Design Issue 2016

Room Service: How 6 Houston Designers Created Their Favorite Spaces

We asked these designers to share what they love about their favorite rooms—along with their best tips and tricks.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen August 22, 2016 Published in the September 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Bold and Beautiful

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Sally Wheat

Sally Wheat Interiors

When a client of Sally Wheat’s moved into a larger house in Southside Place with her family, she knew she wanted to do something special in the sitting room adjacent to the front entrance. “She wanted it to be really wow,” says Wheat. “She wanted people to walk in and say, ‘Oh my god.’”

Wheat complied, turning the formerly traditional parlor into a dark, dramatic jewel box, starting by painting the paneled walls a matte black (specifically, Farrow & Ball’s Off Black). The showpiece of the room is the sofa, covered in a graffiti-inspired fabric by UK’s Timorous Beasties—perfect for a smaller room, Wheat says, which makes a great place to experiment with a bold color or prints.

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Sitting Room

“That sofa is the star and everything else kind of plays off of it, so it’s not too loud,” she says. “When something is really bold like that, I try to tone everything else down.”

Among the supporting pieces are a three-dimensional work of art found at the Contemporary Art Fair Houston, a vintage sheaf of wheat table, a contemporary Roll & Hill–inspired light fixture that holds its own in the space, and accessories with a glam ’70s vibe.

“I like things that are a little different from the norm,” says Wheat. “It’s this tiny little box of awesomeness.”

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Dining Room

Image: Don Glentzer

Eat, Stay, Love

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Paul Brockman

Image: Don Glentzer

Paul Brockman Interior Design

Tragedy and obsession: not the first things you think of when you think “dining room.” Yet those two elements are what makes this Tanglewood space so stunning. The tragedy came in the form of a mature but diseased tree in front of the clients’ former home in the Heights. Forced to cut it down for safety, the homeowners contacted a local woodworker, who made several tables out of the wood, including the large, live-edge version in their dining room. 

“The table was our first real inspiration piece,” says designer Paul Brockman. “It really did make sense in that room because the whole house centers around bringing the outside in, so it’s a nice, organic piece, almost the focal point of the home.”

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Image: Don Glentzer

Obsession came later, in the form of hand-painted wallpaper by Fromental. “You don’t just buy it by the yard; you send them measurements, and they custom-make every piece of it for your space,” says Brockman. He installed the wallpaper on a single wall to play up its role as a work of decorative art, keeping the rest of the space simple for comfort and balance. The room features block paneling, an asymmetrical light fixture in unlacquered brass, and, because the family loves to entertain, Restoration Hardware chairs recovered in mohair, as comfortable as they are stylish, to encourage lingering.

“When you’re sitting in the dining room, for the most part, your view is the house’s central atrium,” says Brockman. “Even though it’s open, the space feels contained, and it adds a coziness even in that big house. It really suits them.”

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Double Duty

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Marie Flanigan

Marie Flanigan Interiors

Marie Flanigan isn’t one to back away from a challenge. When clients doing a major remodel on their 4,600-square-foot, four-bedroom abode in Briargrove requested a room that could serve as both an office space for the husband, who works from home, and a place to host friends and clients, she rose to the occasion, creating a space that packs loads of character and functionality into a small floorplan.

“A lot of times people are afraid of scale in small spaces, but if you play with it correctly, you can enhance the size of the room. In this room, it’s a large sofa, but it can be a large light fixture or a vase,” says Flanigan. Multiple light sources, including an overhead chandelier, sconces over the desk area, and standing lamps flanking the sofa, are key to creating multiple identities for the space. “I think it adds not only a change in functionality but a softness, having different light for different purposes and different moods,” she says.

The designer kept the palette organic, with a muted olive tone on the walls and an emphasis on natural textures such as leather and wood. Instead of overwhelming the space with accessories, she kept it simple, with a botanical print over the built-in desk, styled shelves full of the clients’ favorite things, and an eye-catching gallery wall.

“My motto is, don’t be afraid to break the rules—a collage is much more interesting with a mix of metal finishes, mat sizes and frames,” says Flanigan. “It’s a nice way to bring in a lot of elements, from photography to antlers.”

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Open House

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Image: Tokerud & Co.

