They had lived in the same house for about 30 years,” designer Ashley Avrea Cathey says of her longtime clients and the empty-nest residents of this new Dallas home, which she and designer Mary Beth Wagner decorated. The residents are also longtime friends of Cathey’s family, so they happily handed over the creative reins to the duo. “We’ve done several homes for them,” Wagner says. “This time, however, they really wanted to start over with something fresh and new.” So together with residential designer Jerry L. Coleman and builder Bill Manning, they began from the ground up, with new construction and lofty goals for a light and airy low-maintenance residence. “We had complete confidence in how they’d design the home,” says the wife, referencing the designers. “I love their classic style and their use of color and fabric–it’s very timeless.” The result is a house that showcases contemporary flourishes mixed with old elements, such as imported European stone, forming a seamless design that doesn’t feel time-stamped from one particular era.
As a departure from their previous house, which featured a traditional style with a bold palette of reds and golds, the clients requested something more open, with serene hues, higher ceilings and larger spaces. Coleman, who specializes in traditional architecture, drew inspiration from English cottages, with a stucco exterior, a slate roof and stone courtyards. For the layout, he devised a sort of T-shape plan that allows light to filter in through windows on multiple sides of a room. “What I love about old houses is the circulation,” he says. “A T-shape feels cleaner and healthier.”
As such, the main living areas are on the ground level, with each room receiving light through windows on two or three sides. Additionally, the more formal living room in the front and the keeping area off the kitchen both open onto an enclosed courtyard, maximizing the use of space and making these generous areas feel even bigger than their footprint. A low wall along the front of the house helps add privacy to these areas from the street, and the grounds were kept low-maintenance for the couple because they travel often. The master and guest bedrooms are upstairs, providing plenty of space for the residents’ adult children to visit with their families.
Although the home is new, both Coleman and the designers wanted to introduce a sense of history to give it more depth. To that end, stone flooring for the living room and its courtyard was derived from a palazzo in Italy, while the mantels originated in France. “It doesn’t look so new when you incorporate old materials,” says Cathey. Even
the slate roof tile is about 40 percent antique. “It adds character, but with minimal expense,” says Coleman.
A traditional aesthetic may have guided Cathey and Wagner’s vision for the interiors, but they also found ways to push boundaries. “We wanted it to be timeless,” says Cathey, “so we didn’t want to incorporate fabrics that were too punchy or memorable.” Instead, they used lighting and accessories to layer in pops of color and added a twist here and there. In the living room, wooden barrel chairs are a shift from the standard wing chair for height; they also introduced a new organic texture, resting on a sisal rug over the stone floor. Of the wood chandelier, Wagner adds, “It’s heavy, but it’s a lighter wood–and it’s not iron or crystal.”
Contemporary touches throughout the house give its elegant sensibility a more updated, relaxed feel. A glossy geometric pattern adorns the dining room ceiling, a cowhide rug accents the adjacent sitting room, lacquered peacock walls knock out a powder room around the zebra marble-topped vanity, and the streamlined four-lamp pendant over the kitchen island–custom-designed by Cathey and Wagner–is a clean counterpoint to the cane barstools with patterned blue seats. Coleman unified the rooms with a custom molding visible throughout “so all the trim relates,” he explains, from the moldings to the casings to the paneling and baseboards.
The homeowners, especially when it’s just the two of them, enjoy spending as much time as possible in the kitchen and the adjoining keeping room with the casement windows thrown open. “The enclosed courtyard gives us additional setback from the street,” the husband says. And as a gentle breeze moves through the rooms, the courtyard’s fountain can be heard trickling in the background. It’s the peaceful, refreshed feeling the team sought all along. “We really felt we achieved what the owners wanted,” Cathey says. “They are wonderful clients, and we were very happy with the way it turned out.”