Spanish Oaks

Hidden in the middle of Florence, Alabama is a cul-de-sac lined with 100-year-old Spanish colonial homes— their cream paint is wilting and hidden beneath vines that wind up walls and meet stacked, burnt orange shingles that sit bathing in the sun. Behind the thick, stucco-clad walls of the Spanish Oaks house are hallways that meet in arches, and rays of light that pour in through aged windows and lay across paintings and furniture that come together to create a true work of art. Ryan Paonessa, a web/brand identity designer and artist, has worked hard to create a space that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. However, the interior decor he humbly describes as an effort at creating a space he genuinely enjoys working and living, is in fact a strikingly beautiful and unique work of art in and of itself. In fact, it would be difficult to find another house like it in the Shoals. 

Three years ago Ryan moved to Florence from New York, and for two years has sought to carve out a space that both embraces and enriches the culture of the Shoals with this Spanish beauty; and while he has made attempts at owning this other-worldly abode, for now it remains a rental that he has taken under his wing and made his own. Along with basic repairs, Ryan has painted every inch of the home a neutral white, which was once covered primarily with wallpaper. However, the decision to take the walls back to their natural state was a belief that the details and character of the home itself could hold its own. In fact the arches, thick wooden doors, and black, iron windows are the backbone to a canvas that allows Ryan’s own artwork to take centerstage. 

His art series, Intersections, which is a project still in progress, is displayed on large canvases throughout his house— this breathtaking series highlights the beauty of the female body and how regardless of the shape, size, or color it is always stunning. Ryan’s love of art, which began at a young age, has developed through his own personal series, and is evident through his collection of incredible artists that he displays throughout his home, including Ryan’s photographs from Southern Morocco hung over the mantel, which were painted over by Butch Anthony for his series: Intertwangleism. Other notable artists include, French artist Jean Jullien, Cody Hudson, Kaws’ sculptures, and Cullen Stewart’s abstract pieces hung in both large and small frames throughout the home, a truly impressive collection to match a remarkable space. Every piece of art, item of furniture, and ornament is seriously considered, sought after, and intentionally placed throughout the home to create a space that has some level of function and utility— resulting in a livable and easy atmosphere for every day life or entertaining friends. 

Hours upon hours are spent around the hand-crafted Amish dining room table and outside, in the Spanish-inspired courtyard laughing and drinking wine at impromptu, afternoon gatherings and planned dinner parties. If there were to ever be a house that inspired lazy afternoons sitting in the shade with a glass of red wine, surrounded by friends, this would be it. It’s romantic and idyllic atmosphere is created by a combination of spaces throughout the house, including the spacious living room that opens up to the large, arched doorway showing off the formal dining room and kitchen. In addition, the entire house boasts the original hardwood floors, clean, white walls, tall ceilings in every room, and is surrounded by cozy, outdoor patios lined with clay pots filled with blood orange, avocado, lemon, and fig tree plants. 

And while there is always work to be done in a 100-year-old house, Ryan has spent countless hours renovating this historical home, including updating the kitchen with butcher’s block wood countertops and clearing the property to replant and create a more natural landscape, setting up an irrigation system outside to tend to the yard lined with sea grass, azaleas, and wildflowers. Finally, after two years of perfecting the space, he is settling into a comfortable routine of enjoying what has been a labor of love from the inside-out. Today, the once-in-a-lifetime rental has been transformed into a stunning showpiece that has proven to be a quiet retreat for Ryan and his dog Odin, an inspirational workspace, and entertainment epicenter for friends. 

***Disclaimer: Odin is as adorable in real life.


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