Designer Allen Kirsch had worked with clients Pam and Phil Baker on three previous homes, so he was delighted when they came to him to do their fourth. “I met the Bakers in 1987 when they were first married,” says Kirsch. “Every house I had completed for them before this one was traditional, but after their daughter left home, they sold the house, got rid of almost everything and decided to go modern.”
To bring their new surroundings to life, architect Vernon Berry and builder Mickey Munir worked closely with Kirsch and the couple to deliver a contemporary house on their chosen lot in the Preston Hollow neighborhood of Dallas—one that met their precise vision and needs. “Pam and Phil both come from artsy backgrounds and are very particular about what they like,” says Munir, who was on site every day throughout the construction process. “But if you listen to people and ask the right questions, you can deliver exactly what they’re looking for.”
Pam, a retired graphic designer, and Phil, a commercial real estate developer and art collector, requested large open living spaces that flowed to the outdoors and enough wall space to hold what was soon to be a stellar contemporary art collection. “All of us, including Allen, were on the same page throughout the whole project,” says Berry. “We never butted heads. That’s rare.”
Rare, but easy when everyone on the team speaks the same language. “Pam and I joke that we both love the kind of house that looks like nobody lives there,” says Kirsch. “It has to be absolutely minimal.” For Berry, it was a matter of taking inspiration from some of the great midcentury Case Study Houses in California, where he had lived for years. “Those are forever engraved in my head,” he says. “They weren’t just white boxes—they were comfortable homes made from rich materials.”
Keeping in mind the clients’ plan to acquire large art pieces for the residence, Berry and Kirsch designed walls to hold big paintings, as well as interior and exterior vistas to showcase sculptures. Once the walls were up, works by Brad Ellis, Shane Pennington, Robert Jessup, Roger Winter and Olivette Hubler followed. “Knowing we were planning on buying a sculpture that we wanted to put at the end of a corridor, Vern designed one with a glass wall,” says Pam. It looks out onto a gravel exterior enclosure, which is where a figurative sculpture by Deborah Ballard now holds court.
The Bakers jettisoned much of their old furniture, but kept a handful of clean-lined Asian antiques, including two low Chinese daybeds that serve as cocktail tables and a set of chinoiserie cabinets. The dining room was designed to precisely accommodate the width of a large red antique Chinese buffet, along with a custom Emperador stone table that seats 12.
Furniture designed by Kirsch mingles with mid-20th-century pieces, including a Saarinen table by Knoll; Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs; and a George Nelson light pendant. Red, one of Pam’s favorite colors, is used with restraint downstairs, while a sitting room on the second floor packs a dramatic punch with a crimson sofa and similarly hued artwork.
Given its expanse, the house is hardly a shrinking violet. But its neutral palette and blond floors keep it understated and help the art stand out. “We have always been teased that our favorite accent color is beige,” says Pam of herself and her husband. “But the art is what’s important, not the walls.”
The house handles large-scale pieces so well, Phil adds, that it’s tempting to fill the display space up. “I keep thinking that we’re finished with the collection, but we keep finding things to buy. It’s an ongoing pleasure.”