Sunday, July 3, 2022 Jul 3, 2022
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Breaking the Rules

Design doesn’t have to be by the book. Some of the best results defy conventional wisdom.
By Lisa Broadwater |

THINK BACK TO YOUR YOUTH-BACK to the days when you tried something expressly because somebody said you couldn’t do it. Remember how fun it was to break the rules-especially when you succeeded? Well, it still is. The only difference is, when you thumb your nose al design dogma, you won’t get sent to your room. And even if you did, it just might be a more interesting place to be.

Susan Teegardin’s house is an outstanding example of what’s possible when you consider the possibilities. When she bought her home in Oak Cliff, she loved everything about it-almost. Her initial reaction was, ’This is the house for me, but I don’t know about that color.”

The color in question is an undeniably odd shade of green-not chartreuse exactly, but a vivid, yellowy green that covers the walls of an expansive living room and dining room area. To the first-time observer, it can be a real eye-opener. For Teegardin, a photographer and videogra-pher (and co-founder, with her live-in partner Bart Weiss, of the Dallas Video Festival), it was uncharted territory.

“I’ve always been afraid of color,” she says. “I take black-and-white pictures. I’ve painted every house I’ve had with off-white. I even wear mostly black and white. I never in the world would have done this.”

But as she began to hang her impressive photography collection (which includes works by Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Edward Steichen, and William Wegman), a funny thing happened. “Every time I put another picture up,” she says, “it looked great.”

In fact, Teegardin couldn’t have chosen a better backdrop for her art if she’d tried: Turns out this bizarre shade of green is actually the perfect neutral.

For that, she can credit previous owner Suzanne Dungan, then an art consultant and fabric designer with an expert’s eye for color. When Suzanne and her husband, Tom. bought the place (which was built in 1941 for a member of the Stemmons family), her concern was how to best complement their collections of contemporary art and Mexican folk art. Yet even she doesn’t know exactly what color it is.

“We took it off my Pantone color dye chart,” she says. “I took that green sample to Sherwin-Williams, and when I came back three days later to pick it up, the guy told me never, ever to show up again. He said it had taken three days to come anywhere near the color.”

Her husband reacted similarly.

“Tom turned the corner and saw this green wall and all he could think of was the decorator in Beetlejuice. I said, ’Look, we’re going to paint this whole thing this green color, and if you still don’t like il, we’ll cover it up.’

“It was just one of those risks that you take knowing, hey, it’s only a can of paint. If it’s not right, it can be redone.”

Which leads us to our first rule of rule-breaking:

ITS ONLY A CAN OF PAINT. The key here is to experiment. Try a color you would never consider. It just might work. And if it doesn’t-so what? You can always try again. One caveat, however: Before you stock upon a dozen gallons of periwinkle blue, run your idea past someone who understands the fundamentals of color and light.

ACCIDENTS DO HAPPEN-AND SOMETIMES THE RESULTS ARE MORE INGENIOUS THAN YOUR MOST BRILLIANT PLAN. The Dungan-cum-Teegardin house contains another huge design no-no worth noting. There, in the midst of a wall full of portraits, is a picture that’s been hung sideways. That’s right. Sideways.

Ironically, even people who’ve been to the house aren’t necessarily aware that the portrait’s askew. Maybe that’s part of its charm: It’s often discovered by accident- on the fifth or sixth visit to the house. Which is fitting, since Teegardin didn’t intend for the portrait to hang that way.

It all started when she decided to iniegrate her own art collection with an assemblage of family portraits and artworks that she had acquired after the deaths of first her mother and then her father, ’i had wanted to do a salon-style wall for a long time,” Teegardin says. “And when I moved in here, I had not only my own art, but I had all this family art.”

So she asked her good friends fashion designer Todd Oldham and his partner, Tony Longoria, to help her out. (Oldham is well-known for. among many things, his genius with salon-style hanging, in which a grouping of images of all shapes and sizes basically covers a wall.) Oldham tackled the project as if it were a jigsaw puzzle. He chose the picture that ended up sideways because its frame was the right shape-when it was placed on end.

“When Todd was looking at the montage, he wasn’t entirely looking at the contents of the things,” says Teegardin, “but at the visual presentation of the whole.”

LEAVE IT ALONE. Sometimes the smartest thing to do is to do nothing at all. About a year and a half ago. Bruce and Julie Webb bought the historic Campbell Building in downtown Waxahachie. Built in 1902, the 10,000-square-foot, three-story warehouse (which originally housed the Bell System phone company) was the ideal location for their well-known folk-art gallery-big enough (with 18-foot ceilings) to house their impressive inventory of contemporary. Southern, self-taught art and also funky enough to serve as their home.

The first thing a more predictable duo would have done is give the interior a fresh coal of paint. Not the Webbs. They had just bought a piece of history, and they wanted to make the most of that connection.

“When you go into a building that’s historic,” Bruce says, “it’s important to learn what not to do. In our building, there were a lot of surfaces that had cracked paint. Instead of painting over them, we just scrubbed them up and tried to keep the old surfaces.”

Not too long ago, the Webbs met a woman who had worked in the building as a phone operator during the ’40s.

