If home is where the heart is, a dwelling should reflect its owners’ passions and proclivities. However, carrying out that sentiment typically takes time, as designer Selena Mackay experienced during a renovation she and builder Matt Stassi undertook in Houston. The project was years in the making, and although both homeowners hoped to give the traditional Georgian a more contemporary demeanor, “he wanted clean lines, industrial materials and a spare aesthetic, while she was going for chic and eclectic,” Mackay says.
As an initial step, architect of record Michael Dreef of Eubanks Group Architects completed the first round of plans. The project was then put on hold but revived two years later and assigned to Dreef’s colleague at the time, residential designer Brandon Breaux, who then kicked it back to Dreef after leaving to start his own firm, Brandon Breaux Design. Both embraced the same strategy. “One of the goals was to keep the exterior aesthetic original, so any additions would be seamless, while giving the interior a current and timeless solution,” Dreef explains. Breaux adds, “We didn’t specify details, so nothing would be dated.” Removing moldings and walls to create expansive open spaces also made the home feel more modern.
With the broad strokes in place, the couple hired Stassi, who has since started his own company, River Construction, to mastermind a complete renovation down to the studs. Given just the floor plans and elevations for doors and windows, the builder drove the project. “We needed to do everything, from finding the right trades and artisans to picking and sourcing all the materials, finishes, fixtures and furnishings,” he says. Major gestures included building an addition over the garage, overhauling the kitchen, adding a pool and a covered patio with an outdoor kitchen and incorporating Stassi’s idea halfway through the project for a wine room, a job completed in collaboration with Brian Crawmer of Agile Ofis, who provided Dirtt frameless glass walls and sliding-glass double doors.
It didn’t take long for Stassi to realize they needed a designer to help make selections that would “be stylish, enduring, kid-proof and smart,” the builder says. So he tapped Mackay, who he speculated understood the wife’s style. “Matt called and said, ‘I have a client with great taste, and I know you can help her figure out what she wants,’ ” recalls Mackay, who worked with associate designer Larissa Loveless. From the first meeting, Mackay began decoding the homeowner. “She wore a chic tweed jacket and cowboy boots and used terms such as, ‘Moroccan and modern’ and ‘vintage, contemporary and classic with a twist,’ ” the designer remembers. With those points in mind, Mackay decided to create contrasts, with a focus on being “kicky, colorful and out of the box,” she says. She officially won over the homeowners with a rendering of the dining room, which exuded her approach. “The homeowner saw it and said, ‘You totally get me. Let’s do it,’” Mackay says with a laugh.
To anchor the dining space, Mackay introduced sleek neutrals—namely a clean-lined custom Carrara-marble-and-stainless-steel dining table, curvaceous barrel dining chairs sheathed in gently distressed cowhide and a vintage midcentury ebonized breakfront the couple already owned—and then amped it up with shimmering navy-lacquered walls, a luminous bronze Lindsey Adelman chandelier and a custom-made wallcovering on the ceiling the designer dreamed up using an image by photographer Richard Bettinger magnified 2,500 times.
In addition to the dining room, Mackay and Stassi tackled every inch of the residence, translating the homeowners’ diverse influences into seamless yet intriguing spaces. When they were stymied, the builder always seemed to have solutions, prompting the wife to print shirts for the team with the slogan, “Keep calm and let Matt handle it.” An example is the 8,000 square feet of hand-scraped 7-inch-wide oak planks he tracked down to replace the wood floors downstairs—save for the kitchen and study, where polished concrete adds industrial-strength style. He also updated the front-entry façade, replacing the previous two stories of arched glass with a metal standing-seam awning between new steel doors and a window. Finally, rustic red bricks received a coat of soft, understated white paint to emphasize the home’s new streamlined façade and timeless silhouette.
Mackay embraced Stassi’s approach throughout the interiors, trading overwrought, traditional furnishings and trappings for timeless basics with a twist. In the lounge, for example, she toned down a beloved pair of overstated Victorian sofas by eliminating their swooping camelback spines and overblown rolled arms and then covering them with shimmering indigo linen-velvet to accentuate their freshly refined curves. She also gave antique Queen Anne consoles a new lease on life in front of matching built-in shelves filled with a collection of precious leather-bound books. Thanks to updates like these throughout the residence, the wife has the home she always wanted. “It’s clean, modern and eclectic—and I can really use every room,” she raves. “I was trying to get a look I couldn’t describe—and I still can’t describe it. But I’ve got it thanks to Selena’s and Matt’s translating skills.”