Armed with paint swatches, designer Denise McGaha first visited Gail and Ron Berlin’s home in Dallas’ Park Cities area for only a color consultation. “The living room color wasn’t working,” she remembers. “It was pink, with a lavender cast.” All five samples she brought, however, clicked, as did personalities, and one thing led to another: a whole-house tweaking helmed by McGaha.
The residence had originally attracted the Berlins—empty nesters with three grown children and eight grandchildren— with its neoclassical architecture, setback siting on the lot and framing with 75-year-old oak trees. However, the couple were seeking a balance between her newfound modern preferences and his longstanding traditional tendencies while creating a backdrop for their collection of fine art and antiques. The home they found had many elaborate elements that just needed to be simplified and streamlined to fit their aesthetic. “There was nothing missing as much as it was a little overdone,” Gail says.
Their trust in McGaha’s vision led to key decisions that pleasantly surprised the couple, producing some outstanding design elements throughout. In the living room, for instance, the elaborate dimensional plaster ceiling originally featured a dark stain, forming a visually heavy canopy. “I was going to take down the whole ceiling,” Gail recalls. “Denise talked us into painting it a lighter shade, in the same color as the walls, because she liked the design and texture.” To complement the ceiling update, McGaha also replaced the room’s original white-marble mantel—detailed with urns, emerald cabochons and gold accents—with an elegant substitute from her Denise McGaha for Materials Marketing collection. “I chose black Nero marble to create balance with the multiple windows in the space and to weight the plasterwork ceiling,” the designer explains.
Across the foyer and into the dining room, attention turned to the walls. Mirrored fretwork came down in favor of more sedate paneled wainscoting, and the designer added a wallcovering in a charcoal-hued leaf-pattern wood veneer, creating a rich textural backdrop. Likewise, McGaha planned a salon-style grouping for some of the Berlins’ exquisite traditional paintings in various sizes and themes, all unified by carved gilt frames. The arrangement was an adventure for the clients, who had previously opted for gallery-style displays of their fine art. “We were uncertain it would allow each painting its own authenticity,” Gail remembers. “However, Denise said, ‘Trust me. We’ll hang them, and if you don’t like it we’ll change it.’ ” McGaha laid out the grid in just 20 minutes, the design more than pleasing her clients. “I’d never seen anyone arrange art like that,” the wife says. “When we saw the result, we were captivated.”
McGaha’s idea to hang a 19th-century French gilt mirror on an antiqued mirror pane on a wall in the breakfast area also required some friendly persuasion. “I was reluctant,” Gail admits. However, the clients once again trusted their designer, whose risk-taking paid o . “The change made a huge di erence,” the wife says of the double-mirror feature, which now serves as a dramatic focal point within view of the front entrance. A similarly unorthodox suggestion involved placing a piece of art above the oval tub in the master bathroom. “The rug, seating and art make the space feel more like a bathing room,” McGaha explains. The art installation itself—on a glass wall separating the bath and the shower space—proved challenging. However, through the owners’ company, Berlin Interests—which handled construction on this project post-purchase—the team successfully hung the painting using a special wire- cable system.
Other changes, although less unorthodox, were equally impactful. In the kitchen, McGaha added wood doors to previously all-glass upper cabinets to conceal storage, leaving glass for emphasis on the cabinets near the range. She also painted the island base a soft blush shade, a subtle but effective relief from the all-white cabinetry. Elsewhere—namely in a powder room just off the kitchen as well as in the master bedroom—McGaha artfully integrated wallcoverings for textural interest and pattern. “My design aesthetic involves multiple layers in spaces,” she says, “and I love to start with wallpaper.”
When it came to furnishings, “Gail wanted classic, clean lines and more architectural pieces that could blend with important antiques in their collection,” McGaha says. Seating throughout, such as the family room sofa in smooth velvet, has simple lines while accommodating heavy use. Even antique pieces seem refreshed and updated in the context of their new modernized surroundings. “The homeowners want guests to feel at ease,” the designer says, noting the couple appreciate quality and detail but find beauty in the understated.
The Berlins gained their grandchildren’s offcial stamp of approval after tackling the backyard. Now, with a pool area and landscaping, Gail enjoys filling the home with fresh flower cuttings while “the grandkids frequently enjoy the hot tub,” she says. “That’s just the way it’s supposed to be.” With her home complete and McGaha’s paint swatches led away, Gail is working her way through another set of colors: She has taken up watercolor painting. “I thought I would try to learn, and I have a good time with it,” she says. “Color is mesmerizing.”