When Melissa and Ray Strong learned they would be leaving their apartment in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood for an address in Houston, they flew down to the city where Melissa had grown up and walked through 10 listings in a single day. Though the trip was not intended to end in an actual purchase, Melissa zeroed in on a house in a leafy neighborhood adjacent to River Oaks, and soon afterward, they made an offer. “This is the only one I liked,” she says of the two-story structure that is now their home. “My heart was set. It just felt right.”
Designed by architect Travis Mattingly of Architectural Solutions six years ago, the stucco center-hall French Revival set among stately oaks makes an elegant impression from the street and includes a cache of bedrooms, self-contained guest quarters and 101⁄2-foot ceilings. Among the many existing attributes Melissa chose to save are dark hardwood floors, Calacatta marble and travertine countertops in the kitchen and master bath, and crown molding painted in colors other than white.
With the exception of their art collection, the Strongs would not be bringing many pieces down from their New York abode. So Melissa tapped a friend from college, designer Ashley Goforth, to furnish and accessorize the lion’s share of the new house, including the entire first floor. The designer completed the job in seven months.
“Everything Ashley does is phenomenal,” says Melissa. “She gets the big picture and nine out of 10 times I immediately love what she presents.” The relationship worked, the homeowner continues, because she herself is very decisive and because Goforth was willing to entertain all possibilities, yet wasn’t afraid to be frank about the ones that didn’t work.
Goforth took to her assignment with creativity and zeal, energized, she says, not only by her client’s good design sense and confidence in her abilities but also by the structure’s horseshoe shape, which draws natural light into nearly every room.
As exiles from New York, the designer surmised, her clients would thrive in an environment of metropolitan high style. So Goforth blended antiques with modern accessories, designed a handful of custom items— such as the gilded iron table she installed in the foyer—and strategically placed several of the contemporary artworks her clients had acquired in their former habitat throughout the house, where each serves as the defining feature of its assigned space. “This house looks collected and curated, as though it’s evolved over time,” she says.
The designer also took into consideration the gender balance in the household—Ray, who, when he’s not financing oil and gas deals, is a competitive triathlete and recreational water-skier; and Melissa, a legal recruiter-turned-passionate international volunteer focused on child welfare—and used it as a template for contrasts in silhouette and style, and color and texture. “I wanted to achieve a yin-yang between the masculine and feminine elements in the space,” says Goforth.
Working in a palette of charcoal gray, camel beige and white with gold accents, the designer juxtaposed, for example, the straight, tailored lines of a sofa she likens to menswear with the feminine fluidity of silk-taffeta draperies. She upholstered dark wooden chairs with light fabrics and threw into the mix touches of graphic pattern—a kitchen banquette featuring a chevron motif, a faux-bois carpet—as well as materials from nature, such as cowhide rugs and zebra-covered benches.
Looking back on the process, a contented Melissa says, “Ashley taught me that rules are made to be broken. Our house has style, but it’s also really livable. And that’s representative of us.”