Cook Castle

Cook-Castle-front

The home of Jeff and Lisa Cook offers unique Castle setting for special events


by CAROLYN MASON

Rising from a forest clearing on the western edge of Lookout Mountain in Fort Payne, Ala., is a stone  castle that looks as if it were dropped from the pages of medieval fairy tale.

Built in 1984 by country-music star Jeff Cook, the 15,000-square-foot home is fit for royalty – Alabama royalty, that is. The lead guitarist and fiddle player for the most commercially successful band of all time, Alabama, christened the home “Excalibur,” but it’s always been known around town as “Cook Castle.”

“Everyone calls it that so we decided to go with it,” says his bubbly wife, Lisa.

Jeff and Lisa are more like the comfortable couple you want to go fishing with than the imposing structure may suggest. One sunny Sunday afternoon in February, they opened their home and gave Lookout Alabama magazine a personal tour, sharing not only the details of the architecture, but also an inside glimpse into the life and times of one of country music’s most famous stars.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]..

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You enter the property through massive iron security gates and drive over a winding road that delivers you to the front of the castle, where you have to rub your eyes and look again. Yes, it really is a castle, complete with 13-foot-wide turrets at all four corners and missing only a drawbridge and knights from King Arthur’s Court.

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Jeff and Lisa Cook

“I was more inspired by a childhood memory than an actual castle,” says Cook, a Fort Payne native. The estate is nestled on 34 lush acres near Desoto State Park and Little River Canyon National Preserve. With 29 rooms in all, the stone-and-brick palace features eight bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a pool house and a guitar-shaped pool. A recording studio also is located on the property.

Walk across the foyer’s granite floor and the space opens up to the jaw-dropping, 40-by-50-foot great room with a 23-foot ceiling and a 20-foot-wide, two-story stone fireplace. Golden oak beams crisscross the ceiling, and an enormous painted bass is mounted over the television screen.

Well, we thought it was a bass, but Cook laughs and explains it is really a grouper painted to look like a bass, adding color to one of the home’s unique details.

Cook insisted on using native stone and materials, which give the room a rustic elegance perfect for the weddings, special events, corporate retreats Photo by Steven Stiefel 60 Lookout Alabama Summer 2013 and charity fundraisers the couple hosts. Through their recently established business, Cook Castle Events, the castle is fast becoming a sought-after venue. (The Cooks spend the majority of their time at their other home on Lake Guntersville). The dining room seats approximately 65 people and can be configured for anything from a small dinner party to a full-service buffet. Together, the main dining and great room areas hold up to 500 guests and also offer a more intimate setting for smaller groups.

“We cater to all kinds of events and can accommodate any look or feel the customer desires,” Lisa says. She’s thrilled about the plethora of events scheduled. “It’s such a pleasure to offer a wedding venue that’s unique, yet turn-key,” she continues. “There’s a room for the bridesmaids to get ready, and a suite of rooms for the parents of the wedding party to spend the night. We have giant fundraisers and romantic Valentine dinner parties. The castle is a unique venue that’s easily adaptable.”

The master bedroom is on the main level and features “his and hers” bathrooms. Lisa chose the elegant fabrics and soothing cream color scheme. The guest bedrooms are perfect for bridesmaids and groomsmen, and each bedroom features its own color palate, personality or theme. There’s a horseback-riding-themed room, a purple/ mauve room, a masculine guys’ room and several bedrooms with a neutral, anyone-can-be-comfortable feel.

Upstairs, in the far corner tower overlooking the grounds and pool, is a bedroom Lisa says is one of her favorites. The view from the balcony extends across the property, and one can easily imagine a princess sipping tea from the linen-covered couch. “I was going for a serene, calm feel in this room,” Lisa says of the soft beige color palate. “I like to come in here and read or visit with friends. It’s a soothing feel that is separate from the rest of the house.”

The “hall of fame” is one of two areas in the home that remind guests of the star power behind the scenes. Leading to the billiards room upstairs, a long hallway is covered from top to bottom with framed photos, news clippings and letters from some of the country’s most famous stars. We are amazed by the candid photos of everyone from Dolly Parton to James Taylor. The sheer number of personal notes and signed photos makes the space feel like sacred ground.

Downstairs, a wall showcases American Music Awards for favorite country band and favorite country album, and honors from the Academy of Country Music for entertainer of the year, top vocal group, album of the year and on and on. We ask Jeff if he is worried guests might try to steal some of the bling, and he shrugs his shoulders at the thought. “I don’t worry about things like that,” he says.

Transitioning the castle from a home to an event venue means the Cooks keep their place entertainment ready. And the hustle and bustle of event hosting makes the nerve center the kitchen.

The home has two kitchens, each with its own personality. The main kitchen conveys a rustic, farmhouse charm, featuring stone and granite countertops and an island workstation. It’s a perfect setting for the preparation of down-home Southern food. A short stroll away, tucked behind the casual den and out of context with the rest of the house, is the delightful discovery of a Japanese hibachi grill and bar.

“This is one of my favorite places in the house,” Cook says. He designed the Asian-themed room so he could entertain family and friends with food prepared Japanese style. “Jeff loves to grill on the hibachi,” Lisa says. “Everyone gathers around the grill or the bar, and it’s great fun.”

It’s February, so the pool is being spiffed up for the spring season. The iconic, guitar-shaped pool lends a whimsical feel to the outdoor entertaining area. The final flourish is the Alabama logo at the bottom. Water tumbles over a two-tiered stone waterfall into the pool. Behind the pool and pool house, the land slopes into a natural amphitheater Lisa says is perfect for the summer concerts they are planning. “I can just see the hill filled with music fans enjoying a picnic and live entertainment,” she says.

We talk about all the possibilities: weddings, fundraisers, music fests, songwriter festivals, picnics and family gatherings. Then Cook agrees to strum a few songs on his guitar while we gather round the country legend.

“He’s in his element here,” Lisa says, and we agree. Jeff is just back from Alabama’s first concert stop of 2013 after almost a decade in virtual retirement and it looks like home is still in Alabama.

While there’s no sign of a sword in a stone or a threatening dragon, we leave with the certainty that this man’s castle really is his home.[/s2If]