The Homestead

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The Hunt For Home Family trades Southwest living for mountain views and downhome ties in Wills Valley.

story by ELIZABETH MANNING | photos by AMIE MARTIN

A JOB PROMOTION LURED DOUG AND CARA HOFFMAN TO Fort Payne, Ala., from Texas, seven years ago, but the region’s outdoor attractions and bonds they formed with the community have made the area home.

Nucor, the steel company Doug worked for in San Antonio, offered him a job in small-town Alabama in 2006.

“We even imported a family member!” Cara says of Doug’s 87-year-old father, who moved to Fort Payne a year later to be closer to the couple and their two sons, Garrett and Connor.

The family found their home in the Highlands subdivision, just north of Fort Payne.

The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house sports almost 3,000 square feet and is outfitted with taupe hardy-plank siding and stacked stone. The neighborhood is only a couple miles from Nucor’s Fort Payne Vulcraft plant, where Doug works, and is great for biking, one of the couple’s favorite hobbies.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]..

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[s2If is_user_logged_in()]“People have a hard time with bike shorts around here,” Cara laughs. They’ve brought out the shorts regardless, and made use of the area’s natural beauty while getting in some exercise.

“We love the outdoors, and that was one of the major pluses of moving to this area,” Cara said. “You have Little River Canyon just a few minutes away, which really is a hidden gem.”

The couple has instilled a love for learning and travel in their sons. Connor will spend the next year in Australia through an exchange program. Garrett, a recent high school graduate, will attend college in Austin, Texas, in the fall.

When the family made its move to Fort Payne, Doug and Cara were looking for an existing home that would need few alterations to fit their needs and lifestyle.

“The house had a similar layout to the one we lived in in Texas,” Cara said. “We love projects, but we wanted to get plugged into the community instead of focusing on building at the time.”

The Hoffmans have gotten involved with the Fort Payne area through biking, church activities and their kids’ school.

“Our first connection was with the bike shop in town,” Doug says, sipping water from a Texas Longhorns tumbler. “After that, we kind of just spread out and made friends!”

Cara and Doug’s brainchild is the back-to-school fair hosted by their church, First Methodist of Fort Payne. The church collects money, shops for school supplies and then hosts a fair for families who cannot afford the supplies.

As with decorating, “I’m the creative thought, Doug is the planner,” Cara says of the couple’s partnership on the project.

The family’s Texas roots resonate throughout their house, in the kitchen, with the state-shaped cutting board, and the living room, where Cara has placed cascarones to decorate for Easter. The confetti-filled eggs, from Mexico, are popular in Texas during celebrations.

The laundry room entryway hosts a door that has traveled with the family to each house where they have lived. The antique door’s paint is chipping, but it has a wonderful patina and is a unique detail that lends character to the house.

Doug’s father helped the family install the door each time they moved.

With two boys and two dogs in the house, the living room’s neutral color scheme seems like a challenge, but Cara says she keeps practicality in mind. The all-white couches and ottoman are slipcovered for ease of cleaning.

Decorating is a constant project, as Cara swaps items in and out to tweak a room’s look while maintaining its overall style. Antiquing is a weekly endeavor for her, and many of the pieces lining the walls and holding court on the bookcases are items passed down from family members.

In Texas, Cara worked in real estate and with home décor businesses like Decorating Den. She learned to sew soon after she and Doug married, and made many of the draperies in their current house. She also fashioned the ottoman slipcover from a quilt she already owned.

In Fort Payne, Cara frequents antique stores, always on the lookout for the perfect piece for a room in the house. She says her favorites are Myrtle Jane’s, Scott’s Antique Market and Dave’s Antiques, but she travels all around looking for a good find.

“I love antiquing around here because the prices are so much better, for one thing,” Cara says. “I got these great shutters for $25; in Texas they would have been triple the price.”

When shopping, Cara says she keeps purpose top of mind.

“I may not have an exact piece I’m looking for, but if I see something, I try to think of where and how I could use it before I purchase it,” she says.

Several accents in the house are the result of such planning – the bird cage she made into a lamp, for instance, and the picture frame surrounding a linen deer bust.

“People are always asking me ‘Oh, that’s beautiful, where did that come from?’” Doug says. “I’m just like, ‘I don’t know, it just showed up one day.’”

The couple’s easygoing personalities are evident in their interactions and their home.

“Buy what you love,” Cara recites her decorating motto.

“Use what you have,” Doug answers.

“Doug would have us sleeping on mattresses on the floor if it were up to him; that’s the engineer in him,” Cara laughs. “He helps a lot with my projects, though, all joking aside.”

Both Cara and Doug’s philosophies are at work in the Hoffmans’ house, where Cara has repurposed many pieces to work in new ways.

A sideboard in the living room holds a framed black-and-white photo of Doug’s grandmother surrounded by several large dogs. Silver trophies from Doug’s father’s sailing days are interspersed throughout the first floor. A bowl of old antlers sits in a hallway next to the laundry room, and the breakfast and living room floors are adorned with cowhide rugs from Wimberley, Texas.

“People always ask me how my rugs hold up to the wear and tear of a household, but cows are outside all the time!” Cara says.

A window from the attic of the couple’s first home in Palestine, Texas, rests atop the mantel in the living room. The home, a small-town cottage, was their first project, and they renovated it from top to bottom.

The couple’s bedroom continues the neutral theme, accented with blue. A white couch sits at the end of a fluffy white bed, over which hangs a heavy, decorative plaster piece that “Doug had to hang.”

Doug takes photographs in his spare time, and the couple’s bedroom wall hosts several sepia prints he took in Texas. “That was back when you couldn’t just change the film filter on your iPhone,” he says.

The couple loves exploring local culture in and around Fort Payne, frequently visiting the arts hub of Mentone atop Lookout Mountain.

“There aren’t many whole-food stores around, but the farmer’s markets here are great,” Doug says.

The Hoffmans have learned to make a home wherever they land, but they’re very pleased with northeast Alabama.

“We would be happy to retire here, but I’ll go wherever the company needs me,” Doug says.

“We’ve learned that home is the people you’re with,” Cara adds. “The view from our deck is pretty nice, though.”

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