“Less is more,” says designer Mark Ashby when discussing the way in which he approached the interiors of a Dallas home in the Highland Park neighborhood that he designed for his friend and longtime client. “Having fewer things put more importance on everything we chose. Every piece counted.” Ashby and the homeowner have collaborated on several projects over the years, including a handful of residences, an office and a restaurant. So when the client and his family moved again, the two friends were in sync from the start. “I consider Mark one of my closest friends and a trusted adviser,” says the owner, who runs a private investment firm. “He gets me and my aesthetic, and when it comes to pulling things together and a sense of composition, Mark is at the top of this game.”
Sited atop a bluff overlooking Turtle Creek, the 1920s estate house had an idyllic location but was in need of an update. Rather than tear it down, Ashby and his client decided to renovate the existing structure in order to respect and preserve its historic nature. This was in step with the owner’s overall vision, which was a home that felt collected over decades but modernized and livable for his young family. “He wanted thoughtful and reserved yet warm and inviting, and the architecture of the house lent itself to that approach,” says Ashby. “The house had great bones, but it was ready for a renovation, so we polished out the flaws and created a canvas for my client’s own aesthetic.”
Ashby and his design team, led by Anne Grandinetti, worked closely with architect Jessica Stewart Lendvay to use the home’s existing bones and some new interior materials to modernize the outdated edges without changing its footprint. The extensive facelift included opening up the kitchen and breakfast room, rebuilding the bathrooms and creating entertaining nooks. “The house’s interiors had a lovely sense of scale and a very classic layout that remained after the renovation,” says Lendvay. “We changed and simplified details so it really felt like one consistent home.”
Rather than discard the old-fashioned pecan paneling in the family room, Ashby gave it new life with a bleached ceruse finish. “It’s an homage to Jean-Michel Frank,” he says. Ceiling beams were bleached the same shade, making the room feel enveloped in warmth. A pair of Jens Risom chairs, a Milo Baughman coffee table and an archival pigment print of sinuous smoke rings by Donald Sultan neutralize the traditional architecture. “The homeowner knew what he wanted,” says project manager Antony Telling, who worked with builder Tom F. Hughston of Tom F. Hughston General Contractor on the renovation and currently heads his own firm, A.T. Construction. “He and Mark put a lot of effort into getting the details just right. Every selection was thoughtfully considered.”
Knowing the flooring would be a prominent feature throughout the house, the design team took great pains to ensure the wood color was appropriate, ultimately choosing a honey hue. “It looks so simple, but we really analyzed the flooring,” says Ashby. “We thought the honey color would look bright against the reflection from the water outside and feel more classical.” Walls were treated with hand-applications of white Venetian plaster, adding a quiet layer of depth and texture to every space. “There’s a very subtle sense of movement on the walls,” says Lendvay. “The plaster is so highly worked it’s like touching polished glass.”
The floor color works in tandem with the white walls to provide a neutral backdrop that allows the homeowners’ extensive art collection and fine furnishings to shine. Accent and upholstery colors were pulled from the washed-out, antique Oushak rugs used throughout. When choosing the furnishings, Ashby kept his client’s preference for clean and contemporary in mind. “He loves a modern look but didn’t want to live in a modern box,” Ashby says. Therefore, a chandelier in the dining room was chosen for its weightless appearance paired with the more prominent lithographs flanking the fireplace, while a vintage Saarinen table surrounded by vibrant chairs adds color and warmth to the sparsely furnished and otherwise white room. “In contrast to the delicate look of the table and chairs, a chunky jute rug grounds the space and balances the artwork and furniture,” says Ashby. In addition, the husband drove the color direction in the master bedroom, requesting a pewter shade for the plaster to give the room a cocoon-like feel.
Ashby consulted with landscape designer Mary Ellen Cowan to ensure the exterior felt as lush as the interiors. Along with native plant materials to create a sense of place, Cowan used “crisp, clean lines and subtle plantings to allow the architecture to sing.” To meld a bit of history with modern flair, she reinterpreted the classic white-wood Chippendale-style gate with “thin metal in a subtle gray so details were discovered only upon closer inspection.”
The overall result is not just a house, it’s an entire mood carefully laid out by Ashby and the team. “It’s a very beautiful and gracious old home repurposed for a modern family,” says the designer. “We weren’t trying to change the spirit of house or turn it into something it wasn’t. Everything we did felt like we were honoring what we found.”