A cognate of the English country cottages of 19th century architects C.F.A. Voysey and Edwin Lutyens, the house with its large continuous roof surface is a showcase of honest materials - real stucco on the walls, real slate on the roof, real Moroccan bricks on the back porch. The limestone number plaque utilizes a Voysey-designed font.


New Testament

Scott Merrill, architect of Florida’s famed Seaside community, applies his neoclassicist skills to a contemporary house in old Highland Park.

Architect Scott Merrill
Presence is one of those ineffable qualities: Impossible to define, but you know it when you see it. A new house by architect Scott Merrill, set in old Highland Park, has presence. The brainchild of owners David and Marsha Dowler, it succeeds on many levels. Merrill proved that one can reinterpret English architecture with new construction - build a modern house that represents the marvelous 1920s houses down the street.

The view of Marsha Dowler’s garden shows Japanese maple (Shishishgashira) and Chinese fringe tree (Loropetalum). Landscape architect Warren Johnson designed both an immense planter and a pond surround using Oklahoma River Stone chiseled to simulate the motion of waves.
Marsha Dowler is sprightly and petite, a part-time sculptor, gardener, and devotee of the arts. When asked to recount the story behind the house, she quickly asserts that it isnt a story but a saga, which begins and ends in Dallas where her husband was raised and where Marsha and David decided to settle. Along the way, the protagonists bring together, one by one, a cadre of talented people bonded by their connection to the Dowlers and by a common gift - visual literacy.

When the Manhattan-based investment firm that Dowler worked for in New York City suffered oil and gas industry woes, he became interested in architecture. At 35, he enrolled in a career discovery program at Harvard University, where his design instructor was Rafael Pelli, designer of the world’s first green residential high-rise, and son of noted architect Cesar Pelli, who designed two Seaside, Fla., residences for the Dowlers.

Another proponent of New Urbanism - a planning movement aimed at creating complete, walkable communities that reference small-town America - entered the Dowlers circle. Scott Merrill, founding partner of the award-winning architectural firm of Merrill, Pastor & Colgan, was Seasides town architect when David met him. Marsha recalls, "We were familiar with Scotts growing body of work through our Seaside connections. After we experienced a weekend at a Scott Merrill-designed mountain home, we knew that he would not only inspire our dream but fulfill it."

DINING ROOM: Designer Georgina Callan believed, "It was important for us in terms of furnishings that any window coverings would meld with the outside and soften the edges." To that end, they chose filmy Curtain Exchange curtains hung from ceiling to floor. The 1940s Murano chandelier tempers the Holly Hunt chairs and Christian Liagre table set with candlesticks from Patino/Wolf, a Brazilian rock crystal bowl from John Gregory Studio, and Bernardaud Limoges Metropoles dinnerware. So that they would make more use of their dining room, the Dowlers put their beloved, oversized art books in a special console designed by Ted Boerner. Marsha sculpted the bronze horse.
By 1990, the couple was ready to move to Dallas and started looking for lots. "We actually bought one on St. Johns Drive, but it simply wasnt what we wanted," Marsha says. Then, on an architectural tour of Preservation Dallas, they met Dave Perry-Miller. Perry-Miller was enlisted to search for the perfect property. His mission: Find an exceptional lot occupied by an unexceptional house.

"The Dowler assignment was trickier than most," Perry-Miller says. "None of us wanted to tear down a good house. Some people don’t care. The Dowlers did." Another consideration was environmental. Marsha is a gardener, and the Dowlers did not want to destroy beautiful trees.

Meanwhile, the celebrated planners of Seaside, architects Andres Duany and Lizz Plater-Zyberk, introduced the Dowlers, by way of a monograph, to 19th century architect and designer C.F.A. Voysey, whose style and works are considered seminal in the evolution of modern architecture. Something clicked.

"Marsha and I were taken with the picturesque country homes Voysey had designed north and west of London," David says. With their classic proportions, pitched roofs, and eccentric fenestration, Voysey’s English cottages crystallized what the Dowlers had in mind. Could neoclassicist Scott Merrill do such a quirky house? Luckily, Merrill also cottoned to Voysey’s turn-of-the-century arts and crafts classics. Now all they needed was a spot to build on.

Finally, the call came from Perry-Miller. A property on Crescent Avenue had become available, and the Realtor knew it would suit them. "It’s a quiet street, within walking distance of restaurants and shops, but highly prized," he says. The odyssey had taken five years, but within 24 hours, the parcel was theirs.

