’s a scenic drive down County Road 3, past the bustle of downtown Fairhope and into the south end of town where the land, dappled with pines, pecans and oaks, rolls gently. The afternoon sun spills across the path to the Berglins’ dark green cottage, and the breeze carries with it crows from a distant rooster and wafts of smoldering charcoal. Rob is at it again, grilling enough chicken to feed an army. He’s like his mom, Brady says of her husband’s gift of cooking. But that’s not all he got from her.
“She had great taste and great design ideas,” Brady adds of her late mother-in-law. “Rob’s got an eye. We can be driving, and he will see something on the side of the road. He will slam on brakes to go look at it.” The dietician-by-trade says that the grill responsible for the deliciously smoky aroma came from a roadside sale in Chiefland, Florida. “He just had to have it. Come on inside,” she continues, “and I’ll give you a little history of the place.”
Zippy the cat darts from behind a bush as Brady crosses the front threshold. “The best part about this house, to me, is when I walk in, it takes me back to being a child, walking into the Grand Hotel lobby.” She draws in an exaggerated breath and grins. “You smell the wood. It’s so cozy.”
Aside from the polished brick floors, every hardscape in sight is made of cypress, from the ceiling to kitchen cabinets. The warmth of the foyer invites the eye further into the 2,000-square-foot home where not one place has been left unadorned. “It’s just our style,” Brady says of the eclectic furnishings. “I like to call it a mixture between Pee-wee Herman’s playhouse and Cabela’s catalog.” While that description certainly paints a quirky picture, it doesn’t give the whole story of the heart and soul of the home.
“Everything is here for a reason,” Brady declares, plopping onto a striped slip-covered couch, her favorite seat in the house. A lamp-shaded hula girl, stuck in a perpetual hip swing — a find the couple scored in Key West — glances over her shoulder in anticipation of the homeowner’s next words. “It’s all memories and stories that matter to me. That’s what it’s all about. One of my college roommates told me her family never had anything in their house that wasn’t a souvenir or a memory. I stole the concept. I have no original thoughts, but I love to plagiarize them.” She throws her head back and laughs.
From her sofa, Brady regales with stories of various items around the enclosed back porch. “That was my mama’s chair and her needlepoint,” she says, motioning to an arm chair and frog-embroidered footstool. Among other treasures in here are Brady’s childhood kitchen table, ornaments and tchotchkes from the couple’s travels, framed art, homemade vases from friends and metal sculptures from local talents. With each piece, a memory is enthusiastically shared, including stories sentimental to Rob’s childhood, like his boxcar from Cub Scouts and fishing gear from his grandfather.
Never one to gather dust, Brady is on the move again, showing off the living area, which is open to the kitchen, breakfast area and loft. The room is anchored by a deep, brown leather sectional and a salvaged steamer trunk. With each glance, something new is discovered, like old milk jugs from Brady’s mother’s childhood on the farm and a ukulele that belonged to Rob’s grandmother. Although Brady would deny it, family relics blend artfully and, seemingly, purposely with new-to-them thrift finds. “Collecting is one of our hobbies,” she concedes. “I love an art or junk store. Every time we travel, we bring back a piece of art and a book. We figure out where it will go later.”
Filling nearly the entire north wall of the living area is a gigantic cabinet with open shelving, a piece Rob spied at Brady’s late uncle’s house. “It’s fantastic and fun,” Brady says, noting it holds everything from wedding china to an old tackle basket. “My mother always said you should have furniture you can store things in, and we do.”
Track lighting, inconspicuous among the home’s sturdy beams, point toward two framed potato sacks flanking an old weather vane. “I love to frame everything,” Brady laughs, adding she received the sacks for Christmas one year. “Rob’s mother was a Corte, and the Corte family brought farming and Silver Queen corn to the South. They were, at one point, one of the biggest potato dealers in the United States.”
She scoots, chatting as she goes, from the living area, down the hall lined with photos of her large family, past a riotous guest bath filled with colorful pottery — and “caged” metal chickens — and ends in the master suite. It is here that Brady pauses, a bit more solemn than usual. “This is where the fire started. On April 5, 2007, our original ranch house burned. Some things were totally destroyed; some things made it through.” She points to a painting that now has a slightly blackened tinge. With the help of friends, family, and artisans like Ameri’ca Tickle and builders like Chuck Kelly, the Berglins rebuilt their home from the slab up. “The only two things we insisted on having in the redesign were a loft and an outdoor shower.” Thirteen years later, the now-cabin-style home is full of life and memories again. And they use that outdoor shower daily.
Back outside, Rob is busy removing chicken from the grill and keeping an eye on a cast-iron pot of baked beans. Brady begins boxing up care packages to send home with her day’s visitors, each receiving the caterer’s famous Shube sauce, for good measure. The sun has now sagged below the tree line, and the cafe lights strung from trunk to trunk sparkle on the Berglins’ stone-ensconced pool. As the day draws to a close, Rob and Brady head back inside, ready to settle into comfort amongst their treasures.