Conversations on Dallas Style

We asked designers, showroom owners, and VIPs to define Dallas style.


Recently, we were brainstorming with our friends at Robb and Stucky about our annual event.* (We partner once a year, and like all good partners, we like to party.) Our event always has a theme, and when someone suggested “Dallas Style,” all heads turned. Uh, Dallas Style? What in the world does that mean? D Home’s editors, known to harbor a few opinions, began to look for sources to bolster their individual points of view. We asked designers, showroom owners, and even some VIPs who would be attending the Robb and Stucky event to define what Dallas style conjures for them. As you might guess, a consensus was not reached. We did, however, gather some brilliant insights from local and national brethren. Our favorite musings follow. >>  —Christine Allison

* To see Dallas Style in all of its glorious permutations and enjoy some of the city´s finest food and drink, join us Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at Robb and Stucky at the 7240 N. Dallas Pkwy. location. Admission is free, but please reserve your spot by calling 972-403-3063.

Conversations on Dallas Style

What it is. What it’s not. What we do right. What should be outlawed. Style makers in Dallas speak out.


Recently, we were brainstorming with our friends at Robb & Stucky about our annual event. (We partner once a year, and like all good partners, we like to party.) Our event always has a theme, and when someone suggested “Dallas Style,” all heads turned. Uh, Dallas Style? What in the world does that mean? D Home’s editors, known to harbor a few opinions, began to look for sources to bolster their individual points of view. We asked designers, showroom owners, and even some VIPs who would be attending the Robb & Stucky event to define what Dallas style conjures for them. As you might guess, a consensus was not reached. We did, however, gather some brilliant insights from local and national brethren. Our favorite musings follow. —Christine Allison


Philippe Starck’s The House residential high-rise in Victory typifies the new Dallas style

Photography by Newscom

Sherry Hayslip

We deeply desire to be the leading cosmopolitan Southern city; the most stylish among us have bucked the big hair/big car Texas stereotype by presenting a smarter, sleeker image. The world-class architects who have created designs for our new opera house, theater, bridges, and hotels have whetted appetites to be consumers of great design— there’s even a kind of architectural envy, with more awareness of superstar architects and the associated glamour of having a name architect designing our houses. At the same time, Dallas’ longstanding affair with traditional, European based designs is stronger than ever. If your contemporary house must be impeccably clean, always tidy, with nothing out of place, minimalism can be somewhat exhausting. Somehow, stacks of magazines, some dog toys lying around, and a few favorite heirlooms, feel more normal in a traditional setting. There will always be people here, rife with stuff, who will trend to more tradition in their architecture and interiors.


“We deeply desire to be the leading cosmopolitan Southern city.”-Sherry Hayslip

Photography by Newscom

Three cheers for local architecture: An architect I recently worked with in Santa Fe said, “Wow, I envy you working in Dallas.” I was shocked. How could someone from sublime Santa Fe actually envy those of us stuck in Dallas? He answered me by pointing out that in Santa Fe, there are only a few styles that clients request: territorial, adobe, or some modern version of one of them. I had always felt that Dallas was lacking in character since there was no identifiable style that I could connect with the city. Looking around with fresh eyes, it was easy to notice the rich variety—some good, some ghastly—of architectural styles in every direction. From that point on, I began to appreciate how interesting Dallas is architecturally.


Photography by Dan Sellers

Rick Rozas

How we (should) live: Design and architecture should reflect the local landscape and climate. Most buildings fight this. We have to educate and bridge the client’s wants with the functionality needed to handle our extreme heat and light. Personally I like deep eaves or architectural screens, solar shades, or sheers. I also like using materials that stay cool even in the extreme heat. As for the flat terrain, my projects always accentuate the horizontal—something I brought with me from southern Louisiana. Stop the madness: What drives me crazy? Mega-mansions (of course). Big hair (of course). Potpourri.


