Friday, January 27, 2023 Jan 27, 2023
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Transforming A Misfit Home Into A Family Manse

Dallas architect Wilson Fuqua transforms a misfit house into a family manse more in keeping with its Old Highland Park neighborhood.
By Jennifer Davis Dodd |

RECEIVING ROOM: True to the period, when the public rooms were given the most space and detail, the large formal living room of this completely remodeled Highland Park home runs almost the entire depth of the house. Floor-to-ceiling windows dominate the front wall and flood the space with light. The room is large enough to accommodate multiple seating areas and the homeowners large parties “but architect Wilson Fuqua carefully balanced the proportions so that the space feels open and comfortable, not cavernous.

Pride of Place
Dallas architect Wilson Fuqua transforms a misfit into a family manse more in keeping with its Old Highland Park neighborhood.

TOP: Plaster bamboo molding creates panels with Greek-key details on a wall shared by the conservatory and rear hallway. Limestone tile was laid during construction, and crews were allowed “even encouraged” to walk and work over it to age the floor and give it character. ABOVE: A banquette and a pair of arm chairs in the back corner of the living room encourage small groups to settle in for conversation or a game of cards. Framed architectural drawings from Nick Brock Antiques hang on the wall behind. Decorator Mersina Stubbs found the marble-topped drum table at the Mews.

You could say that he has an affinity for all things old. Architect Wilson Fuqua, AIA, is a staunch supporter of restoration and preservation efforts in Dallas. The bulk of the work his firm handles is restoring local homes to their original architecture “from grand estates to cozy bungalows. During a recent project, Wilson transformed an overly remodeled, out-of-context Highland Park home into an understated neighborhood grand dame. The house was built in the late 1930s, Wilson says, but, over the years, it had been so heavily remodeled that it didn’t look anything like the original. The owners and I set out to bring the house back to what it should look like.

In this case, he had some help from the house itself. The house wanted to be a 20s French Neoclassical design, he says. The overall shape of the building and the roof hinted at it, so I just helped it along. Wilson’s assistance included removing all of the exterior brick, reorienting the house on the lot by relocating the main entrance, changing the placement and proportion of windows and doors, adding period- and style-appropriate architectural elements, and, finally, reinstalling and painting the brick “not to mention extensive changes to the floor plans and interior architecture throughout the three-story, 8,000-plus-square-foot home. The complete remodel required two years, and the resulting house is a testament to Wilson’s knowledge of and dedication to the architectural history of the surrounding neighborhood.

Architects have a responsibility to the neighborhood, he says. A design, new or restored, should maintain, even contribute to, the community’s character and integrity, not fight against it. The neighborhood in question is one of the city’s oldest and most venerable; houses date from the 20s and 30s, and many were designed by the giants of the time, including Hal Thomson and Fooshee and Cheek. I’ve done a lot of work with Preservation Park Cities, Wilson says. And I’ve worked on five Hal Thomson houses, so I’m well-versed in the proportions and elements of homes built in Highland Park at that time.

A table for four nestled between two windows in the conservatory is the perfect place for a ladies club luncheon or a mother-daughter tea party.

Having the know-how to recreate a period home is one thing, but finding period-appropriate materials is quite another. In a few cases, with stone or marble, Wilson’s team was able to locate enough material for the installation. But more often than not, materials such as plaster molding, wood paneling, and hand-scraped wood floors were replicated by modern masters from appropriate examples. Appointing the house with period-style architectural and decorative elements required an intensive collaboration between Wilson and decorator Mersina Stubbs. For the duration of the remodel, Mersina carried around the dimensions of rooms and special features “even the fireplace openings throughout the house—always on the hunt for period-style architectural details. The fireplace surrounds were the most difficult, Mersina remembers. We wanted mantles that might have been imported during the 1920s. I had a list of each of the fireplace dimensions, and I learned very early in the search to measure before I got emotionally attached to anything I found.” In the end, the surrounds “some old and some new”were located through a number of local sources, including East & Orient and Kent-Stone Antiques.

FIRESIDE: Wilson designed the conservatory’s graceful limestone fireplace surround. Oriental garden statues flank the fireplace. Clay cannonballs from East & Orient in the gas-burning fireplace hold heat when in use and make unusual decorative accents when not. In one of his concessions to modern living, Wilson built a media cabinet into the wall next to the fireplace to camouflage the television and other electronics.

