Mixed Company

Lauren Mang, with Rob Brinkley. Photography Stephen Karlisch.
April 01, 2011

Produced by Brooke Hortenstine. Styling and floral design Mike Thompson.

Mingling taxidermy with a mirrored cocktail table? Blue-and-white with Basquiat? Oh yes, says decorator Mersina Stubbs, who transformed a once-heavy Mediterranean into an airy — and dare we say a bit rebellious — villa for her own familia. (Special appearance by Madame Curie.)

On any given day, you can find Mersina Stubbs hard at work in her kitchen. A dash of salt here, a pinch of pepper there — and suddenly you’re surrounded by heavenly smells of homemade delicacies: hand-kneaded meatloaf, green beans almondine, a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. (Those, you should know, she whipped up from scratch, moments before son Pete took off on a road trip.) Clearly, Ms. Mersina has no trouble navigating a recipe.

The energetic Stubbs, daughter of Helen Lucas and the late restaurateur Pete Harris Pappas (Pappasito’s and Pappadeaux should be ringing bells), is a woman who’s constantly astir. She’s raising a family. She’s raising funds for charities. She’s hosting parties. She’s on the board of the St. Paul Medical Foundation. A quick peek at the ribboned French memo board tacked to her kitchen wall reveals countless, enviable invitations: Cattle Baron’s Ball Casino Night; an Escada brunch; The Ronald McDonald House Moonlight Ball; and “a cocktail buffet honoring Mary & Ben.” All this and we haven’t even touched on her incredible eye for décor. Yes, this same furiously active socialite is the decorator responsible for turning this once richly hued Mediterranean-style manse into a fresh, clean white villa, punctuated with colorful curios, found furniture, inherited accessories and edgy art. 

When Mersina and her husband Phin found the University Park home, she fell head over proverbial heels. “I loved that it was on a corner lot with an upstairs balcony overlooking a park,” she says, of ingredients not often stirred together on UP’s gridded streets. “The house was architecturally authentic and pretty on all sides.” Outside, at least, it was already blinding white, but Stubbs changed the window frames from dark rust-red to pale dusty blue — nods to the Mediterranean houses she loves in La Jolla and Beverly Hills — then tackled the front door, slicking it in a near-black navy: Farrow & Ball’s Drawing Room Blue. As for the interior? Stubbs whitewashed everything — the walls, the woodwork, even the notched and knurled dark wooden beams on the ceiling. “My plan was to lighten them up,” she says. “I came in one day and the painters had sprayed them with Kilz. It was the best mistake ever. They’re chalky-white and fabulous.” Over two years, she hauled in a jumble of furnishings, from chairs slipcovered in crunchy linen to chrome pharmacy lamps to an ethereal, caned chair, number 13 in a set that belonged to Marie Curie. There’s no shortage of quirky décor: a mounted boar’s head over the bookcase in Phin’s office (a housewarming gift from his brother); large coral pieces collected in Greece that Stubbs’ late aunt shipped to Dallas in the ’70s (long before coral was so cool); a jumbo can of Tab by California artist Karen Shapiro (Stubbs still drinks the stuff); and a bowl full of matchbooks, all collected at places the family has traveled. But on the walls, Stubbs displays an unexpected blend of powerful art. The first floor’s sweeping, arched gallery is home to Mersina’s 40th-birthday present from her husband: an oil painting of a hunting dog tearing into a boar, believed to have belonged to the owner of the legendary Mortimer’s restaurant in New York and photographed in the book Parish-Hadley: Sixty Years of American Design. (“I love
the reaction the painting evokes,” Stubbs says. “It’s just a hunt scene, but some people find it rather disturbing. I like that.”) In the living room, you’ll find two Wolfe von Lenkiewicz stunners, large-scale charcoal-and-gouache works purchased at The Dallas Art Fair, from the Kristy Stubbs Gallery. Two David Bates paintings live in the family room. And the Jean-Michel Basquiats? One hangs not far from the boar in Phin’s office; the other is in the family room, centered over Stubbs’ antique Belgian farm table. “Both artists’ works are visually intriguing,” she says, “with contemporary cultural relevance. And I can’t lie. I’m partial since Bates went to my alma mater, SMU.”

Indeed, the house is a tasty mix. Seems that meatloaf and chocolate-chip cookies aren’t the only delicious things happening here — and, for now, the decorator seems quite content with her work. But, she’s not propping her feet up on any Barcelona stools just yet. Before she takes on another client, there’s a pressing project on her agenda: The family’s new lake house.

For more of Mersina Stubbs’ villa, click on 'launch slideshow' above.

How bad does Stubbs have it for mixing and mashing? “I have an entire room
on the third floor filled with textiles and other goodies, from all over the world!”