A Designer's Dream

Decorator Julie Dodson pulls out the stops for a glamorous Memorial-area house with rustic leanings.

Jonathan Lerner. Architectural design Robert Dame. Photography Jack Thompson.
May 01, 2013

Everybody should be so lucky. Out of the blue, a young interior designer with a promising portfolio gets a referral. The builder of a grand, one-off house has recommended her to the homeowners. The wife pays a visit to the designer’s office, spends half an hour looking at some photos of past work, takes a quick reading of the vibes (one presumes), and announces, “Okay, you’re hired.”

The chemistry indeed turns out right. Everybody involved is thrilled with the designer’s work. But, wait — it gets better. In the year-and-a-half course of it all, she and the couple become close friends. This is a dividend of doing business that simply can’t be quantified. And in a profession where judgments are subjective and client relationships can be fraught, it’s a bonus that is never guaranteed.

“I started my company when I was 26,” says Julie Dodson, the designer, who just turned 37. “I’ve had really great projects, but I have never had one of this magnitude. It was that difference-making project that you dream of as a designer. And I had such a great experience working with them. For so long, I took on every single project that I could because I love designing and creating. But I learned through experience that taking on too much can get you into trouble. And I learned to choose people I’m going to like working with.” How fortunate is Dodson to be able to reach that conclusion based on a positive experience, rather than a regrettable one.

Architecturally, the house strikes a delicate balance between weightiness and buoyancy: stone, slate, patina-ed brick and heavy timbers on the one hand; soaring ceilings, light-flooded spaces and a flowing plan on the other. Dodson’s challenge for the interior was attaining an equally harmonious expression of the couple’s personalities. “He loves the mountains and to hunt. She has this breezy Southern California girl in her,” Dodson says. “They vacation on the West Coast every summer, and I wanted the house to have that feel, rustic yet sophisticated. But casual — they’re just happy people.”

Dodson was going for a touch of the Hollywood Regency style. The symmetries and formal elements she used do speak to the grandeur of the house, but her design lacks the mannered — not to say compulsive — over-the-top quality of that aesthetic. And if it’s not exactly minimalist, what she has done with the house is certainly understated. The interior is like a taut white canvas splashed here and there with luxurious golds and daubed with woodsy browns — and flaunting, every once in a while and just where you wouldn’t expect it, a surrealist doodle. Such as the tromp l’oeil tented ceiling in the pool bathroom, about which Dodson says, “The ceiling got lost when it was the same color as the wall. I wanted to add the feel of an old French circus tent, loose and draped.” Or the damask pattern stenciled onto the loft stairway in one of the children’s bedrooms. “I don’t know where this stuff comes from, out of my brain,” she says, perhaps dissembling. Let’s just call it originality.

Another of her unconventional moves was the extensive use of indoor-outdoor fabric on upholstered pieces, Link Outdoor’s Twill acrylic in sugar white. “They have three girls. They entertain a lot. And it’s very durable,” she says. The homeowners also happen to be serious wine collectors. So, can people spill red wine all over the furniture and live to tell the tale? “Yeah, I actually did that,” Dodson says. “It wiped right off.”

It would take a number of fingers and toes to count the chandeliers in this house — and also to detail their various periods and styles. “Lighting was huge,” Dodson says. “We probably went a little overboard as far as budget is concerned. But it makes such a statement, it’s like the jewelry on a house. The lighting can make a room really special.”

Of her clients, Dodson says, “They really trusted me, even when I doubted myself. That’s a designer’s biggest fault sometimes. Every now and then, you get this moment of insecurity in making a decision. But they had 100 percent confidence. And even when they didn’t, they’d say, ‘Okay, let’s just do it.’” And we suspect they have no regrets.