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Charity Begins at Home For This Park Cities Couple

Centered on one great room this Highland Park house is like its owners—pretty inside and out.
By Peggy Levinson |
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photography by Stephen Karlisch

Charity Begins at Home For This Park Cities Couple

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The first thing Dwight Emanuelson looks for in a house is an ideal spot for the Christmas tree. So when his wife, Claire, found the Highland Park two-story manse in 1996, she knew she had hit pay dirt. The great room featured a curved wall of windows—the perfect place for a huge tree. The house also met the other family requirement—the boys needed a yard. Luckily, this was on one of the few front-to-back double lots in the Park Cities. And so, the deal was sealed. 

That was the easy part. Unfortunately, the house—built in 1940—needed a lot of work. They had a little kitchen and bath remodeling done before the initial move-in. Since then, with the help of builder George Lewis, they have remodeled 14 times. Unbelievably, the family has never had to move out during the redos. Sure, it’s partly because of the expertise and planning ability of Lewis. But Claire is also incredibly organized—closets fill with meticulously wrapped Christmas presents before Thanksgiving even hits.

Renovations happened inside and out. The façade changed to open up the house to the street. Wood floors have been added, bathrooms remodeled, and a guest bedroom and bathroom added on the first floor. The only structural addition is a very modern upstairs office for

The term “great room” is a little overused these days, but this house centers around a truly great room. The aforementioned Christmas tree space features a two-story curved wall of windows overlooking the backyard, pool arbor, and cabana. “We took down several walls so the rooms would flow freely. Everyone walks in the front door and comes straight back to the great room because of the light and windows,” Claire says.

Throughout the years, the backyard has changed with the needs of the family. When they first moved in, the yard extended to the street behind it and was a perfect place for exploration for two small boys, then age 6 and 3. The greenhouse behind an open-air pavilion was torn down to make room for a fort and a swing set. As the boys got older, the fort became a sport court, and a putting green was added. In the latest remodel, the Emanuelsons chose to enclose the pavilion. They also added an outdoor kitchen and built a work-out facility.

Inside, the casual Country French feel is owed in part to the expertise of Nancy Wilkinson of Low Country French Interiors. The living room boasts classic furnishings with a modern bent thanks to Designers Guild fabrics in yellow and orange. Design Girls Susan Palma and Muffin Lemak have updated many of the rooms with lighter finishes, elegant pieces, lively color, and their signature wit. “Working with Susan and Muffin has been a blast,” Claire says. “They’re known for their pranks. When we are entertaining, they’ll remove all the family pictures from the living areas and leave just one—it’s of them dressed as Mormon women.” 

Susan agrees that it’s been a fun project—most of the time, anyway. “It was only not fun when we accidentally let [the dog] Elvis out and had to comb the neighborhood for hours to find him,” she says.

The hockey sticks on the front porch give hint that, although this is a traditional house on one of the most elegant streets in Highland Park, there’s fun to be had upon entering. Sure, the formal dining room seats 14, but most of the everyday entertaining happens in the kitchen and great room. Claire cooks. Dwight grills. He’s from Savannah, and she’s a transplant from New Orleans, so great food and Southern charm are ingrained in their DNA.

The house also works well for more formal affairs. “The floor plan is designed with spacious living and dining areas and ample room for the charity and arts events that they host,” George Lewis says. Many Dallas chairwomen have found that this is the perfect location for benefits and galas. “We love all charities and have a hard time saying no,” Claire says. “We support as many as we can and wish we could do even more. We are longtime supporters of the Crystal Charity Ball, The Family Place, and our church. Dwight is also working hard to raise money for the Dallas Contemporary capital campaign. Of course, we have a very special place in our hearts for all organizations supporting cancer research.”

Spending a day at this house is a compelling argument to give to charity. Spending a little time with a family so passionate about Dallas causes while hanging out by the outdoor fireplace makes reaching for the checkbook almost natural. How lovely that doing something good comes with the great side benefit of partaking in the Emanuelsons’ Southern hospitality.

Styled by Jenny O’Connor  |  Flowers by Randy Wenz