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Country French in the Park Cities

Designer Barbara Vessels brings her touch to a couple's empty nest.
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photography by Stephen Karlisch


Barbara Vessels has a history. Her design career is inextricably linked with the major developers of Dallas. In the 1970s, when Vessels was a young interior designer working on residential and commercial projects, she met a young partner with Trammell Crow Company. He hired her to decorate his office building at the far corner of LBJ Freeway and what would later become the Dallas North Tollway. From there, she began doing work for a number of other young developers. At the time, these young Turks were literally changing the landscape and skyline of Dallas, and they needed well-designed office space to finalize deals. Vessels was on the case.

The commercial clients led to more residential work, and she began adding prominent families to her Rolodex, including the family who lives in this Park Cities home. Vessels met them in the late 1970s when she decorated their digs in the Park Cities. She worked with designer Jerry Oden on the remodel needed for a couple with three growing sons.

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photography by Stephen Karlisch

Fast-forward to 2008. Now empty nesters, the couple realized that their 1920s house had been subjected to enough facelifts. It was time to move on. And after living with all the challenges associated with an older home, they definitely wanted to build. They had collected tons of pages from magazines as inspiration for the dream home, and they looked at nearly every lot in the Park Cities. In the end, they opted to tear down a very visible home on a major street in Highland Park.

The previous house on the lot faced the corner with the driveway and garages facing one of the most beautiful parkways in Dallas. Architect Larry Boerder resituated the front to the side street in order to take advantage of the parklike surroundings. The house is built on a definite vertical and horizontal axis that corresponds to the property, and each window now offers a beautiful garden view. 

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photography by Stephen Karlisch

Once the construction was complete, it was time to decorate. “The former house was English Tudor,” Vessels says. “The present home is French Normandy, which has many of the same architectural elements. So we were able to use some furniture and rugs from the old house.” Even so, she adds, “We sure had a lot of fun shopping! We are so lucky. Dallas really has everything. There is almost no need to go elsewhere for decorative items. We were able to buy just about everything we were looking for right here in the Design District, and we found a lot of great things in Round Top and Atlanta.”

It helped that her clients knew what they wanted. “When I say my client had collected thousands of pages from magazines, I am only halfway exaggerating,” Vessels says. “She would bring boxes of earmarked pages with design elements that she liked, and we would go through all of them.” Vessels says the homeowner is a great researcher and knows what she likes and dislikes. “I find that most of my clients are like that,” she says. “They just need some direction to articulate it. My job is to read the client, not dictate taste, other than signaling a serious design mistake. The more collaboration, the better the results.” 

There were plenty of collaborators on the project—the designer, homeowners, architect, and Lambert Landscape Company came together to create something special. Although it’s a huge house, it doesn’t appear cavernous and cold. Because of the attention to detail in the architecture and design, it’s a warm and personal space.

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photography by Stephen Karlisch

Vessels’ client is an amateur horticulturist who is most at home with flowers. Her favorites are blue hydrangeas—just one of her blue loves. She began collecting blue and white in the 1970s, and her love for blue in all its many shades is evident throughout the house. A massive cabinet in the living room is filled with blue and white china collected from Round Top and Le Louvre French Antiques. “We found the cabinet before construction began, so the beamed ceiling height had to accommodate the 12-foot piece,” Vessels explains. 

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photography by Stephen Karlisch

The inspiration for the dining room came from an antique picture of a paneled room. “We took the panel design but wanted to convey a more casual elegance, so the wall boards below the wainscot are horizontal. The French blue we adapted from an old painted mantel that we found at Pittet Architecturals,” Vessels says. 

The blue and white theme continues into the kitchen, which is fresh and cheery thanks to tiles from French-Brown and blue bahia granite from IMC. “I used to cook big meals when the boys were growing up, but we’re a lot more casual now,” the homeowner says. “I do love to entertain my card group. It’s made up of the moms I became friends with when the kids were little.”


Country French reigns here. Authentic touches continue throughout the house. Garden views are a little distorted because of the antique glass. The same company that restored Versailles made all the door and window glass and hardware. “We wanted the house to look at home on this beautiful street, like it had grown up and aged right here in this neighborhood,” Vessels says. Or Avignon, for that matter.


Styled by Jenny O’Connor | Flowers by Haile Wossen


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