The den features a vintage Platner chair from 20cdesign, shagreen dressers from Mecox, and a vintage bar cart from Round Top. The coffee table, small accent table, and orange lamps are from Blue Print.

Quick Change

Michelle Wood joined forces with builder Ben Coats and designer Neal Stewart to create a sophisticated space in University Park.

Michelle Wood sees beautiful homes every day.

As a real estate agent with Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International specializing in exclusive neighborhoods like the Park Cities, Preston Hollow, and Bluffview, her job brings her into some of the most sought-after residential real estate in the city. Yet she swears she doesn’t get “the wants” very often.

But when a scouting project brought her to a block in the heart of University Park, she began to realize all it had to offer. “I started noticing how big the lots were and how pretty each of the houses were,” she says. The location was closer to her children’s schools and more central to where she does most of her business. And she knew her family of five had outgrown their home in Highland Park. So when a property with the right price, the right square footage, and good bones came on the market, Michelle was ready to move fast—even if, aesthetically, it didn’t appeal to her more transitional taste.

“It checked all the boxes—the rooms, the floor plan. It was just a cosmetic redo, and I knew I could do that,” she says. “I basically put it under contract the minute I walked in.”

“Life is too short to build boring homes. The fun part about our team is that everybody wanted to push the envelope.” 

Ben Coats

She then called in the dream team. For the design, she turned to longtime friend and collaborator Neal Stewart, whom she met 10 years ago through her mother-in-law. “Michelle has impeccable taste,” says Neal, who also designed Michelle’s previous home. “I’m mostly here to inspire her to step out of the box, which isn’t hard to do.” 

For renovations, she enlisted Ben Coats of Coats Homes, where Michelle also serves as the exclusive marketing representative. Since the planned changes for the home were mainly cosmetic, Ben committed to a timeline that would have Michelle; her husband, Peery; and their children Berkley, 16; Will, 14; and Hollis, 11; in the home in just about three months. 

But then Michelle and Neal started getting ideas. 

“Poor Ben,” Michelle laughs. “When he said, ‘Yeah, we can get you in there in three months,’ it was, like, redoing hardwoods and painting, and then it just morphed into a lot more. Neal and I kept coming up with things, like the glass walls in the kitchen.”

“I don’t mind a little patina on a house. I don’t want it to be perfectly shiny.” 

Michelle Wood

But from Ben’s perspective, it’s touches like those that make a house worth working on. “I think the back-painted glass walls are something that a typical contractor would push back on and go, ‘That’s just not something we do.’ We’d never done it before, but we welcomed it—frankly because we’d never done it,” Ben says. “Life is too short to build boring homes. The fun part about our team is that everybody wanted to push the envelope.” 

One of the major goals of the renovation was to brighten the house. So Ben widened the entryway between the kitchen and family room, which helped better distribute existing natural light and simultaneously made the house more suitable for entertaining. Glass panes were added to the front door, and a skylight and light tube were installed upstairs. And Neal painted the walls bright white and hung antiqued mirrored tiles, which were salvaged from a circa-1929 home he’d worked on, in the dining room to reflect light.

Because she does a great deal of her work from home, Michelle also needed an office that is both functional and comfortable. Ben carved out a space in the heart of the home, lined it with built-ins, and installed glass-paned French doors to block out noise. During off hours, a window seat and a plush sofa provide welcome perches for the family to converse. “Everybody kind of takes turns in the study because it’s so cozy,” Michelle says. 

Like most mothers, Michelle had her children in mind as she designed. She wanted them to have a playroom in the main house and a pool in the backyard—two things that their previous home and lot didn’t allow for. She also worked with Neal to select kid-friendly fabrics like chenille (on the chairs in the family room) and synthetic leather (on the kitchen barstools, two of which she found in Round Top and two more that were made to match). Other parts of the home are surprisingly low-maintenance, as well. The kitchen’s glass walls clean easily with Windex, and the shagreen-style wallpaper in the office is actually a durable vinyl that she had in the mudroom of her previous home. But smudges and streaks don’t bother Michelle so much. 

“I don’t mind a little patina on a house,” she says. “I don’t want it to be perfectly shiny. If it’s too perfect, it’s not comfortable.”

“Michelle has impeccable taste. I’m mostly here to inspire her to step out of the box.”

Neal Stewart
True to his word, Ben finished the home in March of 2013, in just around three months. The décor work, however, is ongoing. In fact, Neal and Michelle tend to never finish a home entirely; updates and additions happen continuously as the family needs them. On the day of our shoot, Neal brought over a new rug that will eventually be cut to serve as a runner for the back staircase, and Michelle was still getting used to the bold drapes in the formal living room that were just installed the day prior. Chairs in the den and dining room were soon to be replaced or recovered. 

“I think a great home takes time,” Neal opines. But all involved parties are besotted with the project, finished or not. 

“It’s Michelle,” Neal says. By which he means: “It’s chic.”


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