Inside the Storied World of Valley House — A Sculpture Garden, Modern Art Gallery, and Beloved Family Home
“Everything is Intertwined — It’s a Lovely Life.” — Cheryl VogelBY Rebecca Sherman // 10.11.22
Valley House was designed in 1953 by Donald Vogel and Fort Worth architect John Wesley Jones. From left, outdoor sculptures by artists John Brough Miller, Charles T. Williams, and Deborah Ballard. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Donald Vogel’s second wife, landscape architect Erika Farkac Vogel, redesigned the garden in the 1980s. Here, runoff from the pond meanders through beds of fern, Asian jasmine, and ivy, amid a thicket of bald cypress, Mexican plum tress, hollies, and bamboo. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
The house’s open-plan layout was an avant-garde forerunner of mid-century design. Original elements have been preserved, including handmade brick floors, plaster walls, and beamed ceilings. The original Steinway & Sons piano sourced by composer Walter Hendl was destroyed in a flood in 1964 and replaced. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
The living room’s fireplace is original. Table and chairs from Scott + Cooner, chairs from Nick Brock Antiques. At right, a Barnaby Fitzgerald painting. Left, painting by Donald Vogel. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Vladimir Kagan-inspired sofa, circa 1980. Blue painting by Valton Tyler. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Cheryl and Kevin Vogel in Donald’s former painting studio. The painting of Kevin with his mother and brother on a boat in the pond was a wedding gift to the couple from Donald. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Donald Vogel’s former painting studio is now a sitting room with sculptures by Kana Harada, Alex Corno, and David Everett. Time Life leather chairs from Collage. Set of four chairs by Naoto Fukasawa. Vertical storage holds over-scale canvases from the gallery. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
In the dining area are vintage Matteo Grassi chairs and a tall column by self-taught Louisiana artist Clyde Connell. On a pedestal, an object salvaged from a sailing ship, circa 1880, from Joel Cooner Gallery. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
The spiral staircase, which now leads to Kevin Vogel’s office, was added in 1964. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Drawings and fine prints from the 16th to mid-20th centuries rotate along a wall protected from sunlight. Dunbar dresser from Period Modern in San Antonio. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
In the main bedroom are paintings by Felix Buhot, left, and Tom Benrimo. Sculpture by Pat Foss. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
A Shoji screen in the main bathroom provides access to a greenhouse. Biedermeier chair. Donald Vogel designed the welded steel towel bar. David Dreyer painting. Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Yellow flag irises blooming in the pond during May are joined in late summer by red spider lilies and purple-hued pickerel weed, a gift from artist David Gibson. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Specific trees and plants were chosen to encourage insects and the wildlife that feed on them to flourish, and only natural insecticides like garlic are used in the garden. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
The four-acre garden at Cheryl and Kevin Vogel’s family home, Valley House, is dotted with sculptures including figurative pieces by Dallas artist Deborah Ballard. Small tree stumps along the gravel path are from the original garden designed by Clarence Roy in the late 1950s. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
In Kevin Vogel's office, the walnut chests are from the estate of Clarence Roy, who was Valley House's original landscape architect. Small painting Mexico artist Omar Rodriguez-Graham. The ceramic is from the estate of Marvin and Joy Krieger. Pair of leather chairs are by Bill Stevens for the Yale School of Architecture (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Sculptures by David Hayes, left, and Debora Ballard. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
This spot was Donald Vogel's favorite place to view the garden. David Hayes sculpture, right. Circle sculpture is by David Hickman (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Back exterior of Valley House shows Kevin's corner office and screened-in porches on both levels. Deborah Ballard sculpture, potted herb garden along the walkway. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
David Hayes sculpture. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
At far right, a Japanese bridge crosses over the pond. The pickerel weed at lower right was a gift from artist David Gibson. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
In foreground, a Michael O'Keefe sculpture. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Mike Cunningham carved wood totem. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
An island in the pond holds a sculpture by Deborah Ballard. The concrete bridge was designed by Donald Vogel. Yellow Louisianna irises growing in the water. (Photo by Pär Bengtsson / art direction by Michelle Aviña)
Original architecture for Valley House and gallery by Donald Vogel and John Wesley Jones. Original landscape architecture Clarence Roy; redesign Erika Farkac Vogel.