Allen Kirsch

Compared with the work I’ve done on the East Coast, Dallas style is much more intense and of a higher quality. Dallas is not afraid to show its wealth. So maybe the description of Dallas style is “wealth shown in a very intense way.” And, of course, no small amount of one-upmanship. I think Dallas has become less trendy as the people here have become more comfortable and more confident with themselves. On dealing with Dallas’ flat terrain: I don’t think that Dallas is all that flat. That sounds like an outsiders’ comment to me. Look at Kessler Park, Stevens Park, Bluffview, parts of Highland Park, parts of Preston Hollow, the east side of White Rock Lake that has views of downtown. Should be outlawed: Blown-in acoustic ceilings. Textured walls. Flocked wallpaper (although it’s back, too, and I even showed some to a client). Ceiling fans. Recliners. Huge rear projection TVs. Faux painted walls that look like someone’s been smoking in the room for 25 years.


Photography by Stephen Karlisch

Michelle Nussbaumer

Dallas has many great showrooms. Over the past few years, people have moved away from the tract mansions and opted for a more contemporary/urban feel. High-rises are becoming more popular. We’re weaning ourselves out of the “safe” mode. Ongoing issues: Beige rooms with too much Murano, over-scaled furniture made for giants, yard decorations, over-scaled holiday decorations (too much), rooms that resemble hotel lobbies, spaces that do not even look like they are lived in, decorating to please your neighbor, tract mansions on zero subplots.


Photography by Dan Sellers

Donald Fowler

I think in previous years, Dallas style really meant a well-appointed traditional approach (typically passed down from our parents) with a definite nod to our Western heritage. Dallas really looked to its past for its definition of what a “correct” interior looked like. Today, Dallas people are using what they know, not what others tell them, to create their homes. Not so much: I think the whole fake flower thing could go by the wayside; I never quite understood that one. I am also not a fan of the entertainment center: If your TV has that much presence, it may be time to get out and read a book. In regard to our architecture: We are doing the one-step-forward-two-steps-back dance. We are building some amazing structures in the new arts district. Then we insist on building houses that don’t relate at all to the environment, a lot of characterless structures that may have an element or two of “luxury” but are built on poor foundations or are connected to walls that can’t keep the sound out. All of this gives the appearance of luxury without meeting its standards.


Jim Williamson
For decades, Dallas has believed the bigger the better. Overdone accessories, soaring ceilings with out of proportion furniture, and drapery treatments better suited for “The Munsters.” Fortunately, Dallas is now home to a preponderance of fashionable people and some fabulous but tasteful homes. Classic or traditional style is still the norm. It is a style that has worked for hundred of years and a style that says “I have arrived” and “I came from old money.” Stop the bulldozers: One fad I would like to see stop is the destruction of some of our older neighborhoods built in the ’20s and ’30s. Enough with the overpriced bad condo boom and enough with destroying what little character still remains. For the most part, they have no architectural interest whatsoever.

Allan Knight

Photography by James Bland

We finally have some diversity. I am really glad to see more modern, and we have seen sales of our modern collections soar. This makes me very happy, as a lot of individuals are mixing modern with things not so modern, and finding their way with New Style, which is how I see things here in general. On local architecture: I don’t think that architects in this part of the country respond in any particular fashion to our terrain. Only a few structures in Dallas set a definite tone, like the great old Highland Park Village, which really is what that part of town is about. It feels cool, somewhat protected, and gives relief to the otherwise bland terrain that makes up a good bit of Dallas. The new W on the other hand seems to embrace the brightness and sunlit environment, and rather than sprawl, shoots out of the ground, like a bolt of white light. I really like the feel of that building, in among the rest of the very monotone buildings in Victory. A great counterpoint to that is the low but shaded International on Turtle Creek. I like what the architects did with the building, as it is a fresh take on the neighborhood, without any triteness whatsoever.