Tokerud & Co. Interior Design

What makes a perfect kitchen? It depends. “One of things we consider is if the client is going to be cooking or entertaining or wants a caterer kitchen. Are we going to have a messy kitchen while they’re trying to cook? Do we need separation so they can prep behind the scenes? This family decided to be casual, they wanted everything to flow around that island,” says Courtney Blair of Tokerud & Co. Interior Design.

Blair and Lindsay Robinson worked with firm founder Marlys Tokerud, who passed away this summer, to design a sleek and beautiful yet functional open kitchen for a new contemporary home in Bellaire.

“Marlys always taught us to incorporate nature into our interiors as much as possible. She’s always been ahead of the game in using natural elements, which is a hallmark of our firm,” says Robinson.

The design team installed floor-to-ceiling sliding glass panels around the adjacent dining area to create an indoor-outdoor space, and infused the kitchen with natural elements through the use of sustainable materials, a particular focus for their clients. The flooring is century-old long-leaf sinker pine found in the Sabine River, and the cabinetry is bamboo, stained a rich chocolate hue to match the pine.

The wood textures contrast the stainless-steel countertops and appliances, contemporary barstools with saddle-leather seats by Maguire, and vibrant backsplash made of bright-red, recycled-glass tile from Ann Sacks. The designers let the drama of the open space do the rest of the work, keeping the walls neutral and hanging a pair of Bocci pendant chandeliers hanging from the open atrium.

“That was our splurge,” says Robinson. “When you see those light fixtures dropping down, it’s all about big volume and open space.”

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Image: Fine Prints

Fine Prints

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Bailey McCarthy

Image: Biscuit Home

Biscuit Home

bedroom should be a sanctuary, its design more personal than any other room in the house. “The bed is always the starting point for me—it’s probably the element of the home whose function most impacts one’s life,” says designer and Biscuit Home owner Bailey McCarthy. “You can learn to live with small kitchens or cramped bathrooms, but if your bed is uncomfortable in any way, you’re going to be grouchy.”

For her own former master bedroom in her River Oaks–area home, McCarthy started with chino iserie-inspired botanical wallpaper by deGournay, using it to inform the mix of colors and patterns of her bedding, with a canopy adding a punch of irreverent red. “To mix prints, you need to pay attention to scale,” she explains. “If you have too many large prints together, they fight, and it looks chaotic. Mixing prints with similar palettes but different scales—think a large floral with a small stripe in a complementary color—keeps things interesting and cohesive.”

McCarthy recommends investing in timeless pieces that reflect your core style, whether it’s traditional, midcentury modern or sleek-contemporary, and indulging current tastes or trends with less permanent elements such as lamps or side tables. Because a bedroom is so private, she adds, it can be a great place to try a different look.

“People can be drawn toward riotous color elsewhere, but crave neutral, serene spaces for sleep. Similarly, others might want a more traditional vibe in public spaces and have more confidence with kooky design elements in their personal space,” says McCarthy. “This room takes classic elements like the hand-painted wallpaper and traditional furnishings and gives them a modern twist, with unexpected color combinations and pattern. At my core I am a traditionalist, but I like to mix things up to keep them fresh.”

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Image: Julie Soefer

Beachy Keen

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Laura Umansky

Image: Julie Soefer

Laura U Interiors

When you build a house right on the beach, the most important design element is the incomparable view. That’s what designer Laura Umansky focused on when executing an airy five-bedroom vacation home in Galveston’s West End for a young family.

“Overall, I’ve found that our clients are more open to stretching themselves aesthetically in a second home—they have more openness to new ideas and doing things they may not be comfortable with in their regular home,” says Umansky.

The interior plan of the hearth room, a living space adjacent to the kitchen that’s seen a resurgence in popularity of late, is based around a traditional wood-burning stove in the corner that the client fell in love with. Umansky split the large, open room into a trio of smaller settings—a dining nook, a seating area that faces the kitchen, and another oriented around the television—while always keeping in mind sight lines of the shore.

She added texture via the furnishings, including custom ottomans with vintage wood crate details made by Lam Bespoke, metal café chairs in the breakfast nook, breezy linen window treatments that give off a gorgeous glow, and a hand-woven cane-back settee by Dovetail.

“What I really love is how it’s so cozy and warm,” says Umansky. “The whole interior is based around that concept.”

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