An Inside Job

In the end, it all came down to blue painter's tape.

Karen Muncy. Photography Ka Yeung. Interior renovation, 2012, David Cadwallader. Flowers Haile Wossen, Anthos.
May 01, 2013

Gerald and Debbie Barnes had reviewed plans for a radical remodel and decided it was more than they wanted to tackle. But several weeks later, Gerald came home with second thoughts. So the executive vice president and chief merchant of Neiman Marcus Direct spent the next hour with a roll of blue tape, meticulously mapping the reconfigured first floor proposed by designer David Cadwallader. When Debbie walked in, Gerald looked up and said, “I think this is pretty cool. We should consider it. It could work.”

It does work, for the same reasons all good design succeeds. And it’s not just the well-chosen furnishings. Artful flow and elegant proportion come together in the Barnes residence, and the result, says Gerald, is
“our dream home.”

It’s not that they didn’t love it before. They moved into the 1929 house more than 20 years ago, prior to the birth of their first daughter, and they never considered moving or building. “Somehow we knew we would always be in this house,” Debbie says. “But we also knew there was more we wanted to do, and we always wanted to work with David.”

It started, Gerald recalls, when they decided to replace the windows. One thing led to another in the “If we’re going to do this, then why don’t we do that?” tradition. Debbie e-mailed Cadwallader, asking him to “come over for a couple of hours, look at the house and tell us what you would do. So we all sat at the kitchen table and talked awhile, and then he left. When he came back a few weeks later, he presented detailed plans and blueprints that completely changed every aspect of the house.”

The couple was rather overwhelmed at the enormity of the remodel and more than a little resistant to the idea of moving out during construction. But the concept intrigued them. Debbie credits her husband’s innate ability to interpret floor plans — developed over years in retailing — with their eventual decision to go forward. “Gerald has a real visual sense. He could always walk onto a store floor and figure out exactly where everything should go,” she says.

They rented a house nearby and moved out in Summer 2011. They were back in six months — an on-time, on-budget achievement for which they credit Cadwallader, his assistant Courtney Catalfano and their contractor, Evan Ratcliff of Key Residential.

“The key is that you have to like your designer’s style and trust that he knows who you are and what your house should look like,” Gerald says. Debbie adds, “David could have done this house without us, because he has great taste and has known us forever. You really have to love your contractor, too, because he’s the one who’s here day in and day out.”

“You can’t imagine the transformation this house has gone through,” Gerald says. “What has changed it the most is the addition of recessed lighting and windows [for better views of the landscaping by Evie Kincaid of Tricia Quaid Landscape Design]. We also widened all the doorways and raised the original arches.”  Their remodeled home is built around the kitchen. “Gerald cooks not only when we have parties, but every night of the week,” Debbie says. “The important thing was an open space, so when we have people over they can watch.” And participate, notes Gerald: “We always have a guy or two who wants to get involved, even if it’s just wielding the salt and pepper grinders.”

The island, topped with stainless steel, has an L-shaped quartz inset at one end and is surrounded by leather-clad stools to ensure a comfortable perch from which to observe the action. Refrigerators and ovens, a warming drawer and a Wolf range with infrared broiler give the chef plenty of resources, but his most treasured — and used — tool is a one-of-a-kind chef’s knife, handmade by Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn.

“David was so patient as I redesigned the kitchen about three times,” Gerald says. “I would pick everything out and then change my mind.” Carol Foxhall, executive chef at Marfa’s Gage Hotel (and a former Neiman Marcus buyer), offered him valuable advice: “She would say, ‘You don’t need this, but you have to have that.”

A sleek banquette wrapped in mid-century modern fabric shares seating duties with leather chairs around the slender dining table. It seats eight, which says a lot about the type of entertaining the couple prefers: intimate, friend-focused, food-centric.

In the adjacent living area is a couch and chairs they’ve owned for decades; Cadwallader gave them a facelift with new upholstery and leather. Coffered ceilings lend the living and dining rooms a sense of space and light while maintaining a certain intimacy. A graceful stairway curves past a site-specific artwork to an expansive landing, the master suite and the girls’ bedrooms (although Sophie, on a trip home from college, noted that hers “looks suspiciously like a guest room”).

“This house is all about family and comfort and having a place where people can hang out and eat good food and be happy,” Debbie says. “It’s the house we’ve always wanted.”