So much for first impressions. When a Houston real estate agent first previewed this home some 30 years ago, she immediately dismissed the neglected structure. “I said, ‘Tear it down; it can’t be saved,’ ” she recalls. But saved it was—by a couple who carefully restored and expanded the 1920 house, which was originally designed by acclaimed local architect William Ward Watkin—and when it was sold again many years later, it was the real estate agent’s name on the new deed.
At first, the owner filled the rooms with a collection of white slipcovered furnishings, hallmarks of a style she describes as “more traditional and shabby chic”—until another chance encounter quite literally changed everything. While browsing local home furnishings store M Naeve, she met its proprietor, designer Margaret Naeve Parker. “I fell in love with these chairs in her shop window and wondered if they might work in my breakfast room,” the homeowner recalls. “She offered to bring them over to the house and take a look.” From there, Naeve Parker made suggestions for the master bedroom, and one thing led to another. “We’ve been collaborating ever since,” the owner says, “and we’re always doing something.”
Over time, the home’s evolving interiors have come to reflect the duo’s shared style, currently a worldly mix of contemporary furnishings and artwork with fine antiques sourced from France, Belgium and Sweden. “Our tastes definitely developed together,” Naeve Parker says. “I would push my client a little bit on things, like pairing an 18th-century chair with a very contemporary table, and it all worked.”
The home’s unusually tall living spaces, which maintain their original plaster walls and wood floors and windows, provide ample opportunities to showcase such daring juxtapositions. The first is a formal living room anchored by 1930s French armchairs and a Belgian-style sofa upholstered in a linen that complements the muted tones of a timeworn tapestry from the homeowner’s collection. This room leads up a single step to a space displaying a 1970s Italian travertine table and an iconic armchair by Swiss architect Pierre Jeanneret. Above a nearby credenza, Naeve Parker hung two seemingly contradictory pieces from the homeowner’s impressive collection of contemporary artwork: a jet-black leather piece by Cheryl Donegan and a delicate cast-bronze bird’s nest by Lisa Ludwig.
For the more casual family room, Naeve Parker mixed new contemporary pieces—such as BDDW’s Abel sofa and a three-legged bronze brazier side table by Rick Owens—with iconic designs, including a midcentury Danish modern Pragh armchair and a Serge Mouille floor lamp. And for a seating area at the back of the house, she paired a tall, 19th-century French bibliothèque with a custom low-slung sofa where the petite homeowner can perch, cocktail in hand, before a meal. From this space, guests proceed back to the dining area, featuring classic leather Cassina Cab armchairs lining a sleek bronze-and-bleached maple dining table. Here, a large, abstract painting by Gary Komarin and a quartet of black artworks by Alison Hall catch the eye, but the real view is of the home’s classical gardens, which Naeve Parker was careful to highlight.
“One of the beautiful things about this home is that when you’re sitting in the dining room, you’re staring back at an allée of crepe myrtles,” she says, “so we purchased a 6-foot-tall, 17th-century marble urn and pedestal from Chateau Domingue to serve as the centerpoint of that view of the garden.”
Though the large garden’s basic forms and ivy walls existed when the homeowner purchased the property, landscape designer Herbert Pickworth was hired to refine the space and tie everything together, which he did by simplifying the plant palette to a tonal mix comprising boxwood hedges, jasmine groundcover and variegated pittosporum, punctuated by the property’s existing mature azaleas in the front yard and crepe myrtles in the back. “The goal was to make the form of the garden read better and the landscape somewhat subordinate to the architecture, and that meant simplification,” Pickworth explains.
Naeve Parker’s approach to interior design is strikingly similar. Not one to vary paint colors from room to room, she prefers all the spaces speak to one another. “I don’t really approach it as simply a home but more as a collected, comfortable and livable art installation,” she explains, “and as with a great piece of art, you’ll always be looking to discover something new.” After all, first impressions are often just the beginning.