It took 16 months to complete the house. The building behind the house serves as a garage, an artist studio, a darkroom, a cabana, or anything else the couple can think up. "We kept throwing out different uses to Merrill and Colgan," David says. The answer: an updated take on a Cotswoldian cottage that connects to the house through the vertically set pool.

Owing to the naturally functioning creative team that the Dowlers enlisted, the collaboration proved highly successful. Mix old designs with new solutions and what do you get? Individuality and presence.


An Architectural Legacy

Nineteenth Century architect and designer C.F.A. VOYSEY’s style and works are seminal in the evolution of modern architecture. You can see some of Voysey’s influence in David and Marsha Dowler’s home, which was designed by Scott Merrill and built by Steve McCombs.

Says David Dowler: "Marsha and I were taken with the picturesque country homes that Voysey had designed north and west of London." With their classic proportions, pitched roofs, and eccentric fenestration, Voysey’s English cottages crystallized what the Dowlers had in mind. Could neoclassicist Scott Merrill do such a quirky house? Luckily, Merrill also admired Voysey’s turn-of-the-century arts and crafts classics. The influences are everywhere, including a large continuous roof surface made from slate, real stucco on the walls, Moroccan bricks on the back porch, and a street number plaque that uses a Voysey-designed font. The building behind the house serves as a garage, an artist’s studio, a dark room, a cabana, or anything else the couple can think up. "We kept throwing out different uses to the architects," David Dowler says. The answer? An updated take on a Cotswoldian cottage that connects to the house through a vertically set pool.


THE GARDENS OF THE FAMILY DOWLER

With the landscaping, as with each aspect of the project, the Dowlers knew what they wanted. They showered landscape architect Warren Johnson of Fallcreek Gardens with photographs of European gardens, pictures of trees on Lake Como, and layouts of private gardens in Surrey. "I tried to infuse the feeling of a Victorian-era garden by incorporating lots of perennials. I used a grass deck to make the swimming pool look like a reflecting pond," Johnson says. "After all," he muses, "this is not an old house made to look new; it’s a new house made to look old."

Johnson enlarged the back yard by configuring it into three distinct gardens: for Marsha on the east, for David on the west, and a central garden anchored by the pool. To circumscribe each space, he chose Chinese fringe tree, a striking, purplish-black hedge that bears fuchsia flowers in the spring.

Marshas space is a gardener’s garden - rustic and natural, even a bit wild. It’s graced by a fish pond, a Johnson-designed stone planter with rippled facing, and a collection of Japanese maples, the most notable of which is the shishigashira, a kind of natural bonsai tree. In the fall, its coppery-colored leaves contrast with the ochre leaves of a ginkgo autumn gold. A collection of espaliered apple trees surrounds an urban vegetable garden and grape arbor.

Davids side is more formal, set off by an all of crape myrtles and an architectural stone incised with geometric patterns. For his 50th birthday, Marsha presented him with a cluster of magnolia trees.

The dominant feature of the front garden is a contorted, weeping blue atlas cedar. Closer to the house is a native Texas persimmon. On the east stands a grove of Chinese pistachio trees whose leaves blaze orange-crimson in the fall. The shade border features anemones, oxalis, and camellias. An assortment of native Texas perennials finds comfort on the sunnier side of the yard, while on both sides majestic giant spider lilies flaunt their silky, sinewy petals.

BACKHOUSE: David says, "What’s remarkable about the ’garage’ is its balance. Most architects would have lined up the roof peak with the center of the pool. Instead, Merrill and Colgan lined it up on a gang of windows - some 4 feet off the center." Mahogany pond chairs are from Munder Skiles, a New York-based company devoted to reproductions of garden classics, licensed museum pieces, and newly-made, traditional-style outdoor furniture. LIBRARY: Art and architecture books throughout the house reflect the "very academic and aesthetic personalities of the Dowlers," as Realtor Dave Perry-Miller describes them. In the library, a Baker sofa with custom pillows from Linda Shereda Design faces a triptych by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Side chairs are companions to the antique settee in the living room. Coffee table is from Donghia. Pottery Barn candlesticks can be used indoors and out. Figurative sculptural piece "The Gossips" is by SMU professor and artist Deborah Ballard. Roman shades from Curtain Exchange are made with Holly Hunt fabric.