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Real Estate / Houses

Designer Dream House

Two Arty Minds Spent 15 Years Making This Dallas Stunner Perfect

BY Rebecca Sherman // 08.21.15
photography Shayna Fontana

It all started with a big Swedish armoire in a small room.

Shannon [Bowers] was actually my son Grant’s tutor, and I was so impressed by her design sense,” says Kathleen Wu. “I remember sitting in her living room, waiting for my son’s lesson to be completed and just marveling at the scale of the pieces she selected for a fairly small room — it just worked. It never would have occurred to me to put such a large piece in a small room, but I loved it.”

Bowers, who had design clients on the side, agreed to work on the Sarasota beach house that Wu and her husband, Mark Soloman, share. (Both hail from New York City and are law partners at Andrew Kurth, LLP.) That was 15 years ago, and Bowers has since established a thriving design practice and has redone the beach house two more times. “I think I became one of her first clients,” Wu says. “And what a privilege that has been.”

When the couple built a 5,000-square-foot home in Preston Hollow in 1994, they lived in it a few years, then hired Bowers to work on the interiors, embarking on a leisurely 15-year odyssey — the design equivalent of slow cooking. “We didn’t have all that much when we moved in here. Certainly not much art,” says Wu, whose son was about five years old at the time. “We just wanted the home to have clean, simple lines that would give us a lot of flexibility over the years.”

A staunch modernist in the beginning, Wu’s design taste was the opposite of French or Swedish antiques. And, Bowers wasn’t exactly a minimalist. “We really evolved together,” says Bowers, a Houston native whose mother is designer Pamela Pierce. “Kathleen wanted to take the house more contemporary, but I wanted it to be more timeless, so we added antiques and pieces with staying power.” The mix also helps tie in the interior and exterior architecture, which is traditional. “When we built the house, that’s what worked for our lifestyle at the time,” says Wu, whose son is now a freshman in college.

Their style has grown more contemporary “as we’ve evolved and traveled more, and brought more incredible pieces home,” Wu says. “Shannon has been able to make it all work together.”

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For Bowers, the collaboration has been exhilarating. “Kathleen is bold and fun and unafraid,” she says. “For a designer, that’s a dream.” Essentially, her client gave her carte blanche to carry out the interiors and furnishings. “Kathleen’s home is about her art — she does the art and leaves the rest to me.” To better showcase their collection, her first task was to bleach the dark oak flooring. “That oak was really tired,” she says, “so we lightened everything.” She also bathed the walls in French Canvas by Benjamin Moore. “We contemplated changing the stair rail, but we decided to paint the whole thing white, and it really transformed things. Most of the original architecture is still there, but we’ve lightened and freshened it. It’s a nice canvas for Kathleen’s art and for bold color in fabrics.”

In the family room, from far left, artwork by Keith Haring, Tommy Crow (sneakers) and Laurie Lambrecht (Roy Lichtenstein in his studio). B&B Italia sofa and Arco floor lamp for Flos, both from Design Within Reach. Peyton ottoman used as coffee table, by Ralph Lauren. Custom chair covered in toile from Quadrille. Vintage Moroccan rug. Grammy orchid from Avant Garden.
In the family room, from far left: artwork by Keith Haring, Tommy Crow (sneakers) and Laurie Lambrecht (Roy Lichtenstein in his studio). B&B Italia sofa and Arco floor lamp for Flos, both from Design Within Reach. Peyton ottoman by Ralph Lauren, used as coffee table. Custom chair covered in toile from Quadrille. Vintage Moroccan rug. Grammy orchid from Avant Garden.

Their collection — purchased during their travels throughout Canada, South America and Asia — is what Wu terms “’contemporary global.’ We have a slight proclivity toward pop art, particularly Chinese. It’s really about the places we’ve visited and the experiences we’ve had. Our art is our travel scrapbook, writ large.”

As any designer with clients who collect art knows, the trick is to pull off a successful look when the art is ever-evolving. “It’s a challenge,” says Bowers, “but she doesn’t like the art to match or coordinate with the furnishings, and I don’t either. We put it in where it works.” Sometimes that means playing musical chairs with the chairs, sofas and tables. It helps to have mostly neutral, timeless furnishings that work wherever they might need to land. And, they don’t have to be antiques to be timeless. In this house are classic modern creations such as Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chairs, Knoll tables, a vintage rosewood Eames lounge chair and ottoman that belonged to Soloman’s father, and B&B Italia and de Sede sofas, along with custom furniture and Asian antiques.

“Kathleen likes the strength of the Asian pieces,” says Bowers, who used Asian antiques to sync with the modern furnishings, including a turquoise table from the couple’s Florida condo (originally from Debris), a signed red-and-gold armoire, a pale-wood credenza from Allen Knight, a Tibetan chest from Wisteria and Chinese dining chairs from The Mews. Everything comes together elegantly, but this would be a very different house if the art didn’t have energy and wit, such as the oversized red “Made In China” sign by Chinese artist Sui Jianguo in the dining room. Bowers has also interjected humble materials among the fine, such as reclaimed wood and steel pieces that were made into shelving and a tree-trunk table for the hallway alcove, which Bowers spotted in a Florida consignment store.

“I was pretty skeptical about that table,” Wu admits, “mainly because I was looking for a low, long contemporary bench. But she assured me that it would work and that it would cost far more if we were in Dallas. And, of course, it was perfect. She paired it with a simple Asian figurine — because, of course, you would pair an Asian figurine with a tree-trunk table — and it was phenomenal.”

Wu grew accustomed to being delighted. “She’s always surprising me,” she says of Bowers. “Our dining-room chairs, for example, aren’t standard chairs. She made benches out of mohair. And they’re perfect. She also found a bolt of fabric that had been sitting for decades in my aunt’s house. It’s beautiful fabric with intricate patterns sewn into it, and most people would have framed a section of it and called it a day. She made my dining-room curtains out of it, and now I get to see that beautiful fabric that reminds me of my heritage every day.

But by far my favorite thing she’s done is her presentation of the “Made in China” piece, and although I loved it, I didn’t know where I would put it. Shannon simply took the crate it was shipped in, elevated it and put the piece on top. It’s perfect.”

[This article first appeared in the December 2014 Dallas edition of PaperCity Magazine.]

Home, chic home.

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