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Real Estate / Houses

Top Houston Interior Designer’s Home Dazzles

Inside the Mind of Cathy Echols

BY Steven Hempel // 08.31.15
photography Jenny Antill Clifton

Frank Sinatra may have said, “I did it my way,” but when speaking with Cathy Echols, it becomes evident that she’s done much the same in her life. While her work remains a genuine reflection of her clientele’s wishes, the charismatic and charming designer exudes a fierce intelligence and sense of independence. Her father was a builder and developer, so Echols — who was born and raised in Houston — has been around the design world her entire life. Now that her design practice is entering its 10th year, we sat down to talk about the influences that shape her views on design.

 

The library/den is centered around a Roman bronze horse head from Biff Agee, which sits atop a custom wooden stand. Valence is covered in David Hicks La Florentina from Lee Jofa\Kravet, flanked by a pair of bookshelves painted olive with hot-pink interior. A David Hicks-inspired drinks table holds a large silver tray, Baccarat ice bucket, collection of vintage crystal shakers and decanters. Antique hand colored prints were gifts from Cathy’s mother. Faux-bamboo chair covered in olive-colored cowhide. Zebra rug from Custom Creations is beneath a custom glass cube coffee table. An 18th-century French Louis XIV sofa from James Powell is flanked by Donghia chests and Robert Kuo hammered-gold, washed-bronze lamps from Ellouise Abbott.
The library/den is centered around a Roman bronze horse head from Biff Agee, which sits atop a custom wooden stand. Valence is covered in David Hicks La Florentina from Lee Jofa\Kravet, flanked by a pair of bookshelves painted olive with hot-pink interior. A David Hicks-inspired drinks table holds a large silver tray, Baccarat ice bucket, collection of vintage crystal shakers and decanters. Antique hand-colored prints were gifts from Cathy’s mother. Faux-bamboo chair covered in olive-colored cowhide. Zebra rug from Custom Creations is beneath a custom glass cube coffee table. An 18th-century French Louis XIV sofa from James Powell is flanked by Donghia chests and Robert Kuo hammered-gold, washed-bronze lamps from Ellouise Abbott.

You have a strong interest in fashion. To which designers are you drawn?
Hermès, Brunello Cucinelli, Martin Margiela, Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin and Ralph Lauren.

Is there a crossover between your interest in fashion and your interiors work?
I like designers that reflect an old-school approach. I like beautiful fabrics and tailoring. I dress in a way that’s very similar to how I design … If you start with something beautifully designed, a basic, you can add or subtract bits and pieces of your life as you see fit. A bracelet or scarf from a travel destination, a funky T-shirt or, with interiors, a color, pillow, piece of art, etc. I find that I am drawn to clean elegant design, beautifully constructed with simple lines, whether it be clothing or furniture. From there, you can embellish or manipulate with whatever intrigues you. It can be as loud or as subdued as you want it to be.

You’re an avid reader. What books have had an impact on you?
Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion reflects the way I live my life — which, of course, influences my design work. One must embrace the extremes of life; it’s a constant puzzle, how things fit together aesthetically and functionally. It’s a constant pursuit. You keep readdressing and reassessing your vision, internally and externally. A few other books that have had an impact are Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and, for fun, Diana Vreeland’s Why Don’t You? I enjoy books with a strong sense of narrative, which is also very reflective of the work I do.

Favorite destinations? Places that are high on your list to visit?
I love Italy for the architecture and design; Paris for interiors and the unstudied style of the women. I would like to visit Greece to see the color of the water. I may also need to go to Egypt for makeup tips. Those gals have that eyeliner thing down!

Holiday Gifting

  • Nocturne Studio
  • Bond No 9 - Candle
  • Cle Du Peau - Nail Polish
  • Casa di Lino
  • Oscar De La Renta - Earrings
  • Oscar De La Renta - Clutch
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Bond No 9 - Perfume
  • Loeffler Randall - Clutch
  • Cle Du Peau - Lip Gloss
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Loeffler Randall - Shoes

How has travel influenced your style? Did you come away with anything unexpected from your recent experiences in Morocco or Paris?
The color of a chalky pot in Yves Saint Laurent’s garden in Marrakech: I was struck by Yves’ use of bright and very saturated colors to paint the clay pots in his garden, which was both unexpected and beautiful at the same time. It just worked. Other things that have stood out in my travels are the color of a door in Paris, the shawl of a Roman woman looking out from the balcony of Hotel San Rafael in Rome at the rooftops beyond — a lesson in scale. It could literally be anything or nothing.

