Sense & Sensibility
Even the practicality of this family house in University Park has an English ring to it.
|LIVING ROOM: The Aubusson rug was purchased in Santa Fe at a bargain price. Its subtly shaded pink cabbage rose border echoes the roses in the fabric on the sofa, while the pink-and-green-striated curtains belonged to former owners. Also shown: ebony music box, bronze bird study, “Sheep In a Field,” French majolica plates from the Colefax & Fowler booth at the Olympia Antiques Show in London.|
The couple who owns this charming home, shaded by huge pecan trees, downsized four and half years ago. In their previous house, they had specified every detail, and it was beautifully appointed with antique mantles and fabulous chandeliers, but required more help and more care than they wanted. Just storing multiple kinds of light bulbs had become a hassle.
The couple had had their eye on a more easily maintained, older home. They were friends of the owners, had attended their dinner parties, and had put out a feeler. “If, for any reason, you ever decide to sell…” As it turned out, the former owners divorced and made good on their offer to transfer ownership privately. It was a quick turnaround – purchased in April of 2000 and closed in June, so the family could settle in before school started. “Of course the kids weren’t interested in moving, but when we showed them the two large TVs and pull-down screens in the family room, they changed their tune,” the wife laughs.
The house was built in the mid- to late ’40s and updated for the former owners a dozen or so years ago by builder Cy Barcus, who extended the garage, installed another bedroom over it, and added a porte cochere. Built of clapboard and sited sideways on one acre, the house looks more like one populating Darien, Connecticut, or Locust Valley, Long Island, than University Park. The way the house is angled and the use of the porte cochere as the entryway affords the family a kind of “casual, private luxury” that houses facing squarely on the street don’t enjoy.
|MUSIC BOX: The ebony music box with painted medallions rimmed in ormolu took three years to restore. The silver urn is a family heirloom.|
When the time came, the current owners hired Silver Lining to move them, a Sisyphean task completed from start to finish in seven days flat. Then they worked with interior consultant and lighting expert Charles Birdsong to place their things – their things being superb collections of furniture, carpets, china, bronzes, ivory, art, and silver. Some pieces are family heirlooms, such as the ivory figurines in the library and the silver urn and turquoise glass Baccarat compote in the living room. Most are acquisitions the couple personally collected from estate sales, antique shops, antiquarian shows, consignment stores, or dealers in Dallas, Aspen, Santa Fe, New Orleans, California, and points international. (These antique aficionados travel extensively. They honeymooned in Hong Kong, lived in London, own a house in Aspen, and take overseas trips once or twice a year). To put these myriad collections in order without making the house look cluttered took genius, and the credit goes to Birdsong. “Charlie was instrumental in placing everything in the house,” the owner says.
The house has a distinctly English feel to it, an aesthetic that embraces more than one culture. (After all, the sun never set on the British Empire, so from the second Georgian period on, English houses of a certain taste level and scholarship contained items from around the world.) The homeowners are both lifelong collectors. She grew up on Caruth in University Park in a house filled with antiques. “Not fine ones,” she is quick to mention, “but to me the idea of something being old was intriguing. Value has always been important, too. I realized early on that value wasn’t obtained with reproductions.” He grew up in East Texas and learned about antiques from a client of his landscape architect father. That client was a collector of export porcelain, the china that was brought to Europe from Japan and China by
|DINING ROOM: The Chippendale chairs came with the marriage, already acquired by the master of the household. The Chinese export dinner service was bought from the International Antiques Show in Dallas via a dealer in Aspen, and the Chinese export porcelain on the walls was bought at Lafayette Galleries in Dallas (no longer in existence). The blue-and-white-striped fabric on the chairs relates to the turquoise-ish blue wallpaper, and is not a perfect match. Also shown: ironstone soup tureen and urns, gold-engraved glasses from Orion Antique Importers, mirror from M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans, glazed terra cotta statues from Kent Stone (now Milton Kent Antiques), sideboard from Blackamoors Antiques in New Orleans, and French gessoed wood chandelier from The Victory Shop.|
Dutch and Portuguese traders and later to the United States, when trade with China opened in the late 18th century for the newly independent nation. English aristocrats espoused export porcelain, and this couple’s passion for it is evident in the massive sets showcased on the walls and in the breakfront of the hall, as well as in a magnificent dinner service set the husband purchased from a dealer in Aspen. “Most of the large old sets have been split up or dried up, so when we see them, we always buy them.”
