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Real Estate / Houses

Inside Job

Top Dallas Interior Designers Open Up Their Own Homes — and Show All

BY Rebecca Sherman // 08.13.15
photography Shayna Fontana

Screen shot 2015-08-13 at 2.52.49 PM

BRANT McFARLAIN, R BRANT DESIGN
The 20-year-old modern house in the Turtle Creek area, located a stone’s throw from the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, had always been one of Brant McFarlain’s favorites. But the house itself — which had originally been built by caterer Wendy Krispin — wasn’t what appealed to him. The early-’90s architecture was too severe for his tastes, with harsh edges, a glass catwalk upstairs and a curving staircase that reminded him of the Guggenheim.

“I had a friend who lived in the house for 10 years, and there were years of going to parties over there. Everyone loved it,” says the designer, whose clients include art collectors Lindsey and Patrick Collins and Christen and Derek Wilson. “It was a neat house, but not for me. But I loved the area and the memories.”

His friend sold it, then another four years went by. In October of last year, McFarlain noticed a for sale sign in the yard. On impulse, he and his partner, commercial broker Justin Moon, bought it sight unseen.

“First thing we did was try to take the ‘90s out of it,” says McFarlain, who brought the 5,000-square-foot house down to its studs while leaving the original footprint. He expanded the master bath and bedroom upstairs (a balcony now overlooks the pool) but kept the galley kitchen. “I wanted it to have a more European modern feel — to add some history with the new,” he says.

In other words, he wanted the casual rustic feel that knotted woods, limestone and bronze detailing bring. A trip to Prague, with all of its history and old buildings, was the inspiration for his own home, as well as his current design direction for clients. “Societies are so sophisticated now; we travel a lot,” he says. “People want clean, sexy living, and the younger generation has loved modern. I want to bring a little of the past to them with richer materials, layering and a little traditional vibe.”

He notes that you see the shift from strict minimalism to warm contemporary everywhere, including retail establishments such as Prada: “Slick and cold is gone. It’s not the white box anymore.”

At home, McFarlain aimed for a warm, masculine feel that’s reminiscent of a ‘20s-era gentleman’s club, with gray limestone floors, black wool/silk rugs, parchment and green mohair upholstery with brass nailheads. A tufted-leather chesterfield sofa (“My ode to bankers,” he says) was also a nod to Moon, who prefers traditional furniture. “I’m working on getting the traditional out of him,” McFarlain adds. Five sets of black steel and glass French doors were installed throughout the house — “the kind you saw in the 1920s a lot that are strong and elegant,” he says. “It’s really a sexy property.”

The house is still evolving. The galley kitchen will soon be updated, although it won’t be opened up, as has been the trend. “It’s more formal this way, and it’s kind of fun when people squeeze into the kitchen during a party,” he says. A breakfast room will be added, along with a New Orleans-style courtyard. The clubby, Old World feel notwithstanding, McFarlain has already installed a fireplace in every room, with a flat-screen TV above. “After all, we live in a modern world,” he says.

JOSHUA RICE, JOSHUA RICE DESIGN
Maybe we should not covet thy neighbor’s house, but somehow the grass is always greener there. In Joshua Rice’s case, it was 8,000 square feet of grass and wooded terrain surrounding a mid-century house down the street that turned his head. “I drove by it all the time,” he says of the 1,500-square-foot modern in White Rock Lake that he and his wife, Riley Rice, a realtor with David Griffin & Co., purchased 10 years ago. “It had this monolithic brick wall surrounding it that I really liked. One day, I saw this 80-year-old woman in the yard raking leaves and gave her my card. I told her if she ever wanted to sell it, to give me a call.” She called the next week, and the Rices bought the house three months later.

Like many dwellings of the era, mahogany paneling and exposed brick gave it a dark feel. Rice replaced the paneling with sheetrock but left the brick. “We kept warm and inviting materials but painted walls white,” he says. “It’s a pretty good balance of warmth and brightness now.” The main living and dining areas, which had been broken up by walls and doors, were restructured into one open space.

“The renovation was an exercise in how to respect a mid-century house without dating it,” he says. “It’s really more about serving the house than a reflection of my personal style. If I wanted it to reflect that, it’d be a lot more minimal — but with a wife and kids (their two daughters are preschool age), that’s not really a good option.”

