written by mary leigh lanser
photos by steve babin
Built in 1874 on a corner lot across from Frazier Park in the heart of historic Decatur, Alabama sits a beautiful, perfectly Southern home.
The white frame estate not only boasts stunning and well thought out finishes, but also prides itself on historical significance and character.
Called Shadowlawn, for its towering oak tree-shaded lawn, this property was originally home to Dr. W.G. Gill, a doctor who bravely stayed in the area caring for citizens fighting the yellow fever outbreak when it hit Decatur in 1888. He practiced medicine for more than 50 years along with serving as President of the Morgan County Medical Society. He lost his life to the disease after the second wave devastated a large population. He is now buried at the Decatur City Cemetery and memorialized with a heroes’ marker.
The home was meticulously renovated in recent years by Dr. Randy Riehl and his wife, Lauren. They graciously gave it a new, refreshing life while maintaining its original, historic character and charm. Lauren explains their style to be “a French mix with a lot of gold and crystal to add in a little glam.”
The Riehl’s updated the home with paint throughout, refinished the hardwood floors with light, whitewash finish and added several fixtures, as well as repurposed some existing fixtures. The kitchen was given a fresh, fun color on the cabinets as well as new hardware, countertops and lighting. The interior decor throughout the home is a mix of antiques with newer, modern pieces. Each room tells a story in its own way.
One of the elements of the home that bring in elegance of a previous era are the his and her parlors on the main level. The two parlors sit on either side of the grand foyer and boast design elements of a glam, feminine style and a moody, masculine style –both carefully designed with unique finishes.
In the women’s parlor an antique chandelier, brought in from New Orleans, overlooks the impressive carved marble mantle. Surrounding the room at each window are gold leaf pressed tin cornices that were added in the ‘40s and still maintain their beauty to this day.
Deep colors and masculine touches embellish the men’s parlor. Some unique elements include anti-tank shells from WWII styled on the cocktail table atop Wernher von Braun and NASA centered books. Randy’s father, Wilbur “Bill” August Riehl, a chemist, was drafted by von Braun himself during the Korean conflict and eventually aided in the Apollo program that transported the first astronauts to the moon. The walls of the room are dark, giving it a warm and cozy feel with furniture upholstered in velvet and leather.
Another unique feature of this eccentric property is the speakeasy that the Riehl’s added in the basement of the home. Because the secret bar is downstairs in the basement under Line Street, they refer to the unique room as “UnderLine.” Originally a coal shoot to heat the home, this converted space has turned into the couple’s favorite place to entertain–hidden entrance, secret code and all. Complete with a seating lounge, gold sprayed exposed ceilings and a tasteful, dignified bar, the space is truly a distinctive new feature to the home.
A stately staircase or the home’s shaftless elevator leads to three large bedrooms with soaring ceilings and flooded with natural light through the 19th century windows, flaunting the window’s wavy texture. A porch overlooking the front lawn can be accessed from the second story foyer and is one of the Riehl’s favorite places to watch the sun set. Finally, at the back of the property features a patio garden and “summer house” that each owner of the property has enjoyed in their own way.
The unparalleled craftsmanship and exquisite design of Shadowlawn earns its popularity in the area and has proven to withstand the test of time. The home retains its historical integrity and also welcomes modern living with exceptional attention to detail. A true gem to the city of Decatur and a home that certainly has a story to tell.