Modern-Day Hacienda

As the honorary consul to Spain, Janet Kafka’s job is to promote all things Spanish. It’s also her passion. Peek inside Janet and Terry Kafka’s Spanish-influenced, white stucco retreat. Plus: A fabulous dinner party at home.

image of kafka home image of kafka home
LEFT: Janet and Terry Kafka relax in their Preston Hollow living room. The painting is by Mexican artist Leonardo Nierman, Bottoni sofas by Marcel Wanders, and the coffee table was designed by the Kafkas.
RIGHT: The Kafkas knew from the start that they wanted a walled façade with a courtyard home behind the wall. They also loved the idea of having water as a focal point of the architecture.

Marketing specialist Janet Kafka doesn’t bother with existential questions such as “Who am I?” or “What am I doing here?” or even “How do I make things happen?” In fact, you won’t meet anyone more confident in her identity, her mission in life, and her ability to inspire others to join her causes. The Dallas native who was named the honorary consul of Spain in 1997, sums it up like this: “I’m very proud to be an American, but my soul belongs to Spain. And it’s become my personal mission to turn Americans onto Spain.”

image of kafka home image of kafka home
LEFT: Cherry wood built-ins house the television in a less formal living area. A wall of windows provides a view of a rusted steel sculpture by American artist K. Everett.
RIGHT: The view from the dining room window is almost as dramatic as the paintings flanking it. To the left, a piece by Pier Wright of Seattle, and to the right, a painting by Phoenix artist Max Hammond.

Kafka’s love affair with Spain began more than 30 years ago as an exchange student at the University of Madrid. “My passion for Spain was an outgrowth of my love for the language and the people,” she explains. “I have no Hispanic heritage, but it’s one of those situations in life where you just fall in love with a culture, and you feel very home in it.” After earning an MBA in international business in 1979, she took a job in Chicago with the tourist office of Spain. Her charge: promote tourism and Spanish products. She had her work cut out for her. “People would ask me why are French and Italian goods better known?” she says, “During the 40 years of [Francisco] Franco’s rule, France, Italy, and Germany were over here setting up offices and promoting their goods. We were so far behind … they had a no export policy.”

image of kafka home
Terry and Janet Kafka’s glass on stainless base dining room table was designed by local architect Jerry McClafferty. It seats 14 and affords  a better view of the Max Hammond painting. The cherry wood and stainless steel buffet was designed by the architect and is actually a part of the house.

Kafka and her husband moved to Dallas in the early 1980s, and she has since opened up her own firm, Janet Kafka & Associates, whose primary clients are two of the largest wine producing families in Spain. Her job has gotten a little easier these days as more and more Americans have become familiar with architects such as Santiago Calatrava and Antoni Gaudí, as well as Barcelona’s gastronomic culinary trend. “Spain is the hot country now,” she says. “It’s the hot country in the culinary world, the art world, and the architectural world. People are noticing Spain more than ever before.”

image of kafka home
Terry and Janet Kafka’s 7-year-old miniature schnauzer, Lolita, lounges beside the pool. The Kafkas’ courtyard houses guest quarters and creates a focal point for a sculpture of a diving boy and turtle by Mexican artist Victor Salmones.

Kafka’s affinity for Spain extends beyond the office. Both her husband and son share her affection for Spain and Mexico. Even their 7-year-old miniature schnauzer Lolita is bilingual. “She responds to both English and Spanish,” Kafka boasts. And a visit to her house is akin to taking a bit of a Spanish vacation, without the jetlag. That’s by design. In the late 1990s, Kafka and husband, Terry, who owns an outdoor advertising company, decided to build a modern home, but they lacked two things: land and an architect. They knew they wanted to live in Preston Hollow, and they hoped to find a visionary who could incorporate the Spanish and Mexican architecture they’d grown to love during their travels. “We wanted a house that was walled in front, and a courtyard home behind the wall. We loved the idea of having water as a center focal point of the architecture like they do in Andalucía, in southern Spain. We wanted white stucco—also common in Southern Spain.” A friend told them about Dallas-based architect Lionel Morrison, known for creating modernist houses that evoke the look the Kafkas had described.

image of kafka home
Janet and Terry Kafka’s master bedroom’s floor-to-ceiling windows provide plenty of natural light as well as a view of the pool and sculptures. Cherry wood built-ins with stainless steel hardware line the walls of the room. 