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As with all his projects, his own home’s interiors are “more curated than designed,” he explains. “I spend so much obsessive time getting every piece just right — gotta find this chair or that table … Everything is very considered, and there’s a reason for everything.” Much of what he collects is obscure, avant-garde or rare. “The house is full of things I have hunted down patiently over the years,” he says. “I have VVD lounge chairs by Vincent Duysen and several pieces from the Artona series [late 1970s], including the chairs by Tobia Scarpa for Maxalto. Probably one of my favorite things is a solid-marble vintage Biagio lamp by Scarpa, which resides in the master bedroom.”

The furnishings are noteworthy, yes, but who wants to live in a museum? Rice tries to create rooms that are “effortlessly luxurious —refined and important, but not precious, like you’re not supposed to be in that room or sit in that chair,” he says. “Everything has a tactile quality that begs to be touched.”

The most used room in the house has one of his most collectible pieces in it: a vintage glass dining table designed by the late Italian architect Carlo Scarpa (Tobia’s father), which gets constant use. “It’s where the girls do their homework and art projects. They can do anything to it, spill paint all over it, and it won’t hurt it. It’s where I work on most of my projects, too.”

ROB DAILEY, ROBERT WILLIAM DAILEY DESIGN AND DECORATION
The world can be divided into two kinds of people: those who love high-rise living and those who don’t. “That’s the thing,” says Rob Dailey. “I never in a million years thought I’d live in a high-rise.”

But last January, after selling his house on Travis Street and living temporarily in a cramped mid-century while he searched for a new home, “this place in the W Residences popped up as I was looking online,” he recalls. “I walked in and thought, ‘This is it.’”

Located on the 22nd floor and designed by architect Lionel Morrison, it had all of the things he wanted: tall ceilings and windows, powder and laundry rooms, a big bath with a separate shower, roomy closet and gas cooking. It also had plenty of other things he didn’t know he wanted, such as a large 35-by-10-foot terrace with a killer view of downtown Dallas and a profusion of amenities, including room service from the hotel and 24-hour concierge. “I call the W ‘assisted living’,” he jokes. “They do everything. I travel a lot [he just finished a house in Napa for Howard and Cindy Rachofsky and is currently working on projects in Philadelphia and Turks and Caicos], so if I get home from the airport at 11 at night, I can order room service. How great is that?”

His light bulbs get changed regularly, and just talking about it elicits a joyful “Oh my, I just love this place!” Once a week, a standing order of flowers is efficiently whisked to his unit. “If I’d known back then what I know now,” he says, “I would have been here long ago.”

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With limestone floors and white walls throughout the 1,100-square-foot space, “it’s perfect for my crazy, eclectic group of furniture,” he says. A furniture designer himself, Dailey created many of the pieces in his apartment, including a table he uses as a floating island in the kitchen made from one continuous piece of steel (the underside is lacquered coral orange). It triples as a work surface for cooking, a dining table for dinner parties and a bar when people gather for cocktails.

He also designed the Lucite coffee table and armless mohair sofa in the living room. A pair of petite antique French armchairs upholstered in synthetic fur with nailheads were done “rough around the edges, with Roberto Cavalli in mind,” he says.

Dailey’s artwork is equally diverse. Last month, after attending a friend’s birthday party in Oaxaca, he brought back a tarantula sculpture, made out of an X-ray and suspended inside a Lucite box by Oaxaca artist/tattooist Dr. Lakra. “Lakra means pest,” Dailey says of the artist whose real name is Jeronimo Lopez Ramirez. The tarantula sits next to three painted panels of what Dailey dubs his “naughty nuns,” signed by an unknown artist named Pucci. From the 1950s (and part of a larger group), the panels depict nuns giggling in various situations — tittering while a Catholic cardinal swings a black cat around or chuckling as one of their fellow nuns plays puppeteer to a dancing sailor attached to strings. Also on the wall are six whimsical panels by New York artist Deborah Grant, which he purchased from Talley Dunn. He also owns a Chuck Close print.

“I just like things that mean something to me,” he says. “I’m not a collector with any particular agenda. I’m not an art snob. I like things that start a conversation or make you think.”

People always like to know how a designer approaches his own home. For Dailey, it’s pretty much the same as any other space he works on. “The environment tells you what it needs,” he says. So, what is his 22nd-fl oor home saying?

“This space is all about light and communicating the outdoor space,” he says. “I have the whole city outside my window. I don’t have window coverings; I just let the light in. It’s mostly about enjoying the changing light of the day — in the mornings, watching the sun as it rises; by evening, the glow of the sunset as it reflects off the buildings; and at night, the city lights. This place has many moods, because so do I.”

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