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Inside a Handcrafted Home in Kessler Woods, a Luxe, Modernist Enclave in Oak Cliff

Using Small-Batch Artisan Details and Collectible Furnishings, Joshua Rice Gives the Dallas New Build a Timeless Feel

BY // 07.05.22
photography Stephen Karlisch and Robert Tsai

Jason Lenox and Matthew Taylor moved to their first Oak Cliff home 20 years ago, back when the Dallas area wasn’t considered nearly as desirable as it is now. “We bought a house on the golf course for next to nothing,” Lenox recalls. “And we had a community of neighbors and friends that made it a great place to live.”

Their house on Stevens Park Golf Course was just around the corner from Kessler Woods, a modernist development that broke ground in 2005. They drove past it almost every day, watching as high-dollar houses went up, designed by some of the city’s most acclaimed architects. “We dreamed about buying a lot and building there one day,” says Lenox, owner of Anteks, a small design firm specializing in rustic interiors for lodges, cabins, and ranches. Years later, he and Taylor — a well-known hairstylist with Charlie & Co. — purchased the last available lot in Kessler Woods. “It was always the coolest one because it sat up high and overlooked the neighborhood green space,” he says. “It was a rare opportunity in Dallas to have a view.”

The couple’s longtime friend Joshua Rice designed their new house from the ground up, in addition to the interiors, working closely with builder Bart Gardner of Gardner Custom Homes. At just a quarter of an acre, the property is quite small and unusually configured, bumping up against a meadow dotted with wildflowers and juniper trees. “That greenway just made it look like their land went on forever,” says Rice, who designed the 2,500-square-foot house to face the view. Landscape architect Christa McCall of Paper Kites Studio won an award from the American Society of Landscape Architects for her use of native plants to integrate the house with the meadow, and limestone slabs to create private elevated seating spaces and outdoor rooms.

“It’s rare to be able to design a little jewel box like this, because everyone, especially in high-end design, always wants big, big, big,” Rice says.

 

oak cliff dallas home joshua rice
Outdoor spaces were designed by Christa McCall of Paper Kites Studio. Brown Jordan’s Kantan Aluminum Suncloth furniture. (Photo by Stephen Karlisch and Robert Tsai)

A Timeless New Build in Dallas

The house might be considered modest in terms of square footage, but it feels spacious. Skylights and clerestory windows bathe the interiors in light, and Rice got creative with a limited palette of warm materials. Brick walls inside and out were given a German smear treatment — a technique where brick is coated with wet mortar to mimic the look of irregular stones and heavy mortar joints found in centuries-old European buildings. Ceilings are paneled in pine and set between a structural skeleton of dark-stained wood beams, and the floors are made from manganese ironspot bricks, a material usually reserved for the exterior of commercial buildings.

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“I wanted to use humble materials and finishes in a unique way; I think it gives the house a timeless feel, like it’s been here forever,” Rice says. The house’s handcrafted quality comes from small-batch artisan details such as leather tassel pulls on the cabinets, hand-shaped and kiln-fired traditional zellige tiles from Morocco, and sinks carved from gray marble quarried in Italy.

This warm aesthetic was inspired by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen. “It’s such a beautiful space that translates so well to residential,” Rice says. “The materials aren’t necessarily similar, but it’s the vibe we were trying to achieve.” Built in 1958 and curiously titled after the owner’s three wives — all named Louise — the building is a standout example of modern Danish architecture, noted for understated design and seamless fusion of architecture and landscape.

 

oak cliff dallas home joshua rice
In the library, the vintage Frank Lloyd Wright table, a vintage Edward Wormley for Dunbar chair, an antique Egyptian teak side table by Mogens Lassen, and a rare 1930s Danish sofa by Kaare Klint for Rud. Rasmussen Snedkerier, all from Sputnik Modern. Mexico- based artist Jesus Alexandre’s photograph. (Photo by Stephen Karlisch and Robert Tsai)

Cool and Collected

Lenox and Taylor’s requirements for the house were minimal: They insisted on a single-story structure with two modestly sized bedrooms to allow for lots of living space. Lenox is a good cook, so he wanted a big kitchen, butler’s pantry, and bar area. Everything else about the design was left in Rice’s capable hands. “Josh is really talented, and when you give that kind of creative person lots of leeway, that’s when they do their best work,” Lenox says. “We wanted to see what he’d come up with — and he came up with something kick-ass.”

The couple has been collecting art, objects, and furniture for 20 years, amassing a noteworthy trove of works by Taos and Santa Fe modernist artists such as Jorge Fick, whose paintings are in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. They also have a sizable collection of antique Navajo blankets and several rare furniture pieces by Mexican surrealist Pedro Friedeberg, including a pair of full-size mahogany hand chairs from the 1960s.

“We love interesting things that make you think,” Lenox says. “We wanted the whole house to be reflective of our personalities, so the interiors are a little bit irreverent, playful, and not serious. We’ve filled it with great stuff.” One of his favorite pieces is a sculpture of a Michelin Man-looking robot purchased so long ago from a Fort Worth artist that his name has been lost to time — it’s on a table in the entryway to help set a fun tone for the house. And they fell in love with New York artist Peter Opheim’s cartoonish, Neo-Pop painting of globular characters the moment they saw it. “We loved how weird it was — it has a ton of personality,” Lenox says.

JoshuaRice_0854 (Photo by Stephen Karlisch and Robert Tsai)
In the main bedroom, one of a pair of rare Afra and Tobia Scarpa nightstands was designed for Maxalto. Bernard Schottlander lamp. Verellen bed upholstered in Ralph Lauren raffia. Blanket by Libeco, Sweden. (Photo by Stephen Karlisch and Robert Tsai)

When it came to selecting furniture, it was all hands on deck. “Jason is a designer in his own right, and he and Matt have such good taste, and I trust their judgment,” Rice says. “It was fun collaborating with them.” The three were so in sync design-wise that when Taylor went shopping at Sputnik Modern and came home with a sculptural wood console for the entry, it turned out to be one that Rice had been eyeing for years. And Lenox purchased the vintage plaster John Dickinson footed table because he liked “how cool it looked” in the curve of a Swedish sofa Rice had specified for the living room.

Rice added investment-worthy pieces to the mix, including a rare 1930s Danish leather sofa by Kaare Klint, a swiveling Edward Wormley lounge chair, and a pair of nightstands by Afra and Tobia Scarpa. Rice is known for ferreting out talented artisans to make one-of-a-kind pieces for his clients, and here he’s tapped Wisconsin craftsman Matthew Nafranowicz of Straight Thread Chair Co. to build a hand-stitched leather bench for the living room. An independent local metal fabricator was enlisted to make all of the simple brass overhead lights for the house, and the living-room rug was hand-woven by artisans from the L.A. design collective Commune. Art and furnishings aside, Rice’s favorite detail just might be the way a small patch of sunlight drifts across a brick wall in the hallway, illuminating its beautiful, hand-textured surface.

“The small scale of the house really allowed me to get down into the design details, which is what makes it feel so handcrafted,” Rice says. “I look back on it now and think, ‘Wow, we all did something pretty special here.’”

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