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Dallas’ Own French Riviera Villa — Dream Team Makes This Old Preston Hollow House a Timeless Stunner

Influential French Designer Jean-Michel Frank's 1920s Work Used as Inspiration

BY // 07.30.19
photography Emily Minton Redfield

All good architecture and design projects are a collaborative effort. Some, such as Michele and Jack Lafield’s house in Old Preston Hollow, fall into the dream team category — one that works in such harmony that a true masterpiece of design, materials, and craftsmanship is created. Jack, who works in the energy business, wanted a cohesive team that had successfully worked together on other projects — and architect Ralph Duesing provided just that.

Duesing and interior designer Joseph Minton are longtime collaborators who have completed multiple projects together, many with noted builder Randy Clowdus. The three were tapped to create a home for the Lafields that reflect the couple’s love of clean lines, beautiful materials, and innovative use of light and space.

Michele and Jack — empty nesters with grown children — also wanted a house that looked to both the past and the present for inspiration.

“From Michele’s description of materials and feel, we determined that she wanted a classical and modern house that would look timeless for many decades to come,” Duesing says.

The architect had done his homework.

“I knew the Lafields’ previous decorator and called her to find out what their style was,” he says. “She said the furniture in their former house had a similar feel to that of Jean-Michel Frank, so I decided to use his work as the basis for their new house.”

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Frank was a highly influential French interior and furniture designer working in the 1920s and 1930s, known for simple but luxurious materials to create minimalist interiors of the highest craftsmanship. Like Duesing, Minton has long been inspired by Frank’s game-changing work.

“When Ralph mentioned a Jean-Michel Frank influence, I nearly jumped through the roof,” he recalls. “Ideas for materials I’d use in the house were just spilling out as fast as I could think of them.”

Frank was also a master at designing beautifully proportioned rooms. He wasn’t a trained architect, but as Minton points out: “All good decorators have a sense of architecture, and so did Jean-Michel Frank. He didn’t just pick out fabrics.”

Channeling Frank, Duesing created intimately scaled, formal rooms for the Lafield house that flow effortlessly into a central great room, with views to the beautifully landscaped garden and pool.

The homeowners love the outdoors — they recently spent a month sailing on their yacht in the Atlantic Ocean off the Bahamas — and Jack is an avid fisherman. From inception to move-in, the house took four years to build, and during that time the homeowners and their team met for three or four hours almost every week, often outside by the pool.

“The Lafields had a lot of trust in all of us, and cultivated that relationship,” Duesing says. “I’m a firm believer that if you have a good project, it’s because you have good clients.”

Duesing designed the Lafield house with a traditional slate roof and a clean-lined exterior clad in cut Lueders limestone and stucco. The interior architecture includes wall panels in exotic shagreen, leather, and cerused oak.

“These luxurious materials are tried and true,” Duesing says. “They are traditional, but they are also a Jean-Michel Frank element. He treated architecture the same way he treated furniture, using many of the same materials. If you look at this house, it’s just an overblown piece of furniture.

“If you can design a chair, you can design a house. It’s all about proportion and materials.”

Michele and Jack Lafield house (Photo by Emily Minton Redfield)
Philip Nimmo-designed table and Natasha Baradaran-designed stools, Venini chandelier, circa 1950. (Photo by Emily Minton Redfield)

To echo the exterior, cut-limestone floors were used throughout much of the house. Minton used contrasting patterns of polished and honed cut-limestone to create subtle transitions from one space to the next, such as the dining-room floor’s radiating circles. Walls and ceilings in every room are immaculately crafted of thick, polished plaster by artisan Casey Cheatham of Interior Plaster Design.

The great room’s barrel-vaulted plaster ceiling is not only classically beautiful, but, because it floats, it allows for indirect LEDs and hides air-conditioning vents. The dining room’s plaster ceiling has an elegant, draped effect that softens the room’s hard materials.

Frank often designed standout fireplaces made from rich materials, and the Lafield house has a number of such beauties. A fireplace in a seating nook off the dining room is as chic as it gets, surrounded by Belgian black marble and black-plaster walls. In the great room, a massive blackened-bronze fireplace echoes materials favored by frequent Frank collaborator and furniture designer Diego Giacometti, brother of sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

Minton visited Diego’s studio in Paris in the 1970s while the artist was still working and became a lifelong devotee of his furniture. For the Lafield house, Minton referenced Giacometti’s furniture with a pair of custom-designed blackened-iron tables and brought in a striking Philip Nimmo–designed dining table from Jean de Merry in hand-hammered and gilded iron.

Minton, who worked in tandem with longtime design associate Paula Lowes, created sleekly furnished rooms with multiple combinations of sumptuous fabrics and finishes. In the great room, two Christian Liaigre chaises from David Sutherland are upholstered in Holly Hunt leather and mohair. Nickel-plated bronze armchairs by KGBL, sourced through Emily Summers Studio, are upholstered in Brunschwig & Fils platinum silk velvet.

A custom rug by La Manufacture Cogolin from France derives its tonal, linear patterns from the way dye takes differently to the silk and wool yarns; it echoes the geometric patterns in the limestone floors. A team effort resulted in the exquisite paneled door covering the bar in the great room, made from dozens of individual stingray hides. A feat of engineering and design, the paneled door retracts into a climate-controlled area in the ceiling to prevent the hides from drying out.

Purple Visions

Michele Lafield’s favorite color is purple, so almost every room is punctuated with a version of the hue, including a custom ottoman in the entry, upholstered in lavender Caravaggio mohair. When the team had trouble coming up with the right color of light purple for the plaster walls of Michele’s private closet, she gave them a lavender grosgrain ribbon used to tie a gift bag from the One & Only Palmilla resort in Los Cabos

“It was exactly the color I was looking for,” Michele says, “And I love how my closet turned out.” Even the house’s beautiful Vermont-clay roof tiles were chosen for their naturally purple hue, Duesing notes.

Much of the Lafields’ collection of contemporary art was purchased for the house while it was being constructed, which gave the team an opportunity to design appropriate walls to showcase the largest pieces. Dallas art advisor Cindy Schwartz of CCS Fine Art helped the couple acquire a strong collection, including sculpture by leading contemporary artists Anish Kapoor, Maya Lin, Tracey Emin, and Teresita Fernández. They also own paintings, photography, and mixed-media works by Floris Neusüss, James Hoff, and Goldschmied & Chiari.

For the Lafields, who also have houses in Mexico and Colorado, their new Dallas home far exceeds their initial vision.

“Ralph and Joe gave us a modern version of a villa on the French Riviera, which I never expected,” Michele says. “Our Dallas house is our true favorite. It was all so much fun. I would do it again in a minute — with all of them.”

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