“She brought us some photographs of all the women lined up in their chairs,” Bruce says. “It’s interesting to visualize us living here now and to look at the photos of them years ago when it was a phone company. If you paint over it, you’ve got a clean slate. But if you have a building that had a purpose that was interesting and historic, why would you want to hide that?”

NOTHING’S SACRED. Have you ever gone to a house that’s populated with modem furniture (modern as in built between 1920 and 1970 by one of the masters, say Mies van der Rohe, Charles Eames, or Eero Saarinen)? The stuff is often treated with such reverence you get the feeling you’ve just stepped into a museum. That’s because somebody somewhere decreed that modernism must remain pure. No sullying it by combining it with other (i.e., inferior) styles. Horse feathers.

“A lot of people feel if they have modern furniture, they can only have modem furniture or accessories. Thai’s not true,” says Scott Haws, a partner of City Modern, which specializes in top-of-the-line modern furniture. “It doesn’t matter who made it or what time period it came from. What matters is if you like it and it looks good with your other pieces.”

Consider Haws’ own living room: “We have a contemporary sofa-it’s overstuffed with a slipcover in an emerald green brocade fabric,” he says. “Then we have a surfboard Barnes coffee table in front of that, which is a black laminate that’s very ’50s. And across from that we have two chairs from the ’40s. Our walls are a pale blue, and we have folk art mixed with contemporary art and black-and-white photography.”

A DOOR IS A DOOR IS A DOOR-UNLESS IT’S A WINDOW. In other words, your choice of materials is limited only by your imagination.

The exterior of Suzanne and Tom Dun-gan’s new Houston house, for instance, is Galvalum metal-steel coated with aluminum and zinc. It’s the sort of material you’d normally see used in industrial buildings. But their architect, Cameron Armstrong, had designed several houses in the Dungans’ neighborhood, and they thought the results were beautiful. Galvalum is also an extremely practical choice: It reflects rather than absorbs heat.

That freewheeling approach to materials extends throughout the house. The living room and kitchen are two stories tall, with 18-foot ceilings. So on both levels, the windows are sliding glass doors. In the upstairs bathroom, the shower stall and what would normally be the tile-surround in the master bath are zinc plating.

So, what the heck. Cover your dining room chairs in silk scarves. Drape your windows in parachute cloth. Make a room divider out of glass brick. Give the neighbors something to talk about.

WHAT LOOKS GOOD ON CHANEL MIGHT LOOK EVEN BETTER ON HER CHAISE. There’s a reason upholstery fabrics are heavier than dress fabrics. They’re made tougher to take a longer term of wear. But not every surface of every piece of upholstered fur-niture needs to withstand an army of use. In fact, sometimes being sensible just doesn’t make sense.

For example, Suzanne Dungan has two chaise longues made by artist Michael Tracy, and she’s covered the cushions in a dress velvet rather than a traditional upholstery velvet. The appeal goes beyond the obvious textural differences.

’The fabric’s a little softer, so it creases when people sit on them,” Dungan says. “It’ll eventually disappear, but it creates an interesting patterning that you wouldn’t normally get in a traditional upholstery fabric.”

Another benefit of choosing dress fabrics: You’re able to find rich colors you might not find in traditional upholstery fabrics. The bottom cushion of her gray chaise is a tobacco-colored velvet; on top of that are green, raw silk pillows.

DONT GO WITH THE FLOW; SWIM UPSTREAM INSTEAD. For the past several years, the predominant design credo has been “More is more”-i.e., the more stuff you can pack into a room, the better. That approach may be fine for some, but if a trend-any trend-doesn’t feel right to you. ignore it. Who knows? You may actually start a trend of your own.

“Some people think that unless you load a room down with window treatments and throw pillows, it’s not good. Thai’s just not true.” says interior designer Mary Anne Smiley. “In my home, I took everything out and just put back in the things that were right. And it was wonderful with just a lew things.”

Smiley used to have groups of prints and things covering her walls. Now she has three paintings and broad expanses of white walls. She used to have a number of area rugs, dhurries, and Oriental runners. Now she has one cowhide covering pari of her tile floors. She eliminated all window treatments–letting light itself become a key ingredient in the overall space.

In other words, she got back to basics.


Maybe you’re not quite sure about this breaking-the-rules business. Fine, You don’t have to break a big rule; start small and see how it feels. Parish Stapleton. a project manager of visual merchandising at Neiman Marcus, suggests trying something as simple as using an apple for a candlestick (just core the apple and stick a candle in; an apple corer is the same thickness as a candle) or your granny’s orange chenille bedspread for a tablecloth.

Remember, though. “You have to understand what you’re doing before you break a rule or you’ll very likely do the wrong thing.” Stapleton says.

Mary Anne Smiley agrees.

“Before you can break the rules, all the other design principles have to be in place,” she says. “If you’ve applied good design to the space to start with-if you’ve used harmony and balance and rhythm and proportion-then you can break a rule in one area, whether it’s lighting or color or proportion.”

But. she cautions. “If you don’t have those basics to start with, what you’re probably going to have is chaos.”