Wilson’s design is a craftsman’s dream” and nightmare. In the paneled stair hall, where the left rear wall is curved, custom crown molding recreated by Casci Ornamental Plaster zigs and zags around the tiny angles necessary to construct a curve in a paneled wall; the number of precision joints in this 54-foot stretch of wall is mind-boggling. But the installation was flawless, and the finished molding appears to be one, seamless piece. Determining the most pleasing proportion for the conservatory’s bamboo molding required several trips back and forth between the drawing board and the room itself. Once installed, decorative painter David Lyles gave the molding a wash of green paint, bringing out its detail and giving the room subtle yet unmistakable character.

CULINARY MATTERS: This is a working kitchen, not a showplace, so it’s ample but not overwhelming. Marble and stainless steel are low maintenance materials. Both a butler’s pantry and dry pantry are situated just off the kitchen to keep ingredients and serving ware handy while minimizing clutter in the workspace.

Wilson has such a sense of what’s correct for the exterior and interior architecture of a house, Mersina says. He knows the history and local architects; he would never implement something inappropriate to the style or the period just because the designer or homeowner wants it. He doesn’t compromise the architecture, but he’s also extremely pleasant to work with, so he guides you to the correct style, the appropriate design. When the result is this amazing, how can you argue?

The project demanded the best of all involved, but the finished product is remarkable in many ways, not least of which is the fact that there is nothing to mark it as a new home. The homeowners have told me that many people have walked through the house and had no idea that it’s new, Wilson says. When they mention something about the remodel, their guests are incredulous; they’d been sure the house was original. That’s the best compliment I could hope for.

In the formal dining room, built-in display shelves and French doors alternate along the exterior wall. The French doors open to the front terrace. The shelves offer both convenient storage and simple ornamentation in an otherwise spare space. Note the shelves curved backs and the elaborate crown molding “proof of Wilson’s eye for detail. DINNER GUESTS: The paneled dining room’s blue paint is Mersina’s own secret formula. Dining chairs in blue-striped velvet pull up to a Regency dining table. The design of the iron-and-crystal Panache chandelier is open and airy. Mersina found the antique marble mantle at Kent-Stone Antiques and topped it with an intricately detailed antique mirror.

GREEN ROOM: The conservatory enjoys expansive views of the wooded lot and neighboring creek. The room’s generous size, gorgeous view, and informal air make it a family favorite. The Greek-key motif, seen on the throw pillows and in the wall panels, is a reference to the family’s Greek heritage.

Renovation Notes: Highland Park Estate

The house that Wilson found at the beginning of this project had been through several renovations in its lifetime and had little to do with the original architect’s design. The house was oddly oriented on its lot, with the entrance on the side, rather than facing the main thoroughfare, the natural front façade. That entrance dumped visitors into an unimpressive space with a second-floor gallery.

The exterior presented to passersby was overwhelmed with windows, and the architecture lacked definition. The siting failed to take advantage of the lot’s impressive views and best natural features. In a neighborhood of stately homes by the great architects of the 20s and 30s, this house stood out”and not in a good way. The landscape design also fell flat. The homeowners approached Wilson to rebuild the home in a style more in keeping with the neighborhood and to correct several problems with space and flow inside the house.

A sweeping staircase and 8-foot-tall Palladian window in the two-story, paneled stair hall calls to mind grand estates (right). Coving makes the ceiling seem even higher than its already impressive 20-foot height. Wilson reworked the spaces and flow on each of the three floors, creating well-proportioned, classically appointed rooms with natural traffic patterns. The former main entrance now serves as a secondary, side entry that facilitates the flow of traffic when the homeowners entertain large groups (above left). The French Neoclassical façade Wilson installed during this whole-house remodel is characterized by symmetry, strong architectural details, and a gracious, easily identified front entry (above right). As part of new, more formal landscaping, a bluestone terrace leads visitors past a fountain to the front door and terrace with container plantings that add texture and interest, as well as reinforcing the symmetry of the architectural design. The final design blends so well with its neighbors that no one would guess it’s not the original 1930s home.

It’s All in the Details

In the second-floor gallery just beyond the main stairwell, a door leading to the third floor is disguised as just another wall panel.
DETAIL-ORIENTED: Wilson was concerned not only with installing period-appropriate molding such as the leaf-patterned example in this photo, but he also remembered the aesthetic, mixing and stacking multiple patterns to create truly unique and impressive ceiling and wall treatments. WALLFLOWER:
Mersina decorated walls throughout with upholstery, hand-painted silk wallpapers, and custom paint mixes in patterns and colors appropriate to the more formal style of the interior and exterior architecture Wilson installed.
A rear hallway connects the library to the conservatory and the kitchen and breakfast room beyond. Wilson added the passage to correct flow problems that necessitated backtracking through the living room and stair hall to reach the kitchen from the library.

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