When Heart Comes Home

When Heart Comes Home

Love of art creates a blueprint for a blended family
Words by Cara D. Clark
Photos by Joel Hancock

When art aficionado Tonia Trotter and architect Tyler Price met, the outcome, in retrospect, was inevitable. Both had a well-developed appreciation of art in all forms, and each had two children ages 6 and 9. When their paths crossed, it was less like colliding and more like merging their lives and loves—and it all happened in a 1940s home in Birmingham, Alabama.

Tyler, principal of Tyler G. Price Architecture, purchased the Bluff Park house more than three years ago. The established area and its charming ambiance made it a great place to raise his children—but his connection to the neighborhood ran deeper. In fact, Tyler has served on the board of the Bluff Park Art Show, an annual juried affair with a 50-plus-year-history and a reputation for bringing together artists from across the Southeast. 

Tonia moved to Nashville, Tennessee at 23 and was adopted by a local artistic community. She has a background as a director and sales consultant at TAG Gallery, and as the gallery director and curator at the Rymer Gallery. Using that artistic flair, she has been an interior designer and a contributing stylist and writer for Birmingham publications. She’s now found her niche as communications specialist for Create Birmingham, promoting the works of artists and entities that contribute to the pool of talent that helps earn this Southern city a reputation for magic. 

The couple met in 2017 when, through social media, they perceived a shared artistic outlook. The conversation began as mutual admiration, and soon grew. “It was a serendipitous love story immediately,” said Tonia, who felt she was more a dabbler in styling and interior decorating before meeting her soul mate. “With Tyler’s guidance and encouragement, it pushed me to do more interior [decorating]. We’ve collaborated on projects here and there. It’s something where we are both able to use our talents to create something uniquely us.”

Tyler said some families tend to find a home already set up to meet their needs, but they were in the fortunate position to take that a step further. “We had an opportunity to do something that was specifically what we wanted—to design our house so that it looks like us,” he said. “We responded to what it was—a one-story, mid-century, low-pitched roof structure, and we embraced that and added on to it and updated it to facilitate the way we wanted to live together.”

Tyler designed the remodel of the couple’s home, which they share with their four children. Though he bought the three-bedroom, two-bath home five years ago, the couple and their children moved in just a few months ago, after the renovation was complete. The interior décor remains fluid, with art shifting from room to room as more pieces are collected. It’s a tangible representation of their shared interest, using natural elements with sculpture and artwork to create a livable home art gallery. “Fostering a love of art has always been important to me,” Tonia said. “Tyler feels the same way. When we merged our households, we merged that passion for art and design in a beautiful way. We both love collecting local and regional artists, and we love blending artwork. We like a lot of the same art, but we definitely have distinct tastes—and all of our stuff works really well together.”

Each had collections of pieces that were important to them visually and sentimentally. Tonia’s love of visiting galleries and museums as a child led to an organic appreciation of fine art. She began collecting when artistic friends gave her works as baby shower presents, and she began saving money to invest in pieces she loved. Treasured pieces have been passed to Tyler from his grandparents, who traveled all over the world, bringing home artwork as mementoes of their journeys. His grandfather, a geologist, collected interesting minerals and rocks, revealing the artist in Mother Nature. 

Natural beauty is equally important in the home décor, from the home’s layout to the collected sheds of horseshoe crabs, whose pale exoskeletons draw the eye and interest. Other elements include a bear skull, an alligator skull, preserved butterflies, and bugs. “What I brought to the table are little things I find and keep,” Tyler said. “I like to find rocks or driftwood that have an artistic shape. With four young, curious kids at home, it’s fun to have those things.”

In the couple’s sitting room, Japanese prints adorn the walls aside an original from Julia Martin, a young Nashville artist. One of Tyler’s favorites, a sculpture by metal artist Eric Johnson, shares space with artwork from mutual favorites Mandy Maples, Sarah Mason, and Olivia Hill.

Tonia is constantly tweaking the interior. “I continue rearranging furniture and shelves and art,” she said. “We still have art in storage and are slowly having it framed. I still have a giant art folder of works on paper that I’ve had for 15 years. This will always be a living house—like a living organism.”

The beauty of the blended group is a type of art in itself.  Children Griffin, 9, Liam, 6, Leland, 9, and Elise, 6, revel in living across the street from Children’s Fresh Air Farm, giving them space to play. “I’ve always liked this location,” Tyler said. ‘With Tonia moving in and adding her two kids, we wanted to have a new bedroom and playroom to accommodate the way we live in our house. It’s more a free-flowing, public-living space with access to the front porch and back porch. The kids’ area is in part of the addition for our blended family. It really works for us.” 

While their art makes their home unique, it is more so because the couple created it together. “It’s a mutual interest,” Tyler said. “Both of us are doing work in the design world, and it’s been a fun process merging our skill sets to create our home.”

“Our pieces and families have come together so beautifully,” Tonia said. “Collecting art is a fun hobby we are able to share.” She emphasizes art doesn’t have to be pricey to be the perfect piece, but original art has a special meaning. “One of my favorite paintings is one that I picked up at a thrift store for $14. Original art is something special that helps you make a space your own, and you’re doing that with a piece that mattered to someone who painted it,” Tonia said.

It’s the talented people who create the pieces on Tonia’s mind during an era that has been especially tough for small businesses and self-employed artists. With the constraints of the new normal, many artists have had to get creative in a different way to continue supporting themselves and having their work seen.

“This year, when we haven’t been able to have art shows or art fairs, I have artist friends who’ve been struggling,” Tonia said. “I like to think about how I can support them. I encourage everyone to find ways to support artists—just like when you buy food from a local grower or clothing from a local business, buying art is a sustainable way of living and paying it forward.”