Photography by Vanessa Gavalya

Lord Taylor

As with all cities, there are a select few individuals with great personal style and a majority with no style at all. No style: Lamps made out of every conceivable item. Ottomans with trays stacked with every possible thing. Artificial flowers and plants. Large scale mirrors leaning from the floor. “Tudor” in the sky. Too many religious objects and body parts scattered around. Too many different surface materials.

Beverly Field

HOPE AT LAST: Amongst the McMansions with their matching McInteriors, there seems to be hope on Dallas’ horizon with some exciting contemporaries popping up as well as exquisite traditional designs. Case in point, the Palladian house on Preston Road as well as some very fine looking French and traditional American style houses. Comparing some of the architecture to a smorgasbord, there are full enchilada dinners (grand Spanish haciendas), English mutton stew (English tudors), apple pie with melted cheese (American Craftsman), ravioli (Italian villas), fried chicken (Southern plantation), and the popsicle houses representing the modern, Meyerson-style house. Sometimes these dishes are all combined in one confused house.

Photography by Getty

MY HOUSE: a contemporary with two-story windows that face due west with no protection from awnings because of homeowner restrictions. I honestly think in July and August I could roast a turkey just by placing it in the windows. Builders and architects need to take a lesson from desert countries and realize storefront-sized plate glass windows cannot be placed everywhere. Countries such as India and Morocco have appropriate-sized windows with beautiful screening. God forbid people add screened porches onto their houses. It is as archaic a thought these days as a hot water bottle but a much welcomed idea for the seven other cooler months of the year.

Football stadium-sized rooms with inflated furniture—furniture that looks like it is filled with helium and over-scaled. Soaring two-story ceilings and two-story windows, which are diminishing to the human soul and impossible to decorate. Reproduction furniture in residences when you can afford the real thing. Prissy neat rigid hospital-like contemporary rooms. Black granite countertops. Rooms without at least one mirror. Theme rooms, all of one period, belong in a museum, or a grand house with a ribbon across it.

Photography courtesy of Jan Showers

Jan Showers

I opened my offices/showroom on Slocum Street 10 years ago, and I have seen major changes during these years. At the time, Dallas was ultra traditional and all that implies: swags, balloon shades, and all the rest (which I never did). There was much more “brown” furniture. We have definitely become more sophisticated and prefer simpler, cleaner lines in furniture and high quality fabrics for curtains that are more tailored. Over the top is definitely passé. The art world in Dallas has evolved as well; even if my clients have somewhat traditional furnishings, they are buying good modern art. On Dallas heat: I respond to this with interior and exterior colors that have a cooling effect—warm colors are great used sparingly or as accents in this climate. Since we do experience the seasons, very often we slipcover clients’ furnishings for the spring and summer months since it can be much cooler in the winter months. So last year: Overly bright acidic paint colors that no one should or could live with for long. Shabby chic: How many chips can one have in a room? All brown furniture—so inappropriate for warm climates and deadly boring as well. I would ban fake flowers from the planet —it doesn’t matter how good the silk is—there is nothing more wonderful than the real thing.

David Cadwallader

True Dallas “style” is defined by a few people who have created a setting with great architectural integrity and style, epitomized by the likes of Frank Welch, Max Levy, and a few other priests of local vernacular architecture. Developing: The classic ranch style house with deep eaves, shielded walls of glass, and a modern sensibility to the way we really live is still being re-invented and re-expressed by our best architects. Unfortunately, what Dallas has become known for is an obscene excess with a fundamentalist’s fervor for conformity. Trite but true: Highland Park and beyond is Disneyland on steroids and Prozac. What keeps me and a very distinguished group of my Dallas design colleagues in business is a growing number of discriminating clients who have the commitment to quality, the income to pursue their individual expressions, and the good sense to hire professionals to edit.

