You would expect the home of an interior designer and the founder of a luxurious carpet company to be quite nice—amazing, even. But designer Michael Siller and Larry Hokanson, chairman of the board at his namesake carpet and rug enterprise, have taken their interiors to a palatial level.
The couple, both history buffs and Russian classicism enthusiasts, have downsized from their most recent residence, a replica of a Russian palace. But their new Houston house, an ornate Federal style by New York- and San Francisco-based architect John Ike, is furnished with a number of exquisite reproductions they hand selected for their previous home during several trips to St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum (which includes the Winter Palace), opinionated curator and translator in tow.
“They interviewed us for a period of two days to see if we were worthy of having the pieces made for us,” recalls Hokanson, who explains that the restoration department’s previous commission had been for the royal family in Sweden. “It was like adopting a child.”
Ike had in mind a design based on the Derby Summer House in Massachusetts, a National Historic Landmark. Built by Samuel McIntire in 1794 with simple, elegant proportions, it is an example of classicism in America during the same movement in Russia. “It bears resemblance to other classical architecture of the period, like George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello,” says Ike. The clients immediately approved. “We’d all worked together on their previous house,” says builder Stephen Hann, “so we could say, ‘Remember what we did over there? Let’s do that here.’ ”
Configured like a town house, the residence features a simple floor plan, two rooms deep on both floors. The dining room doubles as a grand entrance; the kitchen and a guest bedroom are also on the ground level; and the main rooms upstairs are in the style of piano nobile, with both stairs and an elevator connecting the floors. Thanks to the arrangement, says Siller, “Not only do we get spectacular views of the property, but we ended up with 15-foot ceilings.”
Such stately spaces serve as livable showrooms for the furnishings. In the living room, for example, where neoclassic references mix with French Regency and Art Deco beneath 16-inch-deep classic crown moldings, a pair of fauteuils found in France face an antique Russian settee. Although the custom carpets throughout are Hokanson—naturally—the one here particularly stands out: Every element in its ornate design is taken from a Russian ceiling. “I have thousands of pictures of them,” says Hokanson. Shades of platinum, silver and gray, explains Siller, “give the antique period furniture an updated feeling.” A contemporary palette refreshes the look of the entire residence.
One modern addendum to the home’s original inspiration is the inclusion of two studies, one for each of the men, above the detached garage and accessible by bridges. Hokanson’s, a library filled with history books and biographies, is octagonal; Siller’s, a Zen-like sitting room, is an ellipse. “They fit our personalities,” says Siller, while Ike notes that “they draw on classical themes like formal shapes.”
When it came to the reproductions, the Hermitage stipulated that the proportions and materials had to exactly match the originals, so that only two of a kind existed in the world. During the couple’s trips to Russia, they could see their replicas being crafted: a mahogany console with cast-bronze eagles first designed for Nicholas I in 1840; dining room doors made from five species of wood, hand-carved and with gilded elements; and three chandeliers modeled after originals designed in 1820, with handblown colored glass. Everything, that is, except the 12 dining room chairs, also from 1820, made for Alexander I. When Siller and Hokanson inquired, they were told the wood, carillion birch, was unavailable, so restorers had to source from a forest. “Those,” the workers said, pointing at a pile of lumber, “are your chairs.” The white and gilded chairs dressed in platinum silk now reside in the couple’s marble-floored dining room, where they line the sterling gray wall, as in a palace.
“We call it democratic grandeur,” Hokanson says of the new residence. Others may call it the reign of Hokanson and Siller.