As luck would have it, Morrison had clients in Preston Hollow who owned a full acre that they were looking to split. “They wanted to make sure that the people who built the house next door to them understood classic modernism,” Kafka says. “They didn’t want weird angles and chrome and glass contemporary.” The two couples met and immediately hit it off.  The house that Morrison built for the Kafkas perfectly enhances the house next door. “Our homes are very different on the interior,” Kafka explains. “But from the street, they really do complement one another.”

In less capable hands, the Kafkas’ house might have turned out to be an uncomfortable, big white box. Morrison instead provided an open space that is both relaxed and friendly, with plenty of sunlight and areas for private reflection. There are no doors inside to block views. Instead, floating walls help create a sense of openness. “The house is built around a center courtyard, and it’s designed in such a way that you can open the sliding doors, and the interior and exterior spaces become one,” Kafka says. “We wanted it walled in the front, but once you get behind the wall, we didn’t want any doors.”

image of kafka home
The exterior of the Kafka house. Bronze “Donut” sculpture by Michael McDonnell.

Plentiful light and wall space spotlight the Kafkas’ contemporary art collection. The couple began collecting after they got married almost 29 years ago. “Modern art and architecture is a love that we share. It has been one of the strong bonds in our marriage,” Kafka says. Though they didn’t have a lot of money, they traveled to Mexico City on weekends to scour art galleries and bookstores. “Mexico City had a wonderful emerging contemporary art scene. We were newlyweds. We wanted to discover artists, and we couldn’t afford not to,” Kafka says with a laugh. They still own many of the pieces purchased years ago by artists such as Leonardo Nierman, Alfonso Mena, and Roberto Turnbull. They have also started a collection of Texas artists’ work including that of James W. Sullivan, who chairs the art department at SMU.

An open floorplan is certainly conducive to Kafka’s busy entertaining schedule, but the real key is her passion for people, food, and wine. The couple entertains at least twice a month—sometimes twice a week—and her guest list seems to constantly grow. “Whenever I think we’re going to have 14 guests and decide that we’re going to sit at the dining room table, the number becomes 30,” she laughs. “It’s just one of those things that happen at my house for some reason. But it’s a privilege.”

Dinner at Eight

Janet Kafka and her trusted friend and chef Katie Schma plan dinner parties with exciting culture, menus, and mirth.

Text by Laura Kostelny, Photography by Stephen Karlisch, Flowers by Christopher Whanger, Party Photography by Vanessa Gavalya, Food Styling Brooke Leonard

(left)Spinach fried okra and tomato salad with piquillo pepper vinaigrette is almost always served to Spanish guests because okra is not common in Spain. (center) Chef Katie Schma, formerly of City Cafe. (right) Janet Kafka’s signature dessert: apple tart Kafka.

When it comes to entertaining, Janet Kafka is flexible on everything except how many people she can seat. “Forty-four is my maximum,” she laughs. When it comes to the menu, she and friend, chef Katie Schma work together to create a unique menu for every event. If it’s a Spaniard’s first trip to Dallas, say, they’ll do a twist on Texas barbecue. “I’m not going to serve paella,” Kafka says, dryly. While the food selection is all about the audience, the wine is always Spanish, naturally. Her favorites include Cava (Spain’s answer to Champagne), Segura Viudas, and Morlanda Priorat. She also loves serving the Monticello Rioja. “I’ve worked with the wine maker for 20 years. I consider her one of my dearest friends. I’ve gotten to know her so well that every time I have a glass, I feel like I’m sharing it with her,” she says.