Paul Draper

To paraphrase a recent hit movie, the “currency in Dallas, is still currency.” Big hair has been replaced with silicone and laser whitened teeth. Having said that, Dallas is becoming more sophisticated, not necessarily more refined, but more comfortable in what it is and what it is becoming, and it is trying less and less to be like someplace else. While we seem to be most comfortable with “traditional” styles, contemporary designs are becoming not just more common, but more responsive to place, showing Texas roots and responding to how we live and play here. We have a true wealth of uniquely talented architects and designers who are doing more and more exciting projects that are redefining what this city is, both claiming its heritage and looking forward and outward as well. I believe that it is not so much a question of what Dallas style is, but what Dallas style is becoming. The Dallas of 10 and 15 years from now will define the basis for what Dallas is for many years to come. Best new trend: As brutal as our summers can get, there are many beautiful days that we could enjoy being outside, except for the bugs. The rediscovery and redefining of the screened porch, now becoming great “open air” rooms which are often the “go to” space in the house, is one of the most exciting and promising design trends I see developing. No, no, no: Dallas is still awash with McMansions in general, especially in old neighborhoods, and I am thinking specifically of the rape of the M Streets.

Room photography by Stephen Karlisch, portrait by Kevin Hunter Marple 

Cheryl Van DuyneDallas people are not afraid to make a statement with their homes; they love color and large spaces. Most people want comfortable rooms for personal use but prefer formal spaces for entertaining. And while we are essentially a traditional city, I am encountering more people interested in contemporary styles and in downsizing. The excitement about high-rise living is all part of this new trend. I believe it is because they travel more, lead busy lives, and want less to encumber them. Could live without: Faux finishes. It is real or it is not. Pseudo Italian villas and French chateaus. Some of these homes are beautiful and well done, but you can’t duplicate European countries in Dallas. Huge media rooms. Homes that can accommodate several football teams (and by that, I mean at the same time).

Linda Fritschy

It might be wishful thinking, but I believe we are seeing a trend toward crisp edited interiors, both modern and traditional in style, that provide a calming oasis in our hectic lives. Just the way it is: In Dallas we have an abundance of extremely confident homeowners, who in their search for luxury and self-fulfillment, repudiate respect for pure past architectural styles in favor of homes that are an individual blend (or a blur) of styles. True confessions: Okay, I’ll come clean and admit I have dressed a client’s master bed with four rows of perfectly coordinated pillows—more than once.


The Rachofsky House
Photography by Joshua Martin

Donn Bindler

Dallas style is so varied: Just experience the block of Preston Road north of Northwest Highway—two statement residences, one contemporary and the other traditional, each designed by prestigious architects and owned by such generous people who share them with the community. On Dallas terrain: Let’s face it, we cannot reproduce falling water here. But there are pockets of Dallas that are so beautiful, natural, and lush. But for the flat lots and the flatlands north of here, I say just keep it simple. Try not to make it like a villa or the Everglades.

Kathy Adcock-Smith

While fancy chateaus and McMansions still abound, we’re seeing new construction with simple modern styling, smooth limestone facades, and regional influences. However: The cost of energy will continue to skyrocket, and it is imperative that we design homes and businesses that provide protection from our extreme climate (both hot and cold). Many new homes have windows that cannot be opened and with the popular chateau style architecture, there is minimal roof overhang, which causes the windows to be brutally exposed to the sun. We can provide both active and passive protection from the sun by the use of energy efficient windows, deep overhangs or recessed windows, and sensibly located landscaping elements.

Photography Scott Womack

We should situate our homes to capture the prevailing breeze from the Southwest especially for the outdoor entertaining areas, use water elements to aid the sense of coolness and oasis, and use indirect sources of natural lighting that provide necessary light without blasting the space with heat. Don’t mess with Dallas: It is a reverse poverty to build a home too large to be richly furnished. There is nothing attractive about empty, unfurnished rooms or rooms overwhelmed with cheap furnishings and bad lighting. Outlaw big, bulbous balustrades. End the practice of bastardizing exteriors: too many unharmonious architectural elements, too many materials, textures, styles.

