In the foyer, April Manson in her Moxie roller skates beneath a painting by New Orleans artist Ashley Longshore. Bench by Cuellar Custom Upholstery, in Pierre Frey velvet. Antique Turkish dowry rug. Vintage Henredon chests. Chandeliers original to the house. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
The 18th-century swan rowboat, displayed like a piece of sculpture and filled with Fortuny pillows, once belonged to the children of a noble French family and was kept on their pond in southern France. Zuber hand-painted wallpaper. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
The great-room sofas and chairs are by Cuellar Custom Upholstery. Burl wood and shagreen coffee table by Grazzini Furniture. Custom-woven rug through James showroom. Over the fireplace, a pointillist painting by Dallas artist Todd Rakestraw. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
In the sitting room, paintings and embroideries in original frames, discovered in Paris. Antique side tables from Palm Beach. Sixties-era sofa in Pierre Frey velvet from Scout. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Vintage barrel-back chairs in damask fabric from Culp Associates. Antique Persian rug. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
April Manson skates by a framed Zuber hand-painted wallpaper panel. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Dining room chair are covered in magnolia fabric from Culp Associates. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Pierre Frey velvet drapery, Samuel & Sons trim. Nineteenth-century Murano chandelier with glass fruit. Custom-woven rug through James showroom. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
In the main bedroom sitting area, original Venetian plaster walls were restored by artist David Lyles. Antique Murano chandelier from Paris. Vintage Baker sofas in Pierre Frey velvet, with Samuel & Sons trim. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Bed with gilt details by Grazzini Furniture. De Gournay Amazonia wallpaper. Dallas artist David Lyles hand-painted switch plates to match the wallpaper. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Custom-woven draperies. Gilt details on millwork by David Lyles. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
In the dining room, monkey painting from Nick Brock Antiques. Console by Grazzini Furniture. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
Interior designer Shelly Lloyd. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
The library is painted a custom blue by Benjamin Moore
Custom rug through James showroom. Cuellar Custom Upholstery fabricated the chaise, covered in Scalamandré velvet, and the sofa, covered in Pierre Frey mohair. Vintage chairs upholstered in Schumacher embroidered fabric. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson)
On a recent spring day inside one of Highland Park’s grand estates, April Manson is doing something that her husband, Jeff Manson, expressly forbids: roller-skating in the house. She’s laced up her suede Moxie high-tops in the great room for our camera, but it’s not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last. “Once in awhile, I skate through the house when he’s not here — he gets so mad,” April says, laughing. “He’s the really serious one in the marriage.”
April started skating with a gang of girlfriends about a year ago during lockdown when the streets were empty. It’s a daily routine now, and she often skates into downtown Dallas along the Katy Trail with her headphones blasting electronic dance music, whizzing on her wheels through the tony aisles at Forty Five Ten, and sometimes lunching — skates on — at a nearby hotel. “Most people don’t mind, they just laugh,” she says. Once, she and her friends rolled as far as the marble lobby at The Mansion on Turtle Creek before they were stopped, but staff made up for it by bringing them chilled champagne. She has skated through the Faena Hotel Miami Beach and through the streets of Cape Town, South Africa. In Cabo San Lucas, she skated through the shops 007-style in a pair of sneakers with retractable wheels “just in case I got into trouble,” she says. This 48-year-old might just be the most colorful mom in the neighborhood — and she’s got 10 kids, eight of them living at home. “I’m the one in the front row of all the live-music festivals — Coachella, Austin City Limits — and I go to the midnight rave shows, even though I’m totally too old,” she says.
So, when it came to decorating their new house, beige just wasn’t an option. “I like things that hit you like lightning, that make you go, ‘Wow!’” she says. “I’m not interested in being safe. I don’t have a beige personality. Look at my life — we have 10 kids; we don’t operate out of fear. We just kind of go for things.” The Mansons moved to Dallas several years ago for Jeff’s tech company, Real Geeks, after 19 years in Hawaii. It was Jeff who discovered the three-story house on Lakeside Drive, one of the city’s most storied and prestigious streets. He fell in love with the lush backyard — with bocce-ball court — and, at 9,500 square feet, the house has ample room for their big brood, plus a guest house for visitors.
