In Alabama, informal home visit ends in “effortless, organic” real estate transaction

Norbert and Sheryl Putnam hoped to be of help when they invited a couple they met at a birthday party at fashion designer Billy Reid’s boutique in Florence, Alabama, to visit their home.

Wes and Heather Fleming had mentioned that they were looking for a house in the area, and the Putnames offered them a glimpse of their historic property.

“I thought we could maybe give them a hand,” said Mr. Putnam, 78, who has had a long and distinguished career as a bassist and record producer, most notably as a musician for Muscle. Shoals and working with Elvis Presley. , Jimmy Buffett and Roy Orbison. He also has experience restoring pre-war homes with his wife, 68, in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

When the Thimbleton Estate first hit the market in 2015, the Putnams couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return to Mr. Putnam’s hometown and move into a historic residence. They paid $ 325,000 for the 1-acre property and moved into the four-bedroom, 3½-bath 1830s mansion soon after.

After the Flemings enjoyed an informal visit from Thimbleton and a few hours chatting over wine, Ms Fleming asked, “If you were to sell the house, how much would you ask?” “

The Putnam, who were thinking of downsizing, gave a number. After an hour of talking with her husband, Ms. Fleming called back and they agreed on a price: $ 495,000.

Mr. Putnam added a precondition. “Promise to stay here for 40 years and raise your children,” he said.

“I told him, ‘I would die in the house.’ I’m a breeder, I don’t like to move so I had no problem honoring that, ”Ms. Fleming said. “It was effortless and organic as it turned out.”

Heather and Wes Fleming, both from Florence, completed a $ 600,000 renovation of the home, expanding the living space by 1,000 square feet.


Photo:

Robert Rausch for the Wall Street Journal

A month later, in November 2019, the Flemings closed the house. “Thimbleton is artistic and dreamy because of the architecture and the age of the house,” added Ms. Fleming.

The history of Thimbleton parallels that of the city. In 1818, General John Coffee and seven others founded Cypress Land Co. and purchased 5,515 acres from the federal government to build a town. A year later, the general brought in Ferdinand Sannoner, 23, a Tuscan engineer who was a surveyor under Napoleon. He planned the city and named it after Florence, Italy.

Although little is known about the origins of the estate, local tradition has it that in the early 1820s Thimbleton was built and used as a sewing workshop (hence the name), built as a building of two floors. In the 1830s, an unknown person bought the property and commissioned Sannoner to design the house. He did it originally in an Italian style. Thomas Kirkman, one of the region’s wealthiest early settlers, acquired it around 1839.

General Coffee’s granddaughter, Mary Coffee, married Edward O’Neal II, who died soon after. In 1881, she remarried Wade Campbell and moved into the house. Her son, Edward O’Neal III, was president of the American Farm Bureau Federation from 1931 to 1947. Amelia O’Neal Nuessle and her husband, Bill Nuessle, inherited the house in 1970 and moved there from the Lower East. Side of New York. The O’Neal heirs sold it in 1992.

The Flemings were introduced to the house three years after their return to Florence, where both had grown up. They married in May 2016 and had lived in Birmingham for a year before deciding they preferred the closeness to family and the slower pace offered by Florence, a city of around 40,000 that is part of the area. known as the Shoals.

Mr. Fleming, 46, started a home restoration business, leaving behind a career in the financial industry. His father, Norman Fleming, had been a bricklayer in the city. Ms. Fleming, 34, an artist, is an interior designer.

The couple’s update to the home was interrupted first by Covid-19 restrictions and then by other issues, such as the skyrocketing cost of lumber and the shortage of materials and contractors.

“My dad and I checked every square inch of the house before buying it,” Fleming said. “We found no problem. Thimbleton was a work of art, the craftsmanship was incredible.

The couple spent $ 600,000 on the recently completed renovations. The original lumber used for the house was from mature poplar and heart pine lumber, Fleming said. The plaster moldings of the house are original, as are the heart-pine floors which have been stained. The floor of the master bedroom has been stripped and sanded down to the original calico-colored parquet.

Heather and Wes Fleming with their children, Scarlet, 4, and Leonardo, 2.


Photo:

Robert Rausch for the Wall Street Journal

The first floor has 14 foot ceilings and eight 10 foot high windows. The couple plastered the walls and enlarged the area. The kitchen has been modernized and doubled to 550 square feet, including an island in the middle with bar stools. They also added a laundry room. The 3½ bathrooms in the house have been gutted and the plumbing redone. A new electrical system has also been installed.

In all, an additional 1,000 square feet were added, making the house 6,500 square feet. Outside, the Flemings have added an attached two-car garage.

The property retains its cast iron fence, 240 feet long and 4 feet high, which dates from the 1850s.

The Flemings moved into the house in April with their 4-year-old daughter, Scarlet, and 2-year-old son, Leonardo. Ms. Fleming decorated the rooms with antiques, many from her family. The dining room has a cabinet that dates from the 1600s and was in his parents’ kitchen; the 1920s table was in her grandparents’ house. She placed a marble chest belonging to her grandfather in the hallway on the first floor.

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“I am very homesick,” Ms. Fleming said. “I was around these rooms at my parents and grandparents, where we had a great time during the holidays. It will be good to make our children grow up with these pieces too. ”

The house is located in the Locust Street district of Florence, a city center that began its revitalization efforts 15 years ago. “We loved getting to know our neighbors,” Ms. Fleming said. “It’s a very welcoming and warm place. The house felt so good.

Corrections and amplifications
Wes Fleming’s father was a builder in Florence, Alabama. An earlier version of this article mistakenly described him as an architect. (September 23, 2021)

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