Emily Summers is a designer’s designer. Known for her creative combination of finishes and textiles and use of vintage elements, she is considered one of the great interior designers of our time. She is also a historic preservationist—the idea of tearing down any structure with timeless design is anathema to her. Summers is enthusiastic about opportunities that allow her the chance to work with remarkable architecture. Whether collaborating with former University of Texas dean of architecture Lawrence Speck on Caren Prothro’s house (originally designed by Bud Oglesby) or working on the DeGolyer house (originally built by Scott and Schutt), her mission is to preserve great architecture. And then she takes it a step further: she adapts it for modern living.

Summers’ gift for enhancing the already outstanding appealed to Dallas couple Emily and David Corrigan. They had a history with her—she had also worked on the interiors at their house on Kelsey Road in 2000.

The couple has deep Dallas roots. David grew up in a traditional home in Highland Park. Emily grew up in a Bud Oglesby home on Strait Lane with interiors by legendary designer John Astin Perkins. The modern lines were the perfect backdrop for Perkins’ quirky eclecticism and use of bright colors. People with strong Dallas ties are often the first to notice how quickly things are changing around here. The Corrigans are no different. One day in 2005, they looked around and noted that their Preston Hollow ranch literally was getting overshadowed by huge, multistoried mansions. The couple considered their options and started looking for a new home. Not long after, they discovered a modest-yet-modern house built by Dallas architect Downing Thomas in the 1950s. For David, it was all about the grounds the house sits on. Lush, hilly, bucolic, and heavily treed, the Bluffview lot was as close to the country as he could get in the city. His heart has always been outdoors—he grew up hunting and fishing and spending weekends at the family ranch or fishing camp with a group of his high school buddies.

The Corrigans called in Summers and senior designer Mary Elizabeth Johnson, and they saw that the house and grounds already possessed the core design elements to create the perfect home for the active family of five (plus dogs and cats). “The home was beautifully sited on the property, but we needed to move the existing pool to allow more space for outdoor living,” Summers says. “David loves to grill and smoke the game that he catches on his hunting expeditions. The whole family is outdoorsy. The boys hunt, and their daughter loves to photograph nature. So this was the perfect family home for them.”

Approximately two years later, in spring 2007, the transformation was complete. Two-thirds of the original house was torn down. In the new space, huge windows created by the modern architecture of Jason Smith (an architect with Emily Summers Design at the time) bring the outdoors in and make it an active part of the interiors. A floating staircase, also designed by Smith, leads to the boys’ bedrooms on the newly added second story. Summers’ favorite new element? The custom marquetry entry cabinet made by Bert Ray of Wimberley, Texas. 

Depending on the fitness level of a visitor, a short break might be necessary before entering the house—walking up to the front door is not for the weak-limbed or faint of heart. Luckily, the four levels of steps leading to the entrance are punctuated by benches, artfully placed by landscape architect Coy Talley. 

Inside, the furniture is diverse. “We brought the pieces we loved from our old house—our dining room furniture, things from our kids’ rooms, and items from the kitchen and the den,” Emily says. The old mixes well with new pieces from Scott + Cooner, ID Collection, JANUS et Cie, and David Sutherland, among others. And then there’s the art. A painting by Emily Corrigan hangs in the bedroom. (She studied art history and painting at SMU.) The Corrigan collection also boasts works by Sam Gummelt, David Bates, and Janet Fish, as well as a number of antique pottery pieces. “We really haven’t gone on any specific art-buying trips. I would like to go to New York for that,” Emily says. “We have bought pieces we liked locally, though, mostly through Dunn and Brown Contemporary. And we’ve acquired antique pottery from family members. When our family is grown, I would like to begin seriously collecting Greek and Byzantine pottery.”

But this isn’t an overly formal home—you’re as likely to see a basketball as a work of art. The focus in the Corrigan house is raising three
teenagers. “This is our dream home,” Emily says.