Marilyn Rolnick Tonken

Photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

Dallas is a fresh and new city whose residents originated in the mid 1800s from all compass points with a wide variety of styles. From the South and East came Georgian and Williamsburg; from the Southwest, stucco and stone; and from Frank Lloyd Wright, ranch styles post WWII, now being recycled with Tuscan, French, and Mediterranean. Frozen in time: The advent of air conditioning unfortunately impeded the development of an architectural discipline that would take into account setting and style. I’ve always wondered why Dallas developed as a magnet for growth and business. Who would by choice live here: Hot (always) summers, cold (sometimes) winters, and no enticing natural come-hither features. But I think we are all caught up with the energy, the people, the personality of this city.

Walter Lee Culp Associates
I describe Dallas style as bigger and better. Take “European” style and super-size it. Or, go cutting edge with vertical three-story town homes that employ as many far-out materials, rooflines, window configurations, and colors as possible. At the very high end, some major contemporary homes with great style and integrity have also entered the scene. Remember when the Preston Road Rachofsky mansion was the only one in town of note? Although knocking down is less expensive than restoration, one must applaud the trend of saving mid-20th century homes. That would not have been the case 10 years ago. Big and bigger: The construction of the monster house continues to increase. The giant homes are often constructed on very small properties in which you can wave out your window to your neighbor. The rooms are often so large they become difficult to find suitable scaled furnishings.


Photography courtesy of Alexa Hampton

Alexa Hampton

I think Dallas style has everything to do with elegance and luxury and, most importantly, designs that have a gutsy sense of scale. Qualities I associate with the beautiful interiors I have seen in Dallas are exuberance and a strong love of colors and textures. It’s all about conveying personality through the combination of strong and special pieces. Designing for the Dallas market: The furniture in my collection for Hickory Chair that sells the best in Dallas is comfortable and bold, not specifically modern or classical; there are examples of both. On the modern front, the Roberts sofa and Kate coffee table are very successful. On the transitional front, the Nicholas sofa, Nadine occasional table, and Gabriela chair are the big sellers. Finally, the Hailey table and Samantha chairs, with their classical sensibility, are successful. What unifies these pieces is their versatility, while each piece, I hope, has a personality of its own. One could incorporate them into their own interior to create a look that would be entirely personal and unique, not just some designer’s “look.”

Photography courtesy of Thomas O’Brien

Thomas O’Brien

I find that people in Dallas care about their homes in a very old-fashioned way, even if the decor is modern and new. The homes I’ve visited tend to be completed in the most designed, hospitable, and thorough manner. I think it’s interesting that some of my modern and vintage modern upholstery shapes are shown here in much more classical fabrics such as damask. It’s a really sleek, nice look that helps to update a more traditional or conservative environment.

3 Words That Describe Dallas

Large, Larger, Largest — Michelle Nussbaumer

Can’t help but say: N = Neo, O = Old, W = World — Linda Fritschy

Personal, Sophisticated, Rich — Rick Rozas

Lots of Luxury — Kathy Adcock-Smith

Refined, Relaxed, Immediate — Walter Lee Culp Associates

Sophisticated, Elegant, Worldly — Cheryl Van Duyne

Eclectic, Curious, Inventive — David Sutherland

That’s as close as I can come to three words. I think 95 percent of the people here have to see it in print before accepting it as a style. — Allan Knight

Some of Everything — Loyd Taylor

Sophisticated, Classical, Influential — George Cameron Nash

Sophisticated, Chic, Smart — Jan Showers

Discrimination, Quality, Personalized — David Cadwallader

Up-to-date, Stylish, Comfortable — Robert Rutherford

Comfortable, Light, Sophisticated — Cathy Kincaid

Gorgeous, Glitzy, Gaudy — Beverly Field

Independently, Sophisticatedly, Artfully — Josy Cooner Collins

Sound off! What does Dallas Style mean to you? Send us your thoughts via e-mail to [email protected].


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