|DINING ROOM: Pat Williamson wanted the dining room to adjoin the breakfast room “to accommodate large family gatherings – so laughter can spill over from one room to the other.” English Regency mahogany table and Italian reproductions of Georgian chairs with carved eagle arms were in the former house. Cut velvet fabric from Brunschwig & Fils. Antique Persian rug is a Bakshaish.|
A Singular Sensation
The chemistry between the late modernist architect Bud Oglesby and interior designer Joseph Minton proves to be powerful.
|COURTYARD: Courtyard and circular driveway are centered by a bronze fountain. Roman-arched doors, French windows, and dormers allow light to stream into the house.|
Genius is not only the superior power of invention or origination; it’s also energy – the mental, physical, and emotional energy necessary to form new combinations. When Pat and Don Williamson decided to downsize their living space after raising their three sons, they enlisted the help of two close friends – the late, celebrated Dallas architect Bud Oglesby and the equally celebrated antiques purveyor and interior designer Joe Minton. The chemistry proved potent – collectively, the group designed a house that fuses classical and Mediterranean modern elements with Texas scale and panache, creating a design that is sui generis.
The couple met as students at Texas Christian University. After they married, they bought a Gothic mansion set on 6 acres in Westover Hills, an incorporated city inside old Fort Worth characterized by stately houses and undulating landscapes. Don Williamson and Minton had grown up here and, as a youngster, Minton imagined that the castle-like abode his friend would one day occupy was the home of Old King Cole.
After their sons moved out, the Williamsons decided to build a smaller house. By chance, the house directly behind them – that is, across a wooded ravine that separates the two parallel streets – became available. “We were looking for lots at first, but not a bunch of things were available in Fort Worth at the time, and we wanted to stay in the neighborhood,” Pat Williamson says. “There was a wonderful Spanish house here that had been flooded and vacated. We loved being on the creek, so we bought the property.”
A friendship between the Williamsons and Oglesby had blossomed out of a shared love of sailing on Fort Worth’s Eagle Mountain Lake, so it was natural that the Williamsons commissioned Oglesby’s architectural firm, Oglesby Group (later reformed as Oglesby Greene), to design their new home. From the outset, the Williamsons also involved Minton, with whom they had twice vacationed on the Côte d’Azur. “Some friends rented a huge villa for two months every summer in Cap Ferrat,” Pat Williamson says. Those visits to the south of France left lasting impressions on both Minton and the Williamsons by influencing their design aesthetic. Meanwhile, Bud Oglesby had built his firm’s reputation on adapting to Texas the simplified shapes and industrial idiom of European modernism. To design what the Williamsons had in mind was to be quite a departure.
|LIBRARY: Coffered ceiling in library is walnut. Black Belgian marble coffee table from Knoll was designed by leading Italian architect Gae Aulenti. Minton found the 18th century marble fireplace in France.|
For days, the Williamsons and Oglesby drove around Dallas looking at houses for ideas. “We also looked at the houses that Bud had built, which were all modern,” Pat Williamson says. “We went into some of those houses, and I got butterflies. Finally, I told Bud. ’I don’t want a modern house. Tell me truthfully, can you do this – design a house that’s not modern?’” Oglesby was confident that he could.
Ultimately, a house in University Park was to be the inspiration for the Williamsons’ dream house. “One that I thought was neat was a large, stone house with a slate roof,” Pat Williamson says. An accomplished gardener with an artistic bent (one son is also an artist), she insisted that the house be open to natural light. “I wanted to be able to look anywhere within the house and be able to see outside,” she says.
In order to visualize “the repose of the residence” (a favorite Oglesby term meaning where the home sits on the lot), Oglesby moved in with the Williamsons for several days. He determined that the new house should be set back further from the road than where the Spanish house had been. That would leave space for a circular driveway and a bronze fountain centering the courtyard. A gleam started to quicken and take shape.
Oglesby assigned Kraig Post as project manager. “Every Tuesday we convened in a mobile home parked on the site – the contractor, Don, Pat, Kraig, me, and my assistant. We did a lot of research on classical architecture, particularly on Palladian-style houses. Plus, Pat had collected photographs of her favorite design elements such as interior windows with little wrought-iron balconies we had seen in the south of France,” Minton says. One formidable challenge was to figure out how the stone façade of the Dallas house had been created. Working with stonemasons, Oglesby and Post discovered that the old-fashioned “shot-sawn” method of cutting limestone produced the requisite color and texture.
|BREAKFAST ROOM: This room features a pencil drawing by the Williamsons’ son Alex. Walls are covered in a twig-and-berry Minton-designed paper.|
After two years of construction, what emerged was a beautiful stone house of classic proportions that could sit as comfortably in the French countryside as in Fort Worth. Its slate roof is set with three dormer windows. To compensate for optical distortion, the roof tiles become smaller as they recede to the top, making all the tiles appear to be the same size – similar to the way the columns of the Parthenon are subtly curved in order to appear straight to the eye. The balcony of the front loggia is dripping with vines, and two enormous magnolia trees flank its columns.
Yes, the house is smaller than their previous one, but by any measure, the Williamson home is grand: Its immense front hall, rising through two stories up to a wood-beamed ceiling, is as large as many houses. The Roman-arched front door with its large panels of glass inset in iron affords a view straight through the house to the back terrace, beyond and below it is an enormous swimming pool. Grand staircases sweep up from both sides of the hallway. Two walkways cut across the house”one above the front entryway and another across the two bedroom wings.
The living room, dining room, kitchen, and greenhouse are five steps below the entrance level. Except for the bathrooms and kitchen, the downstairs is paved with slabs of limestone. (“Marble is too hard on the feet,” Pat Williamson says.) At Minton’s behest, painter Ed Ackermann finished the walls to simulate the look of old plaster.
The furnishings are a mix of English, French, and Italian antiques, many from the Williamson’s previous home, for which Minton was also the interior designer. Pat Williamson’s greatest joy was in choosing fabrics. “I went into Joe’s fabric room and had a blast,” she says. Her picks? Most are from Bennison, the English company that specializes in hand-printed fabrics based on original 18th and 19th century English and French textile designs. Most are floral or leaf patterns, reflecting Pat’s love of nature.
Nature is in fine fettle on the grounds, too, adorned with beautiful old water and cedar elms and other Texas natives. “We wanted to preserve the existing vegetation as the house was being built,” Post says. “The Williamsons employed an arborist, so the trees wouldn’t go into shock. And the trees came through very well.”
Sadly, Bud Oglesby didn’t live to see the final completion of this challenging project, one of the last houses he designed. He did, however, view it several times as it neared completion. “He was quite proud of it,” Post says. Thirteen years later, the house looks as though it’s been there forever. Perhaps that’s the real genius behind it.
|BEDROOM: Walls, curtains, duvet, headboard, and chair in the guest bedroom are covered in a variety of Bennison fabrics, artfully mixed by Minton.|