One morning in May, cup of coffee in hand, Kevin Vogel climbed a steep spiral staircase that took him from the back hallway of his family home to a private office upstairs. The light-filled corner of the room had been built in 1964 as a bedroom for Kevin and his brother, after their sister was born. The space has been renovated a couple of times since, its small windows now replaced with vast panes of glass overlooking a grove of oaks, pecan trees, and Japanese maples, their magenta leaves blazing.
From here, Kevin can see the pond where he swam as a child. The wooden rowboat his father built by hand is long gone, but the gravel paths he explored still wind through a lush four-acre garden blooming with pond irises and dogwoods, shaded by cedar elms and bald cypress. More than 80 large sculptures dot the grounds, some showcased amid cultivated beds of ivy and Asian jasmine, others placed along pathways or near benches for contemplation. The property hums with life: butterflies, birds, frogs, lizards, and the occasional bobcat and coyote. Recently, an elusive yellow-crested night heron flapped from its hiding spot in the pond to pursue a squirrel across the manicured lawn.
“I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world to live in a house like this on a property like this — it’s magical,” he says.
In 1953, his parents — painter Donald Vogel and his wife, Peggy — bought six heavily wooded acres off a dead-end gravel road in far north Dallas, which is now a busy six-lane artery, Spring Valley Road. They hired Fort Worth architect John Wesley Jones to help design the family homestead, which they named Valley House. Its modernist design was avant-garde for Dallas, with an open floor plan and ceilings and windows almost 14 feet high. Local interior designer Earl Hart Miller sourced handmade brick floors as a gift for the couple, and the house is replete with tactile materials such as cork floor tiles, plaster walls, and oak ceiling beams.
The Valley House Gallery and Sculpture Garden is Born
Donald built a spacious painting studio for himself inside the house, along with a frame shop on the property for extra income — it was wood from this frame shop he used to build the family’s rowboat, Kevin remembers. The Vogels often used their house for art exhibitions, collaborating with Betty Blake, formerly Betty McLean, whose namesake Dallas gallery was one of the first in Texas to exhibit modern art.
In 1957, the frame shop was expanded to include an exhibition space, and Valley House Gallery was born. It quickly gained recognition for offering important works by Cézanne, Rouault, and Monet, including a priceless piece from the latter’s “Water Lillies” series. The sculpture garden, designed a few years later by landscape architect Clarence Roy, became a prominent outdoor exhibition space, often featuring solo shows by important international sculptors, including Henry Moore. Donald’s second wife, landscape architect Erika Farkac Vogel, redesigned the sculpture garden, which remains one of the most beautiful private gardens in the country.
“Everything is intertwined — it’s a lovely life.” — Cheryl Vogel
Kevin was 19 when he began working full-time in the gallery, just after his mother died. “He’s been in the gallery ever since — it was a life meant to be,” says his wife, Cheryl Vogel, a Palm Beach transplant studying art history at SMU in 1978 when Donald hired her as an intern. “I was interviewing for the job, and Kevin walked in,” she says. She was smitten at first sight. “He was heading off to the airfield to go flying — he was a glider pilot. I thought it was very exotic.” They married four years later. After Donald’s death in 2004, Kevin and Cheryl, who by then were already running the gallery and garden, moved into Valley House.
For the last two decades, the Vogels have been dedicated stewards of this remarkable and storied property. “There’s really no separation between home or gallery or garden,” Cheryl says. “Everything is intertwined — it’s a lovely life.”
A storm has rolled in with dramatic flashes of lightning illuminating the sky and trees. It’s late, and Kevin and Cheryl are watching a movie projected onto a large wall in Donald’s former studio, a part of the house that’s now used as an informal sitting room with books and sculptures stacked on benches and tables. Vertical storage holds overflow canvases from the gallery, including massive paintings by artist Sedrick Huckaby, whose early career the Vogels nurtured. The space feels cultured and smart, appointed with vintage modern and contemporary furnishings, some acquired on travels, such as four sculptural chairs by Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa, bought at auction while visiting Cheryl’s sister in London.
