Designer James McInroe Takes A House From Spec to Stylish

Lisa and Anthony Palmer moved from the UK to UP. In short order, they hired interior design whiz James McInroe to turn their spec house into a stylish home.

photography by Stephen Karlisch, styled by Jenny O’Conner, text by Allison Hatfield, flowers by Christopher Whanger 

The formal sitting room exudes New York elegance with a Herman Miller Charles Eames lounge chair and ottoman, a pair of white leather Barcelona chairs, 1950s curved-back sofa covered in gray cotton velvet, 1970s brass and glass cigarette table, and black and natural herringbone seagrass rug. Andy Warhol’s Mick Jagger hangs above the fireplace.


Lisa Palmer poses with her 6-year-old twins and German shepherds Sprite and Bianca.

If time is of the essence, then Lisa Palmer has her priorities straight. When she and her husband Anthony were moving from Cheshire, England, to Texas, they had but one weekend to find and purchase a house. They liked the floor plan of a newly built two-story University Park home and that was that. Once the couple moved in with their 4-year-old twins, this lady of swift decisions chose interior designer James McInroe on the recommendation of a friend of a friend. It was February. By September, the 6,300-square-foot house had been transformed from builder standard to rather fabulous.

With a few exceptions—a 12-person dining room table, an antique chest, and a couple of chairs that were originally at home in the Neiman Marcus shoe salon—McInroe furnished the house from scratch. “We flip our houses a lot,” Lisa explains. “We sell them furniture and all. We don’t get attached to things.” They have, however, held onto some key pieces of art, mostly Australian, and paintings done by Anthony’s father, who at 37 suffered a stroke and took up painting as a sort of therapy. The colorful artworks are scattered throughout the house—on a narrow wall outside the kids’ rooms, hanging in the wet bar—lending a very personal touch to spaces that might otherwise be overlooked.


(left) The exterior of the Palmer home. (center) Six 1950s Mexican woodblock prints hang above a whitewashed ash commode with artist’s palette handles. (right) In one corner of the formal sitting room are a vintage Knoll International Brno chair covered in spotted calfskin and a 1950s ceramic urn lamp atop a Directoire-style painted wood and travertine gueridon.

Designer James McInroe ebonized Lisa Palmer’s existing dining chairs and had them reupholstered in Manuel Canovas striped velvet. A chandelier of silver-dusted clear Murano glass hangs over the dining table.

Not that there’s much that hasn’t been carefully considered.

The stone façade and four-pack of scooters that crowds the small area outside the front door belie the casual elegance of what’s inside. Upon entering, guests are not greeted by a grand staircase, as is typical in newer construction in Texas. This was one of the things that the Palmers liked about the home when they purchased it as it was nearing completion. Instead, the staircase is off to one side of an interior foyer, out of sight from the front door, allowing for an unobstructed view of the family room and back windows. From there, one can glimpse the outdoor sitting room with fireplace and plunge pool.

Just inside the front door is a library that looks to be straight out of a Manhattan movie set. Floor-to-ceiling black lacquered bookcases are the main attraction here. But that wasn’t always the case. “They started out as a vile oak,” McInroe says, scrunching his nose. “But look what a coat of paint can do.” Trimmed in gold and surrounded by burnt orange walls, they are both smart and glamorous—and filled with books that the Palmers have spent their vacations reading. But does any real work get done in such a high-style space? “Oh, yes,” Lisa says, gesturing to a small mirrored cabinet. “When my husband is home, this is his office. That’s where we keep the mess.”


“One thing you won’t find in every Dallas house is a white leather sofa—especially in a house with young children and big dogs.” -Lisa Palmer

The library is McInroe’s favorite room, but Lisa prefers the master bedroom. “We don’t even like to go to hotels anymore. We’d rather be here,” she says of the room dressed in palladium blue and silver. The room is tucked away at the far end of a wide hallway—which presented McInroe with a bit of a challenge. “It’s gracious in scale but hard to furnish,” the designer explains. “It wants to be furnished but doesn’t have room.” It took a while to solve the dilemma, but he did so by hanging a 12-foot-long coromandel screen on the wall. It gives the hallway a finished look without eating up floor space.


The dramatic library includes a chrome-plated chandelier, stainless steel and glass table, and bronze mirror commode—all from the ’70s. The chairs are by Paul Frankl and the rug is by Stark Cascara. Oak bookcases were painted a glossy black.


The centerpiece of the Palmers’ bedroom is a custom nail-trimmed headboard designed by James McInroe. The custom springbok table lamp is also by the designer. A pair of Louis XV-style chairs flank a brass Louis XVI-style table with a blue-tinted mirror top and a white Murano lamp.

When Lisa chose McInroe (who worked on the job with his business partner Marcia Curtis-Hornsby and their associate Kathryn Whitis) as her designer, she knew she “wanted something very different from what we saw when we were looking around.” And one thing you won’t find in every Dallas home is a white leather sofa—especially in a house with young children and big dogs. “My husband is the one who insisted on the white leather,” Lisa says, adding that Anthony rarely feels the need to have an opinion on the decorating. “It’s not forgiving at all,” Lisa says. “I have to constantly maintain it. If the kids sit on it, they have to sit on a blanket.” Still, it’s striking. Opposite the sofa, Lisa’s favorite piece in the house: an Italian buffet from the late 1940s.


(left) A trio of clear glass vases and a turquoise Higgins bowl from James McInroe sit atop a custom Milo Baughman-style burlwood coffee table. The white leather sectional sofa is from Natuzzi. (center) The casual dining area off the kitchen is outfitted with a T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings dining table and chairs, a sideboard by Gilbert Rhode for Herman Miller, custom plaster lamps from James McInroe, and an Aboriginal painting. (right) Anthony Palmer’s father’s self-portrait hangs in the wet bar. The wallpaper is “Positano” from the Riva collection by Today Interiors.

To a room, there are unusual and versatile pieces throughout the house. From a pair of white leather Barcelona chairs in the formal living room to a Biedermeier chest in the entryway, from a Karl Springer goatskin buffet in the master to an Aboriginal painting in the breakfast nook, there’s an eclectic mix of modern and traditional. And though Lisa doesn’t necessarily plan on taking her furniture to her next home, she does like the fact that things are interchangeable from room to room—so that a chair that she originally bought for the bedroom now sits as part of a pair in the living room.

And where does the family sit at mealtime? If Lisa has her druthers: California Pizza Kitchen. “I like it even more than the kids do.” So much for the fancy kitchen.


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