Interiorssneak peeks

A Couple Returns to Their Hometown to Put Down Roots

by Erin Austen Abbott

Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge

For Ellen and Matt Godfrey, nothing compares to getting back to your roots — the place where you grew up. Dating since Ellen was in high school and Matt in college, the couple both grew up in Birmingham, AL. After college, they moved to Los Angeles, where they lived for eight years. While there, Ellen worked for Sugar Paper, a stationery line, before starting her interior design business and Matt was a working actor, recording audiobooks on the side. The couple became certified foster parents while in Los Angles, taking in twin boys first. The boys were reunited with their biological family, but then Irene came into their lives. After the adoption of Irene was final, the couple felt the pull to get back to Alabama, and back to raising their daughter around family and the hometown that they missed.

Now Matt and Ellen both work from home in the 1928 bungalow they found during a whirlwind trip to Birmingham to look for houses. They made an offer the same day they saw it and the next day, it was theirs. After a three-month renovation, which involved redoing the kitchen and bathrooms and adding millwork that kept with the style and time period of the home, they were ready to move in. “As an interior designer who always lived in a rental, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a space of my own,” Ellen recalls. “I had seen a green kitchen that Gregory Mellor had designed ages ago and knew that if I ever had the chance to do a kitchen of my own it would be dark green. That color really has a through line in our house as there is something in a dark, rich green in each room. I also took design cues from several British cabinet companies (Humphrey Munson, deVOL, Plan English Design). We love to entertain so I [also] wanted to create several hangout areas and wanted to make sure there were plenty of spots for people to have a seat and get comfortable.”

With still a few projects down the road — like a proper third bedroom, a landscaped yard, and building a garage — the couple has enjoyed reconnecting with family and friends, and falling in love with their hometown all over again. Scroll through below to get a sense of their beautiful home, and how they have worked in that deep green from room to room. Enjoy! —Erin

Photography by Ellen Godfrey@ellengodfreydesign

Image above: “I have wanted a dark green kitchen ever since seeing one Gregory Mellor designed ages ago. The cabinet color is Dunn Edwards Black Spruce. The counters are a black honed granite,” Ellen notes. 

Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"This is the side of our house and the stairs that guests enter from. We painted the original brick (which was VERY red) black and the trim white. I've always loved dark exteriors. One of our neighbors is in her 80s and has lived here on this street her entire life so she knows almost all the people who have come before us. When she saw the brick was getting painted she called up the previous owner who lived here when they were children together and said, 'You better get over here. Someone is painting your house black!' I always giggle thinking of that story," Ellen shares.
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"We had doors installed over the bookshelves on either side of our fireplace. My daughter's favorite thing is to pull everything off shelves so this was done in an attempt to dissuade her from that and it has worked," Ellen notes.
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"This is our living room. I really wanted some deep, extra long sofas with bench cushions that would be extra cozy. You basically are forced to pick your feet up and snuggle in."
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"We host dinner parties frequently so I am grateful this room is so big," Ellen shares. "Eventually I'd like to have a bigger table that can seat 8-10 people."
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"I run cold, so I always like for there to be a blanket in arms reach. We have them on this blanket ladder and in baskets in each room of the house. My mother sewed that buffalo check quilt when we were about to become parents. All three of our babies have done "tummy time" on it," Ellen shares.
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"I found this illustration of these bulls at the Melrose Fairfax flea market in Los Angeles. For some reason, I always think of my Spanish grandfather and family when I look at it. The 'Rustic' cookbook is from our favorite coffee shop in London called Fernandez and Wells," Ellen explains.
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"This picture was taken standing in our living room. That painting was painted by my dad in 1987 when he was just starting out as an artist and teaching himself to paint. The guy in this painting, James, was a neighbor of my parents who would sometimes nap on their sofa. One day during a nap, my dad painted him."
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"Our laundry, refrigerator, and a small pantry are tucked into that little room that heads to our back porch."
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge

I am regularly running around our backyard, snipping greenery for around the house.

Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"We added the board and batten to the walls and installed this Rifle Paper Co. wallpaper I have loved for a long time," Ellen begins. "This piano was gifted to us by some friends that were moving to Cambodia. All we had to do was figure out how to move it."
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"This is what we call the 'room of requirement' because it serves a lot of purposes. It is our guest room, our music room, and our playroom."
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"The tiles were peeling off the wall in here before we moved in so we took everything out. I've always loved this floor from Cement Tile Shop," Ellen says.
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge

“I love this wall color: Opal,” Ellen shares. “It’s [a] barely-there pink… This room is a great size. Definitely big enough for a future sibling to share with Irene.”

Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"We are so grateful to have lots of books for Irene to read. It's so helpful displaying them this way. It almost serves as art for her room and it makes it so easy for her to pick out which book she wants to read."
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"I love having a twin bed in here along with her crib. We change her diapers and dress her on it. When she is sick it is nice being able to sleep in there with her," Ellen shares.
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"These prints are by Lynne Millar found on Jenny's Print Shop. My mom sewed this [lumbar] pillowcase for me using some Rifle Paper Co. fabric."
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"Those two pieces of art are made from different colored threads. My grandmother's sister, Maria Eugenia Ayala, makes them in Guatemala," Ellen shares.
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"A close-up of the pieces made by my great aunt."
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
Ellen, Matt, and Irene in front of their painted black exterior.
Ellen Godfrey on Design*Sponge
"What we love most about our home is that it's a place where we can create the setting of our daughter's childhood memories."

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