Designed by society architect Hal Thomson in 1918, the stately Italianate residence has impressive features from the era such as a 30-foot-high great room, restored Venetian-plaster walls, massive stone fireplaces, and beamed ceilings. A mutual friend introduced April to Dallas designer Shelly Lloyd to help with the interiors. “I’m a maximalist and would have gone totally crazy with wallpapers, but you can’t do that in a Hal Thomson,” April Manson says. “Shelly brought order to the chaos.”
Lloyd is a graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York City and was a fashion designer with Ralph Lauren for 17 years before moving back to Dallas and opening her design firm in 2006. She often draws on her fashion background and mastery of color, pattern, and layering for interiors, and the Mansons’ house was no exception. “We’re always pushing clients to move out of their comfort zone, and this was a fun project because they did not need coaxing to do something different,” Lloyd says. Although April was the driving force behind the design, Jeff was very involved.
“His conservative, less-is-more aesthetic was very helpful,” Lloyd says. “To get a maximalist look, you don’t need piles of things loaded on top of each other. We chose carefully and intentionally.” Most of the initial design cues came from the house’s traditional bones. “There are a lot of architectural elements and European influences in the house, so I knew it would be important to stick with really classic pieces and silhouettes. But where we moved out of the box was with color, art, lighting, prints and embroidered fabrics.”
“I’m not interested in being safe. I don’t have a beige personality. Look at my life — we have 10 kids; we don’t operate out of fear.”
Color is the star here, perhaps with Wes Anderson and The Royal Tenenbaums as visual cues, along with the vibrant art collection featuring canvases by RETNA and Ashley Longshore, antique Madonna paintings, and santos. The library’s dazzling cobalt hue was pulled from a work by graffiti artist Alec Monopoly, while red and blue upholstery in the great room references colors in a pointillist painting by Dallas artist Todd Rakestraw.
Lloyd and April Manson clearly had fun with the furnishings. They headed to Paris to shop top antiques markets, such as Paul Bert Serpette at Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, where they bought much of the lighting for the house, including a multi-hued Murano chandelier for the main bedroom. They also hit consignment and thrift stores there for accessories and art. April loves flowers, birds, and other animals, so they returned with a raft of vintage floral paintings in their original frames for a grouping on the sitting-room wall, along with a large antique porcelain leopard for the great room. Lloyd discovered a charming French 18th-century child’s swan boat from a dealer in the States, which they placed as a sculptural element against a wall of hand-painted chinoiserie wallpaper.
“I’d tell Shelly I wanted some crazy thing, and she’d always find it,” April says. Top of her wish list was a Murano chandelier with dangling fruit for the dining room; Lloyd unearthed a massive one in an antiques shop in New York City. April fell in love with the brass palm-tree floor lamps at the Faena hotel in Miami, so Lloyd hunted around until she found a similar pair for the library.
Elegant antiques such as Biedermeier tables, French chairs, and colorful Persian rugs were brought in, but most of the furniture and rugs were bespoke to fit the scale of the rooms. The great room’s sofas were designed with higher backs so they wouldn’t look dwarfed in the triple-height space, and the extra-long dining table, modeled after a Hollywood Regency piece, was newly made to balance the massive fireplace and chandelier. Jeff helped design the tailored bed for the couple’s bedroom and selected a yellow Clarence House jacquard fabric for the draperies. When the fabric order was placed, they learned it had been discontinued, so Lloyd researched specialty weavers until she found one in America that could recreate the textile — a painstaking process that took months. In total, an army of some 100 artisans collaborated to bring the house to life, including local furniture makers, upholsterers, rug makers, framers, decorative painters, and plasterers.
“This house was like an art project,” April says. “It was so much fun.” The good times aren’t over yet: She and Jeff are working on a vacation home on Lake Travis with an Austin area decorator. “This time, I’m really going to go wild and crazy!” she says.
April and Jeff Manson’s residence is included on the Park Cities Historic and Preservation Society’s Virtual Historic Home Tour, held the weekend of Saturday April 24.