Text by Hannah Jones
It’s no secret that Doug Sutton loves life on the lake. After renting a cabin on Lake Martin in eastern Alabama for years, he and his partner, Andrew Nix, finally decided it was time to purchase their own—but it wasn’t as easy as they thought. “We had a tall order and we were determined to avoid compromising on things like privacy, big water views, sunsets, and a casual flow between indoor and outdoor living,” Doug says.
After a long year of searching, they found the perfect home on the banks of Smith Lake in northern Alabama in the fall of 2017. “We toured a ton of homes on the lake, and none of them felt quite right,” Doug says. “When we pulled up to this house, it reminded me of a general store, which I loved.” The cozy cottage has a humble exterior, with brown siding that acts as camouflage among the waterside evergreen trees. Doug knew at first glance that the cabin would need a decent amount of work, but after stepping foot onto the porch, he admits, there was no other home for them. “I really didn’t care what the inside of the house looked like; I just knew that we were home,” he says. “From the screened porch, you could see the breathtaking views of the water from the home’s perch on the cliff above the lake.”
Not long after purchasing the dream home, the couple got to work renovating the interior. “Initially, we didn’t think that we would have to do much to the house. The previous owners had done a great job already,” Doug recalls. “However, once we got into the house and started living in it, we just got excited. It became obvious that we would live in it a little differently than the previous owners.” Doug and Andrew gutted the entire lower level of the cabin, ripping out shag carpet and polishing the concrete that lay underneath. They also added height to the ceilings and updated all the trim work in the home, in addition to completing an extensive electrical update.
But one of the key renovation additions is the “adult camp.” Doug originally got the idea from their rented cabin on Lake Martin, but as with the rest of the house, the original got an upgrade. He traded out the twin beds that were in the old house’s bunkroom and opted for three queen-size beds and a king, so now there’s plenty of room for guests, which is perfect since the couple loves entertaining friends and family at the lake.
Doug describes the design process as “snowballing” after the completion of the bunkroom. Once they finished one room, ideas started flowing for the next. For all of their furniture, they commissioned Stray Cats Home Decor in Birmingham, Alabama. “Working with the furniture makers at Stray Cats was really fun. If we could dream it up, they could build it,” he says. “So, we just kept challenging them with our designs and vision for the house, and with every project, they kept exceeding our expectations.”
At the end of the day, Doug and Andrew usually find themselves in the place they originally fell in love with—the porch. “As we first toured the space, the sun set right in front of the house over the water. It lit up every room with gold and purple hues,” Doug recalls. “There’s nothing more relaxing than to have a glass of wine on the front porch, laughing with friends and enjoying that sunset view. Alabama has the most beautiful sunsets, and we are really fortunate that this house has a year-round front row seat.”