Space City

In with the Bold: A Makeover Brings New Life to an Old House

A Memorial-area family finally got their dream house, but it was stuck firmly in 1967. So they gutted the place, remodeled it, and—with the help of a great designer—added whimsical wallpaper, lush textures, and pops of color galore.

By Abby Ledoux October 28, 2019 Published in the November 2019 issue of Houstonia Magazine

For four years Melissa Treadway looked out the window of her brick one-story and imagined life across the street. She pined for the storybook house with the sloping roofline that looked as if it belonged in the Hamptons. “I thought it was one of the prettiest houses on the street from the moment we moved in,” she says. 

That was 2013, eight years after Treadway and her husband, Jeff, first moved from Dallas to Houston. They were living in Wilchester, a Memorial-area neighborhood of mostly single-family homes on pleasant, tree-lined streets with little through traffic, a callback to mid-century suburban America when kids rode bikes till sundown and went door to door herding playmates. That still happens today in the neighborhood, where the Treadways are raising two sons and a daughter, ages 10, 7, and 4.

While always charmed by the house across the street, Treadway had never been inside. Since the elderly couple who owned it had raised six children there, she did know it was large—over 3,300 square feet, as it turns out. Eventually the wife passed away, and her widower made plans to move in with one of their adult children.

Knowing the house would soon be empty, the Treadways approached the family and bought it in August 2017, before it had a chance to hit the market. But while it was definitely dreamy, their circa-1967 dream home was stuck squarely in the past. “Every single place was dated,” Treadway says, from the awkward, rounded brick fireplace in the living room to the floor-to-ceiling wallpaper ... well, everywhere. “And not the kind that’s coming back in style,” she adds. Think dizzying pink ribbon in the master suite, tiny cherubs in one bathroom, and “wild cats” in another.

The Treadways take most meals in the casual dining space that opens to the family room and kitchen.

Image: Jack Thompson

The home’s issues were mostly cosmetic, but the cramped kitchen required expansion, and the guest bedroom downstairs had no bathroom. The laundry room needed to move, and so did some windows. The Treadways engaged a contractor and gutted the first floor; demo began three weeks before Hurricane Harvey hit.

It was bad timing, of course, but with the downstairs trashed and the entire family of five crammed into a single upstairs bedroom, there was no choice but to forge ahead. Treadway felt guilty; “did you flood?” became everyone’s de-facto response to the ongoing demo at her new home. “No,” she’d say, feeling sheepish. Except for some shipping delays and higher supply costs, construction moved along mostly as planned. All told, the project took nine months—about what the Treadways had budgeted—to complete.

As the year ended, Treadway shifted focus from demo to design. She knew what she liked, but getting there was another story. “I was worried I would have this plain, vanilla house because I wouldn’t be confident enough,” she says. “I would be like, well, I don’t know, get a beige chair and then I’ll add a throw pillow!

The sumptuous velvet couch is covered in outdoor fabric—equal parts fabulous and functional.

Image: Jack Thompson

She’d handled the interiors of her last two homes by herself, but things were different then. “That was survival mode,” she says. “We were in the thick of raising young kids.” Decor didn’t even brush the priority list. Now the family had entered another stage. Her children were a bit older, and life was more manageable, which afforded Treadway the luxury of finally putting some energy into a big home project. It helped that, for the first time, she had a second story—a dedicated “kid space” for all three of the children’s bedrooms and bathrooms, every toy, and Brownie the hamster. Downstairs, Treadway decided, would be for the grown-ups this time.

“That has just made me at peace,” she says, “to have my big-girl house.”

From the get-go, that’s how Treadway described what she wanted to Houston-based interior designer Hallie Henley Sims. “We were like, if we’re really going to invest in this place—and we are—let’s do it right,” Treadway says.

She approached Sims at the beginning of last year after seeing her work in a mutual friend’s house. “I walked in and said, ‘this is the vibe I want,’” Treadway recalls. She told Sims, “You know the feel of her house? I want that.”

Sims prides herself on reflecting each client’s distinct personality in her projects, but there are still hallmarks to her work, namely vibrant colors and patterns. “People who love neutrals probably aren’t going to call me,” she says, “which is great.”

Lime-green grasscloth and funky accents keep the formal dining room from feeling stuffy.

Image: Jack Thompson

A typical Sims interior may have a lavender area rug, a Tiffany-blue kitchen table, or both. She leans into whimsical wallpapers and lush textures in unexpected places, like velour-upholstered dining room chairs. She’ll frequently blend romantic, vintage-inspired pieces—like lacquered chests or Victorian settees—with more modern touches, like an acrylic coffee table or zebra-print rug. The result is best described as “eclectic chic.”

