Staircases are some of the most appealing elements of grand Southern homes—think: Gone with the Wind and Giant. So when Mississippi-born Laurie Pearson saw the curved, floating staircase sashaying through the foyer of this decade-old house in Houston’s West University neighborhood, she was smitten. “I’d always dreamed of having a freestanding staircase,” says Pearson, an interior designer and antiquarian who relocated to Houston six years ago from New Orleans with her husband John and their three young children. The Pearsons, refugees from Hurricane Katrina, had originally settled in a small home in the area, but after a few years found that they needed more room to grow.
Built by Kurt Aichler and Associates and designed by the late architect Lucian T. Hood, the Georgian style, two-story residence has spacious rooms and an open floor plan that fits their needs perfectly. “We do a lot of entertaining, and it’s a great layout for that,” says Pearson. But while the house was the right size, it needed some updating and customizing to make it their own. “I knew when we moved in that I’d have to repaint the walls, change out all the fixtures, and update the kitchen,” she adds. “It was all just a matter of playing with the fun things that make an ordinary house extraordinary, from back splashes to wall treatments to new carpeting.”
Above all, Pearson wanted to imbue the house with her love of Southern design. “A lot of my decorating style has Mississippi Delta roots and southern Mississippi charm,” explains Pearson. “I remember going to so many beautiful homes in the Delta when I was growing up and admiring all the lovely old furniture.” She and her husband started collecting antiques 18 years ago, and during her time in New Orleans, Pearson even co-owned a French antiques store with well-known designer Joe Morrow.
While the couple love traditional furnishings, they didn’t want to live in a version of their parents’ houses. “My design style is more eclectic now, and I love to mix antiques with a contemporary flair. It’s younger and fresher,” says Pearson. Many of their existing antiques, including a 150-year-old Steinway piano inherited from John’s family, work beautifully in the new house. Pearson designed custom upholstered pieces, such as sofas and ottomans, and had antique chairs recovered in luxurious silk and chenille fabrics. Billowy silk draperies on the windows provide the French-influenced, New Orleans look she adores, and artisans from Houston’s Imago Dei hand-stenciled walls and ceilings in the dining room and master bedroom for an Old World feel.
Throughout the house, there’s contemporary artwork, carefully placed Lucite tables and chairs, and a few painted and mirrored pieces to keep the dark wood of the antiques from being too heavy, ensuring the rooms stay light and airy. In the kitchen, Pearson overhauled the existing, dated country French design by replacing a hanging pot rack with a pair of modern pendants, upholstering the walls above the cabinets in grasscloth, and adding a backsplash of glass and ceramic tiles.
Amid such refinement and finery, it’s easy to forget that the Pearsons have two boisterous girls and a rambunctious boy. “Everyone who walks into my house asks how I pulled off the look with three kids,” laughs Pearson. “Every room in the house is livable; nothing is off limits. The kids take piano lessons in the living room. We have rules about eating in certain rooms, but they color and paint in others. Recently my son punctured a leather chair in several places with a tack. That would have sent some people over the edge. To me it’s a part of it. It’s the wear and tear that gives our house the charm of being a home.”