Nelson and Katie Cooper moved to Alexander City to practice medicine 26 years ago. Both doctors – Nelson an anesthesiologist and Katie a gynecologist – the couple loved Lake Martin and spent countless hours designing the perfect lake house. Lots of drawings on scraps of paper and napkins later, they hired architect Pete Pritchard for a custom design. Kenny Hill built their dream home on 7.5 acres on the lake, where the Coopers raised their two children, six dogs, two cats, two goats and a menagerie of lizards, guinea pigs and birds over the last 18 years.
This year, with both children grown and on their own, the Coopers decided to put the house on the market, so they can downsize. Since this Christmas may be the last Christmas they spend in the house, the couple asked interior designer Phil Spraggins of Phil Interior Design in Alexander City to use his creativity and inspiration to decorate the home for this holiday season. Spraggins enlisted the help of local artists and Katie’s friends, Lila Graves and Catie Radney, as well as his assistant Tyler Templeton and friend Rebecca Bates.
“This house has been the place to gather for our family and lots of peripheral kids who I’ve called my own. I have so many Christmas memories – mother/daughter tea parties, making gingerbread houses, office parties, present-wrapping parties, touch football in the yard. We’ve slept 24 people here in beds, so the whole extended family has been here for Christmas. It has been the home place,” Cooper said.
Spraggins explained that he met with the Coopers about two months before the decorating date to discuss the project. When installation time came, three full days were set aside to complete the project. Day one allowed them to unpack everything, so they could see all the decorations and plan. Day two was installation, and day three was spent perfecting the placement of every angel, every piece of live greenery, every bow and bauble.
Spraggins began by designing a truly grand entrance at the front door. Greenery from the Coopers’ yard was used throughout the house, including the front door where a garland of magnolia leaves with white lights and red velvet bows outlines the door frame. Complementing not only the special glow of the front porch but also adding a delicious aroma for the entryway, six rosemary bushes trimmed to Christmas tree shapes and placed in urn planters are lit with small white lights. Poinsettias, ferns and green wreaths add to the pageantry, along with cinnamon pillar candles on six iron candlesticks, each standing 4 feet tall.
The front door opens into a 12-foot-wide hallway that extends from the front porch through the house to the back porch. Just inside, Spraggins and Cooper set the table for a perfect Christmas dinner in the dining room using Sterling silver pieces that have been in the family for generations. White burlap covers the table, and red placemats designate seating around two silver candelabras with red tapers. Gold chargers under gold trimmed china and silver wine goblets are at each place setting.
Spraggins used beaded napkin rings as candle sleeves on the candelabras, which match the sleeves used on the foyer chandelier just outside the room. Brightly colored ball ornaments and sprigs with glitter and colored sequins fill a large Sterling silver bowl for the centerpiece. Ropes of multi-faceted glass beads and assorted sizes of ball ornaments scattered down the center of the table add to the festive décor. A corner table in the room displays metal sculptures of angels in all sizes, some holding votive candles, and another table showcases a special nativity scene.
“My mother has given me a nativity every year of my life, so I have them made of different materials and in all sizes. My parents lived in Germany for several years, so some are crèches from when they lived there. And I have collected Father Christmas figures through the years. I have one I have to completely glue back together every year, but it is a special one,” Cooper said.
The collection of soft Father Christmas figurines stands at the foot of the stairs near a table displaying smaller nativity scenes. Spraggins wove multi-strand grapevine in and out of the staircase rails; then, he added fresh magnolia, cedar branches, bows and lights for a dramatic staircase.
Through the hall toward the back of the house, the Coopers have a bar area, simply decorated with a countertop Christmas tree. The back area of the hall is the library, a warm, inviting space with a wood-burning fireplace, two large, comfortable chairs and bookcases lining the walls. The stockings are hung on the greenery-covered mantel, which showcases a pewter nativity scene under a pewter mirror. The chandelier, decorated with red holly berry candle sleeves and a ball of red berries hanging from the center, is reflected in the mirror over the fireplace.
Two Christmas trees decorated with white lights and gold trimmings frame the double door entrance to the back porch. Outside, a favorite porch spot has its own flocked Christmas tree and a Christmas rug near the porch swing. A string of tremendous red balls is attached to the swing chains, and a same-sized string of gold balls is tucked under the tree. A star on top of the tree casts stars onto the ceiling.
“That tree is a favorite that was saved from a dumpster. We spruce it up and love it every year. This corner of the porch has been a favorite location for everyone who has ever visited our house. We sit outside here on the swing year-round; in fact, many world problems have been solved right here,” she said.
The family room, with a 24-foot ceiling and windows on two sides, flows into the kitchen. A 12-foot tall Christmas tree is positioned in the corner for a view from both rooms and the porch outside the window. All of the family members’ favorite ornaments hang on this tree – children’s handmade memories, keepsakes from travels and Christmases past and Nelson’s mother’s petit point ornaments. Christmas pillows create cozy corners of chairs and a sectional. The square live-edge coffee table holds a simple arrangement of poinsettias.
“This is our place to relax. I have collected local art for years, and I love what is hanging here. I have Lila Graves, Catie Radney, Blanche Warr, Joyce Willis, Lauren Thomas and my grandmother just in this room and the kitchen. Adding Christmas to the room makes it even more special,” Cooper said.
For a touch of Christmas in the kitchen, Spraggins placed two Christmas trees that mirror each other on the countertop. A wreath hangs in the kitchen window. A large unicorn figurine, gifted years ago, is dressed up for the holidays with a brilliant red bow. Graves added a whimsical touch in the space by hanging an assortment of ornaments from the chandelier – salt shakers, a frog, an angel and a red jingle bell, to name a few of the eye-catching treasures.
“Decorating with Katie, Nelson and Miss Kitty (Katie’s mother) was a treat. My team and I immediately felt as if we were a part of the family and their time-honored traditions. From Sterling silver to grapevine garland to magnolia and cedar harvested on the property, we created a celebratory feeling for the season,” Spraggins said.
The Coopers plan to celebrate their last Christmas in the house by gathering with friends and family over the coming weeks. Their traditions will mingle with the changes each year of life brings, offering more memories to cherish. Their wish for this season on Lake Martin: weather cold enough to add logs to the fire but not too cold to watch the sunset from the porch swing.
Questions concerning the sale of the home can be directed to Jan Hall with Lake Martin Realty.