Sims’s design plan for the Treadway home was born from a single color: the deep, velvety “Naval” by Sherwin-Williams, which Treadway already had used to paint the walls in the front living room she calls the lounge. “I knew she wasn’t afraid of color, and I knew I wanted to play off this navy blue,” Sims says. She carried it to the next room—a pass-through space she wallpapered in funky blue leopard spots—and used it on the dry bar there.

In the adjacent kitchen, Sims also bathed the center island in the hue, which, when paired with the crisp white cabinetry and subway-tile backsplash in the otherwise light, bright space, has a grounding effect. Contrasting unlacquered brass hardware makes even drawer pulls and faucets seem glamorous. “It’s funny,” Treadway says. “I didn’t think I could love refrigerator handles.”

Early in the design process, Sims helped the couple pick countertops, eventually settling on a natural quartzite—slightly more durable than marble. Predominantly white, it’s flecked with bits of blue; if you look closely enough, there’s also a greenish cast to some of the veining. It was enough to catch Sims’s eye. “That’s when I was like, how would you feel if we added green to the mix?” she recalls.

A deep-blue island grounds the otherwise light, bright kitchen.

Image: Jack Thompson

Treadway agreed, and a picture began to emerge of a luscious, jewel-toned space. “I just started pulling any fun fabrics I liked in those great citrusy green and navy colors,” Sims says.

By the time Sims finished the project in spring of last year, the place was awash in color, a world away from the original. There’s new life in the open-concept living space, where the massive kitchen bleeds into a charming family room and casual dining area. There, the family eats together at the table in front of a set of French doors—topped with new transom windows—that flood the room with light.

Pops of color are plentiful and always in invigorating shades of blue or green, from marbled lamps to leafy throw pillows. Gilded accents take the form of decorative trays, cocktail tables, and a miniature statue of the Eiffel Tower. Curated objects from local antique shops are mixed with accessories the Treadways already owned, arranged in wallpapered bookcases surrounding the entertainment center. Funky artworks, like a framed print of tropical leaves, add a playful touch.

As pretty as the space is, it’s also functional. “You can have things that are beautiful, but you also have to live in them,” Treadway says. “It can’t just be a museum.”

Left: The powder bath is covered in fiddle-fig-print wallpaper. "It makes me happy," says Melissa Treadway. Right: More whimsical wallpaper appears in the bar area, this time in the form of blue leopard spots.

Image: Jack Thompson

So yes, there’s a sumptuous velvet sofa, but it’s actually a washable outdoor fabric. The bar-seat cushions are laminated, and the lime-green coffee table is plush with no hard edges. The result is livable luxury that anticipates spills and tumbles, and guests are none the wiser.

While the family spends most of their time in the main living space, it’s the lounge that’s Treadway’s favorite spot. A white coffered ceiling bursts from the dark-navy-saturated walls; all furniture—from the tufted green loveseat to the twin ikat slipper chairs—is armless to maximize space. A wall-mounted, oversized mirror is another trick; it’s surrounded by a series of handmade ceramic plates in a blue-and-white marbleized pattern by an Austin artist Sims discovered over at Silver Street Flea.

It’s moody, romantic, and “exactly what I was hoping for,” Treadway says. “I really wanted a lounge space, and we got it.” And, most important, they use it, whether for playing chess with the kids or having wine with friends. Yes, it’s a “grown-up house,” Treadway says, “but there are no rooms that are off-limits.”

That includes the formal dining room. Admittedly it’s used less frequently, but with lime-green grasscloth walls and a cerulean geometric mirror flanked by decorative Lucite brackets, it’s the furthest thing from stuffy. Sims mixed up the Treadways’ dining set by keeping the table in its original wood stain but painting the Queen Anne chairs bright white. Their cushions, upholstered in fabric covered with blue cabbage roses, match new hostess chairs at either end of the table.

Sherwin- Williams's "Naval Blue" coats the Treadways' moody lounge space. The color also served as designer Hallie Henley Sims's initial design inspiration.

Image: Jack Thompson

Treadway has been thrilled with the home since the moment Sims completed her final install—she holds on to everything until the last piece arrives, then does one grand reveal à la HGTV. There’s pride in even the smallest places, like the powder bath with a brass console sink and the charming blue-fiddle-fig wallpaper.

“I love it, I love it,” Treadway says. “It makes me happy.”

For Sims, that means mission accomplished. “You look at it, and you know someone young and fun lives in that house now,” she says. “I’ve nailed it if it’s functional for the family but it’s also beautiful enough that, if they wanted to open up their home and entertain, it works for that, too.”

One September weekend they did just that. Kids scampered upstairs to play, while some guests camped out in the family room watching college football and others took refuge in Treadway’s beloved lounge.

“I want it to look like we cared, that this was something we put our heart into and came up with,” Treadway says. “Like, wow, your house is really pretty. And then we can move on and get a cocktail.”

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