Melissa Auberty knew her West Highland Park house was her “dream house” long before she lived there. After stints in New York City, Europe, and Los Angeles, the Dallas native moved back to town with her husband, Frederic, and their young son. It was 1992, and Auberty was excited to get back to Texas, which she felt would offer a more family-friendly environment than, say, L.A. Soon after moving back, she saw a house on Edmondson Avenue that caught her eye almost immediately. “We lived in a town house on Bordeaux Avenue, and I would walk by the ‘dream house’—I always called it that,” she says. “It was on a double lot, and I could see a grand piano inside. It looked like a Leave It to Beaver house.” Fate finally stepped in two years later when the family had added another son. The house went on the market, and the Aubertys bought it the very next day.
Early on, the Aubertys did a few minor remodeling projects, but in 2006, they decided to give the 1930s colonial revival a midcentury modern face-lift. Enter designer Allen Kirsch. “He did the kind of work that I wanted,” Auberty says. “We hit it off right away. He and I had a symbiotic feel for things. It was really a collaboration in every way,” Kirsch concurs. “She’s an artist, and she had very definite ideas,” he says, laughing. “Fortunately, she and I agreed on everything.”
And that team spirit was crucial during a process that lasted 14 months, including a summer when it rained practically every day. The entire downstairs was gutted save for the kitchen. A second staircase had to be added to access the new master bedroom. And then there was the family room, which was originally added in the 1980s by previous owners. Demo revealed the original corner of the house. “They built a roof above the roof,” Auberty says. Luckily, the challenges didn’t cause anyone to run screaming from the project. “We would just all meet and laugh and figure out a new way to do things,” she says.
The new, larger family room is both client and designer’s favorite room. It houses a combination of sleek furniture and dramatic art. “Melissa let me have as much free rein on the furniture as I gave her on the art,” Kirsch says. He designed the large sectional with Jack Larsen wool fabric. “Melissa loves texture,” he says. “I knew she would respond to that fabric. And the boys can get on it with their friends and slob all over it!”
Even with all the contemporary elements, the house is anything but cold. “It has the charm of an old house with new elements that make it a little more 21st century,” Auberty says. The large, open rooms are the perfect setting for the impressive art collection that she has amassed over the years . The large piece in the family room was her major splurge, and finding it was serendipitous. Kirsch was giving Auberty a tour of another client’s home when she fell for it. “She walked in his house and said, ‘I love his art. Will he sell any of it?’” Kirsch says. And it just so happened that particular piece didn’t work in the new house, and the client was willing to sell. “That never happens,” Kirsch marvels.
So what’s next for the house? Not too much if Auberty has her way. “This is my one and only remodel,” she says. “It took a lot of courage.” And don’t look for the family to be moving anytime soon. “I love this house,” she says. “I love this neighborhood. We wanted to stay here.”
And at least one of the house’s pre-Auberty elements remains intact. There’s still a grand piano downstairs—both Auberty boys are concert pianists.