The lightning show outside is a reminder of the havoc storms can wreak — the house has survived two major floods — and Cheryl is up early the next morning, surveying the garden for damage. A few days later, the Vogels hold a brunch under a clear blue sky on the back patio for New York artist Henry Finkelstein, who’s staying at the house while his art is exhibited at the gallery. Artist Barnaby Fitzgerald arrives with his wife, Sylvie, a school director who is often her husband’s muse, an inspiration for his otherworldly portraits. Fitzgerald and Finkelstein are old friends from their MFA days at Yale. Landscape architect Tary Arterburn also drops by. The co-founder of Studio Outside, a landscape architecture firm, Arterburn knew both Clarence Roy and Erika Farkac Vogel and often advises the Vogels on the garden.
Cheryl is an accomplished cook, and for decades the couple has hosted a regular stream of artists, writers, architects, scholars, and musicians for dinner parties, cocktails, and impromptu brunches. The practice of entertaining both local and visiting cultural elite started with Kevin’s parents 70 years earlier.
“My father’s studio became a place where traveling opera singers or ballet dancers or violinists would go to party all night,” Kevin says. Composer and conductor Walter Hendl was a regular and often brought fascinating people with him on trips to Dallas. Valley House lacked a good piano, so Hendl took Donald to buy one, personally trying all the pianos before selecting a Steinway & Sons baby grand.
The house’s big, open living and dining areas have always been ideal for entertaining. “With the volumes of space and the way the windows intersect with the walls and cast shadows, it’s like living in a sculpture,” Cheryl says. The interiors have come together slowly — sometimes painfully — over two decades, and Cheryl has sought periodic advice from interior designers. Once, after renovating Kevin’s office, the Vogels asked Paul Draper, a designer who has collaborated with such icons as Frank Welch and Max Levy, to walk through the space; he noted with surprise that the new windows they’d installed did not go all the way to the floor to take advantage of the extraordinary view.
“He was right, of course, so we ripped them out and started over,” Cheryl recalls. Her sister, Debbie Keffer, an interior designer formerly based in Houston, occasionally flies in from London to help. They looked for years to find the right seating to anchor the fireplace: a pair of curvy 1980s sofas inspired by Vladimir Kagan, which they re-covered in deep blue velvet to play off the blues in many of the room’s paintings.
A Collected Collective for All
Cheryl’s preference for sculptural shapes is seen everywhere, whether it’s an antique Biedermeier chair, a 17th-century chest, or a hammered bronze floor lamp. Some years ago, after buying four shapely 1960s bentwood chairs designed by Bill Stevens for the Yale School of Architecture, she convinced Kevin to drive a U-Haul to Kansas City to retrieve them, then on to Houston to re-cover them in leather. A pair now resides in his study. Their personal collection of art is varied and often veers to the sculptural — even a large painting in the living room by Barnaby Fitzgerald depicts fragments of classical stone sculptures, a ruined landscape of stone heads, hands, and feet. They’re drawn to naturalistic works by regional artists: A carved pelican by Austin artist David Everett was the couple’s 10th-anniversary gift to each other, and they own a piece by Sherry Owens, who creates sculptures from crape myrtle branches. Kana Harada’s foam-board cutout sculpture resembles delicate fern fronds and leafy branches.
For the Vogels, collecting is not only a passion but a way to support and encourage artists. “If we had children, we’d be spending our extra money on their education, but we don’t, so we spend it on art,” Cheryl says. Without children to inherit, the long-term future of Valley House and its garden is in question. It weighs heavily on Kevin, who is searching for avenues to preserve his family’s heritage.
As Cheryl talks, a woman who has been wandering the garden makes her way to the house and peers in the living room window. Visitors to the gallery are encouraged to look at the gardens, so strangers on the back patio are a regular occurrence. Their private garden sometimes feels like a public park, and the Vogels have come to terms with this reality. Families bring their kids on Easter to take pictures, and business people bring sack lunches on breaks. During the early days of COVID, the Vogels hosted a picnic and concert by the Orchestra of New Spain, and most recently, art students held a class in the garden.
“It reinforces the concept that this property is a much bigger idea than just where we live,” Cheryl says. “We have this beautiful place, so why not share all of it?”