According to Birdsong, the thing that unifies a house is the “personal edit” of its owners. “The more personal collecting is to you and the more serious you are about your home environment, the more personal your edit. If it appeals to you, no matter what, it somehow works in your world. This house is obviously a passionate collection of many things. It wasn’t phoned in.”
Many of the fabrics in the house come from the great English decorating houses like Colefax & Fowler and its American arm, Cowtan & Tout. But a French sensibility is evident, too, in fabric from Rose Cumming, the sui generis American decorator whose chintzes and silks were custom-colored for her in the fabric ateliers of Paris, in the Brunschwig & Fils fabric in the master bedroom, and in the Aubusson rug in the living room. The upholstery was done by local upholsterer Jesse Taylor, and it bespeaks a fondness for superb workmanship and fine detail with buttons and swags, welts and tassels adorning pillows, cushions, and curtains.
The couple loves nature. Paintings lean toward pastoral scenes, florals, or dog portraits; objets dart are themed around flowers, birds, leaves, and animals, so typical of an English country interior.
|OUTDOOR ROOM: The backyard has a comfortable outdoor room with fireplace, television hidden behind a cabinet, and lots of charm. The pair of yellow and white porcelain parrots were from the estate of legendary Dallas decorator Jed Mays.|
A dedicated crafter and Sunday painter, the lady of the house is also a firm believer in recycling. She did not shop for new furnishings, but instead decorated with what she had. “What’s here was there.” Some of the fabric – for instance, the Brunschwig & Fils mini-vases pattern in the bedroom – are enjoying their fourth incarnation. The floral fabric on the living room sofa is the same as one that graced one of their sofas three houses and 20 years before. “Once I get something I like, I stick with it. I don’t mind changing houses, but I don’t like changing stuff.” She did change out the wallcoverings when the family first moved in, hanging new papers in the library, dining room, entry hall powder room, and master bathroom – each a different color. Recently she re-did the wallpaper in the master bedroom. The choice of unusual colors reflects a painterly eye. (As any good graphics designer will say, “Never pick a color you can readily put a name to.”). And she chose colors for wallpapers and fabrics that do not match perfectly, because she does not like a look that is “too done.”
She also updated the kitchen, replacing the olive green and black checkerboard backsplash and black countertops with white countertops, brackets, and painted bead board.
“All the spaces are here that I had in the other house,” she says. “Just more compact.” All except one. The family’s new home has a larger third floor, which has been converted from the former owner’s art studio into a crafter’s dream – rooms for creating, organizing, storing, and wrapping her manifold craft projects. But it’s the overall manageability that makes this house so appealing to the homeowners. With one son still in school, dinner is usually a family affair during the week with Mother doing the cooking. But, on weekends and holidays, this couple likes to entertain. “In this house I can do a party by myself,” she says. She especially likes impromptu get-togethers. Her friends know to expect that she might call at the last minute to say, “The weather’s great! Come for a shrimp peel.”
A few tips on doing your English country-inspired house up right
Don’t fill the whole house with flowers. It should look like you’ve gone out to your garden and picked them. Buy flowers at the grocery store, even if they’re just roses. Take the tacky greens and filler out and put the flowers in a pretty vase. A room doesn’t need more than one fixed arrangement, and maybe one real plant.
Lamps have warmth; canned light does not. This house has many lamps in every room, seven in the library alone. In the dining room are sconces, a gilt wood chandelier with shaded faux candles, silver candelabra, gold candleholders above the buffet as well as recessed ceiling lights.
If you’ve got silver, put it out, but it has to be polished. If you don’t have time, porcelains are easier. So is gilt – you don’t have to polish it.
Collect what you love. Educate yourself about it. Always look at the price of everything’s that’s attractive to you when you’re antiquing to get a feel for the market. For instance, the homeowner found a Helmut Pitcher (18th-century Chinese export) for $7.50 at a consignment shop in