I just LOVED this house when I saw it in House Beautiful........I`ve captured most of the interview they did with the designers.....
Interior design by BABS WATKINS, JULIE WATKINS BAKER &; ELEANOR CUMMINGS
Interview by DOUGLAS BRENNER
Photographs by KERRI MCCAFFETY
PRODUCED BY DAVID M. MURPHY
STYLIST GREGORY BISSONNETTE
DOUGLAS BRENNER: This whole place has an American-in-Europe mood. It's sort of Henry Jamesian — meditative, elusive, romantic. The Paris of The Ambassadors meets the Venice of The Wings of the Dove.
JULIE WATKINS BAKER: Calmness, a serenity, is what we were going for, and a feeling of soul and grace and history. Understated design is a signature of my mother, Babs Watkins. She has a great color sense. The palette here is so subtle — all these soft blues and platinum grays.
You look at the living room and think 'blue,' but then you look closer and say, 'Wait a minute...just where is the color?' There's that blue-painted cabinet, some blue in the carpet, blue glass boxes on the table, but not much more. You don't need much blue for a whole room to seem blue.
Are blues hard to get right?
Really hard. We agonize over them. They change with the context, because other colors affect them dramatically. Natural wood warms them up, silver cools them down, white brightens them.
Light seems to bounce and flow everywhere — silvery chandeliers, luminous fabrics. I can't take my eyes off those sexy curtains.
They're ball gowns! We use that fabric a lot. It's duchesse satin, and it's got real weight and an iridescence that's very understated, and it just hangs beautifully. We have it lined, and the whole point is for it to look like a ball gown that's slightly rumpled — one you had a really good time in. Curtains should never be stiff. They've got to look like they've been opened and closed and touched. These are slightly too long, but not draggy and contrived. Nobody's going to trip over them. It's just enough to hold them out and rumple them up a little bit.
I notice you don't have shades on any of the chandeliers. Do you prefer to leave the bulbs exposed?
Yes, in most cases. Shades distract from a chandelier's sculptural quality. You don't have to stick on shades to make it appealing.
Many houses I've seen in Houston feel very done, with every hair in place. What gives this one its confident nonchalance?
That's another of my mom's signatures — the place seems un-done. It's not a paint-by-numbers thing. The character of the whole house comes from the character of each piece. Each one has to speak to you. It's like a jewel with a history — you might not know what that past really is, but you could make up a good one! We do a lot of shopping in France and Italy, and our client has a real passion for European antiques.
But you're pairing antiques with new partners, right? Sort of like the French couple in that tapestry, dancing what could almost be a Texas two-step.
There you go! We want an interior to look like it's evolved, like you've collected over the years, your tastes have changed, and you've melded it all together.
Some of these pieces individually are what might be classed as rather grand, and yet the way you've put them together…
…has a casualness. Right. If you arrange these bergères and fauteuils very formally, you don't want to sit in them. We don't want anything to seem staged and unusable. I guess you can tell we have a chair thing! They all have such distinct personalities.
You also seem to have a thing for painted furniture.
We like the way you can imagine all the different lives a piece has led by seeing the different coats of color. That was the appeal of reusing antique doors with layers of patina, even though they're tricky to retrofit. This was just a traditional builder home from the 1980s with no strong character. It had bad limestone-tile floors, which we replaced with 150-year-old oak planks. We added beams to break up the length of the living room. For the kitchen cabinets we bought wood from a Scandinavian dairy — you can still see the rings where they laid out cheeses.
That range hood sure isn't off-the-shelf. Where did it come from?
It's made out of an antique aviary that the client found at a Houston antiques show. After we inserted steel panels, it ended up being perfect over the cooktop. She also found the fragment of boiserie that Eleanor Cummings used as the master bedroom headboard. With those carved putti on top it's so pretty and whimsical. There has to be a little humor in some of the pieces.
You've put great decorative objects here, but little patterned fabric, except on pillows.
I don't wear a lot of patterns, so I certainly don't want to sit on a lot of patterns. For us, the pattern comes from the composition. If there is pattern, it's usually woven in. One of my first rules in choosing fabrics is, 'If I wouldn't wear it on my body, I'm not going to put it on a piece of furniture.' Not that I'm going to be wearing a lot of mohair.