Athens, Greece, might be the seat of civilization, but it could be argued that Athens, Texas, is the seat of recreation for the wildcatters in the Texas oil business. A lot of relationships bloomed from all that oil flowing. In 1980, Athens was the Mecca of ranches and lake houses for wealthy Dallasites. When a friend told interior designer Mary Ann Smiley that Barbara Thomas needed a little design help with her ranch house, she wasn’t sure what to expect. “I still remember how glamorous she was, wearing a huge lapis and diamond necklace with matching earrings. I couldn’t look away,” Smiley says. That was the beginning of a beautiful 30-year relationship. Smiley has gone on to do an office suite, a condominium to live in while they redid their “big” house, and a suite at Texas Stadium, as well as extensive work on their main Dallas residence.
The house, located on a big hill in Bluffview, retains almost the exact footprint it had when it was built in 1966 by A. Warren Morey. In 1995, the master bedroom was extended to create an office and closet area for Dr. Mark Lemmon, Thomas’ husband. It remains his favorite place in the house. It’s a testament to great design that D Magazine featured the office in October 1996, and it is exactly the same today. Despite being the same for almost 14 years, it manages to remain fresh, modern, and timeless. “Dr. Lemmon would not let me change a thing in his office—not one item—when we did the major remodel on the whole house in 2006,” Smiley says. “In fact, we took the house down to the studs. We did the lighting, plumbing, added a sound system, and redesigned the kitchen and bathrooms. We also popped out the back wall in the dining room to create more light and created space to seat 14. The only things structurally remaining are the stone walls throughout the house.”
The stone walls are the basis for the house. “When my husband and I decided to build our house on Watauga Road, we had all that stone brought here and cut on the site,” Thomas says. “So you see why we couldn’t tear the house down. And it will be handed down to my son so that this historical stone will be kept in the family.”
The original 1970s color scheme was gold and avocado green, but a few treasured items became the basis for the current design. Smiley was inspired to design some lamps by a couple of great young design talents—namely Jim Penix of Mineral Hunters and Allan Knight of Acrylic Innovations. The selenite block lamps on 3-inch beveled acrylic bases are as fresh today as they were 30 years ago when she created them. A custom satin glass chandelier by Thomas Grant was the inspiration for the new expanded dining room. Grant was able to perfectly reproduce the original, and two matching fixtures light up the acrylic-based dining tables.
Smiley made other changes to update and lighten up the house. Like so many houses built in that era, the kitchen was small, dark, and closed off from the rest of the house. She opened it up, and stainless steel appliances and rosewood and frosted glass cabinets make it modern. One of the most interesting touches is the floor tile, which looks like sisal carpet and is accented with stainless steel tiles.
The front door once opened directly into the dining room, and a dividing wall would have darkened the room significantly. So Smiley had Bowman Glass design and build a transparent glass screen that becomes an abstract painting with light shining through it. The open-weave drapery in the entry and along the back walls is a burnout pattern (sort of like a paper cutout) on bronze leather by Pollack. Light is filtered through glass and fabric designs to create a softly patterned light show. It’s downright ethereal.