AT home

Scaling down presents grand possibilities at Bonnie and Jack Stewart’s Park Cities home.

AT THE TENDER AGE OF 11, WHEN other girls daydreamed of dolls and tea sets, Bonnie Stewart concocted a different agenda. She commandeered a can of celadon paint and a brush, and soon thereafter she not only relegated the off-white walls of her bedroom to obscurity but jump-started a career in interior design.

Ah, the subject of redecorating. The mere mention of the word brings a loving smile to Bonnie’s face. Long one of the city’s most notable design talents and home style setters, she never stopped revising the spaces around her after that early beginning. “I’ve always been conscious of the rooms where I’ve lived and worked, and I’ve always had ideas about what to do with them,” she explains. “It’s an instinct you’re born with, and I seem to have always had it. Fortunately, when I was young, my mother always wanted me to make up my own mind.”

She’s spent a professional lifetime doing just that for herself and her clients. After owning a series of Dallas houses, plus restoring a grand Greek Revival residence in the small East Texas town of Jefferson, Bonnie and her husband, retired insurance executive Jack Stewart, now hang their hats in a quietly elegant Colonial-style dwelling in the Park Cities.

“This house had sidewalk appeal, as real estate agents say, and it also had openness and light, two qualities that I always seek,” Bonnie says. A series of French doors in two of the home’s back areas, the den and the breakfast room, looks out upon a sun-drenched terrace and the greenbelt beyond it. Too, the residence’s relatively compact size- 2,400 square feet, compared to the 6,500 square feet in the Jefferson home-also matched the Stewarts’ notion of scaling down.

Fellow designer Bryant Reeves of Belton, a long-time family friend, helped Bonnie formulate remodeling plans when the couple took ownership of the home in late 1993. A brief but critical flurry of construction transformed the front. To add a gallery on either side of the entrance, Bonnie directed that the living room be pushed outward about six feet toward the street. In the process, additional windows brought more natural light to the area while dramatizing both the interior and exterior approaches to the door. Then the 1949 structure stood empty but revitalized and awaiting the designer’s special touches.

To begin, Bonnie had painters bathe the walls in her signa ture warm colors: yellows, oranges, and red. Then she brought in her treasury of European designs in furniture, art, and-most crucially-accessories. That’s where most people make their biggest mistakes with a room,” she notes. ’They don’t understand how accessories personalize a room, and they don’t know that what’s on a table will probably cost more than the table itself. After you visualize where you want to place the important, big pieces in a room, you need to focus on accessories. They’re always worth the effort. Every piece has a story, and when you see it, you’re reminded of where you bought it, who you met in the process, and when it all happened. You’ll cherish those memories forever.”

Her own beloved accessories range from collections of antique French crystal finials, candlesticks and boxes to English mirrors and pedestals and even a wooden English carousel rooster. She encountered some of the objects on various European sojourns in the ’80s, the time when she owned a popular antiques store on North Henderson and staged periodic estate sales at the Stoneleigh Hotel. (She now confines her sales efforts to a single room at The Mews, the antique mall for interior designers on Oak Lawn. “I’ve been tempted to quit the antique business from time to time,” she confides, “but the truth is that once you’re a part of it, you never get your fill.”) “My personal collection dates beyond that, though, back to 1968,” she says. “That’s when I began realizing how much I admired the design and the quality of European pieces.”

Now some of those pieces help shape the Stewarts’ grand design for living. It’s a timeless statement, calculated to please the eye and the spirit. But that’s no surprise, coming from Bonnie Stewart, who never waited for someone else to teach her about style.

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