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Real Estate / Home + Design

Houston’s Own Hollywood House

This Design Star Keeps Things Dramatic in Her Personal Black-and-White Retreat

BY // 09.27.17

When interior designer Renea Abbott and her husband, Greg Manteris, sold their Sunset Boulevard townhouse a few years ago, the new owners purchased everything inside it, too, including the beds, fully made. It’s no wonder: Since co-founding her antiques and interiors store, Shabby Slips, in 1991, Abbott’s signature high-contrast design approach remains a favored Houston mise en scène. So when she and Manteris, who owns Creative Flooring Resources, landed in their new Royden Oaks home, they were starting from scratch.

“This was my blank canvas,” Abbott says. “I pulled it together over the past two years, plucking furniture from my warehouse and from Shabby Slips. I had so much fun editing and tweaking.”

Built in 2014 by Frank Liu Jr. of Lovett Commercial, the Mediterranean-style spec house with its beautiful clay tile roof required only minor cosmetic changes. “We loved the bones,” Abbott says. “But I told them, ‘I cannot move into this house with orange brick.’

Ergo, the exterior was painted white, and the windows and front door were glossed in black. A pair of antique gas lanterns, which Abbott sourced from France, adds gravitas, making the house feel like it’s been in the neighborhood for ages.

Inside, dark wood floors, elegantly arched windows and doorways, and a curved staircase are a seductive backdrop for Abbott’s cinematic point of view. “I lean towards a Hollywood-glam Dorothy Draper look,” she says.

When she was growing up, her mother, the interior designer and Shabby Slips co-founder Barbara Carlton, decked out their Shreveport, Louisiana, house in white furniture and carpeting, animal prints, gilt Rococo mirrors, and palm trees. The apple doesn’t fall far: “I’m walking around my house now, and I still have all-white furniture, palm trees, and leopard!” Abbott says.

Abbott cut her decorating chops in New York City in the 1980s, where she studied at the private New York School of Design and in summers at Parsons School of Design and Fashion Institute of Technology. “Design can be learned, and I learned that moving furniture around and matching colors wasn’t design,” she says. “We worked with form and function first.”

The Royden Oaks home built by Frank Liu Jr. of Lovett Commercial in 2014

After school, she spent the next 10 years at old-guard design firm Irving & Fleming, where she was Keith Irving’s assistant. Their clients were Manhattan’s well-heeled and well-bred, including William F. and Pat Buckley and most of the Kennedy clan in New York City and Boston.

Once, while she was installing lighting in Caroline Kennedy’s new Park Avenue apartment, the doorbell rang. Abbott opened it and came face-to-face with Jacqueline Onassis. Caroline was expecting her first child with husband Edwin Schlossberg, and Onassis had come to inspect baby Rose’s nursery. After looking around, Onassis said in a voice barely above a whisper, “The apartment is so beautiful, I find it criminal to put furniture in here.”

But fill it with furniture they did, and Caroline’s apartment remains much the same today, having stood the test of time. “Irving and Fleming were at the top of the game, and that’s where I learned what was needed for a successful room: symmetry, drama, harmony, elegance, beauty, and restraint,” Abbott says.

“Simplify and buy the best quality.” This was the genesis of the bold black-and-white style for which Abbott is known. “I tend to work monochromatically. It’s simple, and you get a lot of bang for your buck,” she says.

Irving & Fleming also planted the seed for Shabby Slips — the firm had kept a stash of antique and heirloom chairs and tables, lamps, and decorative pieces at their offices to help finish projects. “At the end of an installation, we always needed something last-minute — Keith would send me to the office to pick up a table or something from John Rosselli,” she remembers.

New Beginnings, New House

Years later, after Abbott and her mother opened an interior design business in Houston, Abbott needed a shop where she could pull items for their own projects. For the past 25 years, Shabby Slips has carried the custom-designed slipcovered seating you’ll find in all their interiors, as well as fine antiques, which Abbott sources from the Paris flea market and Round Top, as well as decorative objects found at Maison et Objet in Paris or the Atlanta gift market.

“I’m always traveling for finds,” she says. “So I will get one for the shop, and one for me. If something doesn’t sell, I’ll bring it home.” For their new house in Royden Oaks — a community built in the 1940s on the edge of Houston’s historic River Oaks — she pulled slipcovered and upholstered sofas, antiques, and vintage lighting almost entirely from her Shabby Slips inventory. There was no time to waste — she had a whole house to fill.

In the dining room, she installed a jaw-dropping gilt Venetian glass chandelier that had hung forever in her shop. She’d discovered it years ago at the Paris flea and recalls, “My knees buckled when I saw it.”

Dining room wallpaper by Kelly Wearstler, antique Venetian glass chandelier, lacquered French cabinets and table from Shabby Slips, vintage French chairs.

The yellow French chairs were retrieved from her warehouse, and the black, Maison Jansen-style table with polished-nickel details is by a Paris manufacturer that she carries at the shop. Its oval shape expands via multiple leaves and is ideal for dinner parties. “Whenever anyone comes to my house, they always want the table, so I started having them made,” she says. “You won’t find anything else like it on the American market.”

In the formal living room, there’s a Regency-style daybed, a large black-and-gold Rococo-style mirror that she recently snagged for a song at Round Top, and a small gilt footstool, which she and Houston designer J. Randall Powers discovered in January at a store in Paris. Contemporary additions, such as the sleek brass side tables from Jonathan Adler and a Lucite coffee table from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, were quick fixes that she decided to hang onto.

“I like the way they contrast with everything else,” she says. She also likes to mix highs and lows. In most rooms, she opted for cowhide, zebra, or sisal rugs in lieu of fussy carpets. Modern artwork, including Hunt Slonem’s irreverent rabbits, juxtaposes with serious Louis-style furnishings.

It wouldn’t be a Renea Abbott interior without a little tiger, zebra, or leopard somewhere. Here, however, she’s used it with restraint, and you might have to search a bit to find it. In the living room, Scalamandré tiger velvet covers a pair of carved French armchairs, a claw-footed stool in the family room is sheathed in Brunschwig & Fils leopard, and a zebra-hide rug sets a high-contrast tone in the entry. On the other hand, graphic black-and-white prints dominate, from the Kelly Wearstler wallpaper in the dining room to the living room’s Greek key ceiling trim, striped shades and draperies, and custom pillows in geometric raised velvets.

Plaid English wool carpeting in hues of black, white, and gray winds up the stairs and down the hallways. “I like to mix geometric prints to look more unexpected than planned,” Abbott says. “And for this house, I’m pushing it even more to make it dramatic and more interesting. But it was intuitive, really.

“Nothing was premeditated. I just stepped back and said, ‘Let’s do this!’”

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