When built to stand the test of time, dwellings become monuments to the lives of those they were made for. Homeowners Matthew Meehan and Rod Hildebrant understand the importance of legacy when it comes to creating a home meant to last. Together, the pair have restored a former 18th-century French château as well as their current 1920s Miami Mediterranean-style residence once owned by American tycoon Howard Hughes.
Yet as their family expanded, grandchildren growing taller every visit, the duo began imagining a place that “told our story as a couple,” Matthew shares. “We’ve been together for 18 years, traveling all over. And we wanted a home that represented our lives.” So began plans to create an expansive family compound on Alabama’s Lake Martin. “There’s something special about this place,” says Matthew. “The islands, the wilderness, the sheer beauty of waking up to watch a bald eagle swoop down and scoop up a fish. I’ve not found that magic anywhere else.” Informed by the pair’s passion for European architecture and a waterfront lifestyle, this new home would be a vessel for mementos of the past as much as future ones.
Tapping residential designer Phillip Sides assured the benefit of decades of industry knowledge and experience. A master of traditional vernaculars, Sides envisioned something akin to Shingle-style architecture—a residence that would read less quaint cottage, more Gilded Age holiday estate. It was an approach that made way for grandeur tempered by true intimacy. “I like to design houses that look like people live in them, and I pride myself in that,” Sides shares.
A stately exterior of cedar shake shingles and Alabama-quarried stone convey this essential warmth. “The house gets a little eccentric and very romantic,” reveals Sides, highlighting the dynamic roofline, fortress walls framing the doorway, and rounded turrets with panoramic lake views. Landscape designer Rob Garrard underscored the property’s fanciful spirit via a flowering canopy of Sweetbay magnolias, crepe myrtles and gardenias alongside heritage trees. Says Garrard: “We wanted to effectively anchor the house into the landscape, so it looks good not only in five years, but in 20.”
Indoors, the vast entrance hall and living room branch out into more private wings. This central core establishes the home’s expert craftsmanship by a brigade of local artisans: See the sculptural staircase guarded by a sphinx, the custom oak paneled walls, and a 16th-century fireplace mantel seamlessly integrated into a new French limestone trumeau. Instrumental in concealing a television within the former, builders Corbin Bartgis and David Chancellor “were great at taking Phillip’s incredible visions and bringing those marvels to life,” Matthew notes.
More architectural wonders unfold throughout, making for a mini grand tour of sorts. The dining room takes a Grecian turn with custom scenic murals framed by Greek key panel molding, plus an arched niche housing a statue of Athena. The kitchen mimics those of English Arts and Crafts manors with its vaulted ceiling and towering hearth. And a massive stone arch and staircase lead to the water by way of a veranda “cut straight from our travels in Lake Como,” Matthew says.
Contrasting this formal envelope, Sides was ever mindful of scale, ensuring spaces never felt cavernous. “I design from the inside out, never the outside in,” he says. “I always start with the furniture plan—and I adhere to it.” His compositions calibrate antiques and custom furnishings in organic tête-à-têtes, such as the foyer’s tufted conversation settee and elongated sofa made precisely to fit under a bridge separating the space from the living room. Each space also emanates distinct personality: evident in bedrooms that have come to honor specific loved ones, as with chambers designated for Matthew’s grandfather, where Sides placed an antique-inspired tapestry of a hunting scene. In that same spirit, Sides created the pool house to have “its own character,” resembling an old-fashioned country church on the outside, tempered by interiors of luminous white shiplap and blue accents.
Despite its newness, personal details are what give the property its sense of permanence, along with a wealth of memories for the owners’ grandchildren to inherit. After exploring the world’s architectural feats, the couple has achieved several of their own, cementing a true sense of belonging in a close-knit community in the process. In some ways, their home has already become a landmark, hosting festivities including a charity event for hundreds of guests. “Many people in Lake Martin have lived here their entire lives, with so many wonderful stories of family and history,” Matthew says. “That just adds to the magic of this place. And we’re happy to be a part of that.”