(top) The living room boasts a pair of matching sofas by A. Rudin from E.C. Dicken in Donghia fabric. The chandelier is by Thomas Grant, and the draperies are Chelsea Editions from George Cameron Nash. The paintings in the foreground are by Edouard Cortes. The paintings in the background are by Eugène Galien-Laloue. (bottom) Guests enjoy the elegance of the formal dining room, featuring an antique painted mantel from Pittet Architecturals. The garniture and mirrored sconces are from East & Orient Company, and the painting is by Leon Gaspard. The homeowners found the painting at Nedra Matteucci Galleries in Santa Fe. photography by Stephen Karlisch

Country French in the Park Cities

Designer Barbara Vessels brings her touch to a couple's empty nest.

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.

(left) Wonderful surprises abound in this house, such as the antique coromandel screen paired with a Swedish settee. The table is from Country French Antiques, and the lamp is from Donald J. Embree Antiques. (right) The 12-foot-tall cabinet in the living room is from Country French Antiques. It’s the perfect piece to showcase the collection of blue and white—most of which was found at Round Top and Le Louvre French Antiques. 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. 

(clockwise from top left) The entry features a settee in original 18th-century tapestry from Country French Antiques, a rug from Abrash, and a light by Thomas Grant. The closed stairway, designed by Barbara Vessels, has runners from Abrash, a tapestry from Country French Antiques, and wall upholstery by Hodsoll McKenzie from George Cameron Nash. A hallway is complete with an antique doughboy, Joseph Sharp floral oil painting from Nedra Matteucci Galleries, and French Barbotine vases. In the powder room, the vanity is by Dennis & Leen from Culp Associates. The mirrors and chandelier are by Thomas Grant, and the chair is by Griffon Antiques from E.C. Dicken in Brunschwig & Fils fabric. The walls are upholstered in Cowtan & Tout from Culp Associates. The master suite is divine thanks to the bed custom designed by Barbara Vessels and fabricated by HH Ruseau. The coverlet is by Bergamo from ID Collection, and the settee and chairs were purchased at Round Top. The wall upholstery and drapery fabric are by Old World Weavers, available at ID Collection, and the chandelier is by Thomas Grant. Overnight guests can enjoy bleeding bamboo beds from Baker, antique linens, and the slipper chair from East & Orient Company. The wallpaper is by Osborne & Little from ID Collection. 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.

The dining room houses a table designed by Barbara Vessels and fabricated by HH Ruseau. The chairs are antique Dutch, and the chandelier is by Thomas Grant. The drapery fabric is by Carleton Varney from ID Collection, the sheer lace is by Schumacher, and the chair fabric is by Brunschwig & Fils. 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. 

(left) The blue and white theme continues in the kitchen with tiles from French-Brown and blue bahia granite from IMC. The HH Ruseau bar stools are covered in Edelman leather; the light fixture is from The Whimsey Shoppe.(right) A grand fireplace provides warmth in the family room. The mantel was inspired by something the homeowner found in a magazine. The Minton-Spidell coffee table is from E.C. Dicken, and the Pierre Frey fabric on the chair is from Culp Associates. 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