Though Janet travels a great deal—she goes to Spain sometimes four times a year, taking groups of Americans (including two Dallas mayors) and introducing them to the country that she loves—her doors are always open to visitors. “I typically do not allow Spaniards to come to Dallas without inviting them to my home,” she says. Taking out-of-towners to a restaurant is not an option. “When you invite someone into your home, they really understand that you care about them being here,” she says.

And it’s at these dinner parties that Janet has been able to create conversation, and more important, movement behind ideas. It was at a dinner party that the concept for a friendship agreement between Valencia, Spain, and Dallas began. One year later, Valencia opened a trade office in Dallas.

A recent dinner party honoring Spanish pianist Joaquîn Achúcarro began at pool side with passed gazpacho shooters, bottles of Cava (Spanish sparkling wine), and conversation with the likes of Mark Roglán, director of the Meadows Museum, and Victor Marshall, creative creative director for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Later, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house—let alone an empty seat—as Achúcarro’s former student Alessio Bax played selections by Rachmaninoff.

image of gazpacho verde shooters
Gazpacho verde shooters.

Gazpacho Verde
(Yields 6 servings)

 1 European cucumber
 1/2 white onion
 1/2 green bell pepper
 1 bunch green onions
 1/2 cup green grapes
 1 cup apple juice
 1/2 cup sherry vinegar
 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
 2 tablespoon sugar
  Salt and pepper to taste
  Extra-virgin olive oil for garnish
 12 ounces jumbo lump crab meat
 1/2 cup toasted almonds

Cut vegetables into medium-sized pieces. In a blender, add vegetables, grapes, apple juice, sherry vinegar, salt, pepper, and sugar. Start to blend on low speed and drizzle in the olive oil. Blend on high until a consistency is achieved. Taste and season to taste, then chill in the cooler until very cold.

OPTIONAL: To serve, ladle in a shallow bowl about 3/4 cup of the soup. In the center, add about 1/4 cup of the crab meat. Garnish with the almonds and drizzle some olive oil over the top. 

Spinach Fried Okra and Tomato Salad With Piquillo Pepper Vinaigrette
(Serves 6 salads)

Salad
 20 ounces spinach, rinsed and dried
 1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
 1 large red onion, grilled and chopped

Fried Okra
 4 cups oil, for frying
 1/2 cup cornmeal
 1 cup all-purpose flour
 2 teaspoons House Seasoning, recipe follows
 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
 1 pounds fresh okra, sliced 1/2-inch thick
 1/2 cup buttermilk

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven to 350 degrees. (You may not need to use this much oil; do not fill the pan more than halfway up the sides with oil.)

In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, House Seasoning, and cayenne pepper. Dip okra in buttermilk and then dredge in cornmeal-flour mixture to coat well. Carefully add okra to the hot oil and cook until golden brown. (It may be necessary to fry the okra in batches.) Remove from oil, drain on paper towels, and then serve immediately.

House Seasoning
 1/4 cup kosher salt
 1/4 cup black pepper
 1/4 cup garlic powder

Optional: Add 1 teaspoon cayenne or more to personal taste. Remember it will get stronger with cooking.

Piquillo Pepper Vinaigrette
 5 piquillo peppers, chopped 
 1/2 small red onion, coarsely chopped
 8 cloves roasted garlic, peeled
 1/4 cup aged Spanish sherry vinegar
 1 tablespoon honey
 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  Salt and freshly ground black pepper
 1/2 cup canola oil

Combine peppers, onion, garlic, vinegar, honey, mustard, and salt and pepper in a blender. Blend until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the oil and blend until emulsified. If you cannot find piquillo peppers, use a scarlet red pepper, peeled, in a jar. Place spinach, tomatoes, and onions into a large salad bowl, and toss with the vinaigrette, black pepper to taste,
and warm okra. 

For more recipes, check www.dhomeandgarden.com.

Newsletter

Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.

Comments