designs FOR LIVING GREAT HOMES

Designer Michael Fannin creates a bucolic retreat within the Dallas city limits.

FIVE YEARS AGO THE IDEA OF BEING A HOMEBODY didn’t even compute for the energetic, outgoing Michael Fannin. Living in a Turtle Creek high-rise condo, he certainly didn’t count on devoting most nights and every weekend to home renovation.

Then one day, when he felt a little cramped living in a one-bedroom condo, he decided to go house hunting. “I had been thinking how wonderful it would be to have a small house in the city and a small house in the country,” he recalls. “The last thing 1 ever expected was to find both things in one house.”

Yet the first glimpse of a 1937 Georgian Colonial home-one of the first built in the Oak Lawn Heights section of Dallas-and the sweep of its grounds convinced Fannin that he had found a dream house, even though many long hours of work lay ahead.

“When I saw the house and the yard, I was overwhelmed,” he remembers. “Here I was about two minutes away from Stemmons Freeway, and yet in the back yard, pecan trees 100 feet tall sheltered a spring-fed creek. I was struck by how much everything had deteriorated and how much needed to be done, but I knew that in time the house and the gardens could be returned to something wonderful.”

So Fannin-an interior designer, decorative painter, and furniture maker by profession-bought the home, rolled up his sleeves, and went to work. Now after many-hours of repairing, restoring, and just plain sweating it out, Fannin and his grand old house have reached a new plateau. With the major efforts completed, the saws and hammers and hoes and paint brushes have been returned to their appropriate stotage places–at least for now. The residence glows with its very personal collection of art, antiques, and other furnishings and accessories assembled over a couple of decades of traveling and collecting. It’s a timeless place, where the subtle imptint of heritage has been preserved hut never forced upon the present. “I never wanted the house to look as if it had been redone,” Fannin explains. “Because it’s all been repainted or refinished, it definitely has a ’90s look about it. But I wanted it to seem like it had simply aged in quality, too. When I first saw the house, many of the rooms reminded me of movie sets from the ’40s. They were charming but never pretentious, never something other than fairly simple in style. This house is a little rough around the edges, and it always will be. I didn’t want to try to make it into something else.”

In the beginning, so many diverse renovation needs confronted the homeowner that Fannin sometimes didn’t know which chore to tackle next. Should he be outside, digging in the weed-choked flower beds and adding new stair-step decks from the back of the house down toward the creek? Should he be painting every square inch, both inside and out, while adding the trademark wall finishes that he executes for his design clients? Should he be building and finishing the country tables and chests that he makes for his customers and for himself? Or should he tackle the down-at-the-heels guest cottage that commands a grand view of the creek and the trees?

In time he did it all-and loved the effort. “I’m really a hands-on sort of person,” he explains. “I’m very unhappy in a white shirt and tie. You might see me dressed like that once a year-maybe.”

Now the three-bedroom, two-story house with about 2,400 square feet of floor space radiates elegance and warmth. Fannin’s filled every space with objects he personally collected, selected, or even made himself. “Putting the rooms together was like working a puzzle,” he explains. “I chose a largely monochromatic color scheme so that in the absence of color, the objects themselves would become important.”

Above all, Fannin stresses originality. “The thing I like most about antiques, for example, is that when you buy one, you know that there aren’t 10,000 more of them in some warehouse somewhere,” he says. And when it comes to renovated homes by Michael Fannin, you can be sure that there’s only one of a kind.

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