A wall in the office\sitting room off the master is devoted to a salonstyle hanging of art that Cathy has gathered throughout the years, centered around the focal piece Vacant, Pretty by the street artist Give Up — a gift from a friend. The French neoclassical settee is covered in a Clarence House raw silk and draped with a multicolored vintage Afghani tent hanging, two olive-colored mohair pillows and a collection of needlepoint pillows procured from the Herb Wells estate. Waterworks crystal column lamps.
A wall in the office\sitting room off the master is devoted to a salon-style hanging of art that Cathy has gathered throughout the years, centered around the focal piece Vacant, Pretty by the street artist Give Up — a gift from a friend. The French neoclassical settee is covered in a Clarence House raw silk and draped with a multicolored vintage Afghani tent hanging, two olive-colored mohair pillows and a collection of needlepoint pillows procured from the Herb Wells estate.
Waterworks crystal column lamps.

ON WORK:
Tell me about your process when designing for a client. Do you start out with a certain vision that you’d like to create?
It’s not necessarily my vision, it’s theirs. I help them assemble the separate pieces (taste, lifestyle, budget) of the puzzle into a cohesive whole that they can still claim their own. It’s definitely a collaborative effort.

Tell us about a project of which you are particularly proud.
A major gut and remodel for Kathi and Brian Stringer, two of the most formidable persons of taste and style in this city or anywhere.

With whom do you frequently collaborate? What makes for a good collaboration?
Architect Michael Landrum and designer Garrett Hunter, who both share my love for open dialogue and humor, which sometimes lead to great ideas.

How do you work with a space? Do you create around a certain piece — say, a sofa or table? Do you have a formal or informal process for pulling spaces together?
There is no set formula or design process. It could be a chair, a color or the space itself — ultimately, it’s the clients that help dictate how the process flows. My design work arises from an innate need for self-expression, whether it be interiors, cooking conversation, etc. … all of which require a measure of self-restraint. It’s about the choices one makes, the attempt to impose order upon your environment.

On your current residence: Tell us the basics.
I purchased my latest residence in Raintree Place about five years ago, just two doors down from my previous residence that I also remodeled. I essentially opened the space, poured concrete floors downstairs, reconfigured the kitchen and updated the bathrooms. In the backyard, I resurfaced the pool while adding a “disco light” for my interior pool light and recovered the pea gravel with a deck made of Ipe. The idea was to create a more open floor plan for entertaining and a more contemporary lifestyle and environment for myself and my son, Stuart.

Favorite pieces of art?
A Surrealist work from the estate of an original Menil trustee, as well as a line drawing of Marlene Dietrich from the Herb Wells estate. I’m also very intrigued with a collage by Kelly O’Connor from The David Shelton Gallery.

Favorite piece of furniture?
A red Venetian marble dining table with an iron base from the estate of an antique dealer.

What’s next for you in life and work?
Who knows? That’s the adventure.

Cathy’s son Stuart’s bedroom walls are covered in cork to keep his collection of music posters organized. Low beds from IKEA are covered with linens from Ralph Lauren and John Robshaw.
Stuart’s (Echols’ son) bedroom walls are covered in cork to keep his collection of music posters organized. Low beds from IKEA are covered with linens from Ralph Lauren and John Robshaw.

LIGHTER FARE:
Design books.

Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris ApfelThe World of Madeleine Castaing • Billy Baldwin RemembersLondon InteriorsDavid Hicks: A Life of Design

Websites.
David Hicks France • Blackmon Cruz

Local design sources.
George Cameron Nash • Donghia • Ellouise Abbott • Walter Lee Culp • Kirby and Company • Brown and Company

National Design Sources.
Blackmon Cruz • Design Within Reach

International Design Sources.
David Hicks, Paris • Colette, Paris • Paris Flea Market • The Souk, Marrakech

Entertaining.
Keep it simple! I also like “the perfect bite.” • I like to serve a nice selection of wines and cheese, a beautiful salad and a pasta dish, mushroom risotto or truffled eggs, and dark chocolates for something sweet.• Time: Anytime after 6:30 pm. Size: My preference is around six people, which is very conducive to fun and interactive dialogue and conversation.

Playlist.
Seu Jorge’s The Life Aquatic: Studio Sessions • Massive Attack’s Protection • Darkside’s Darkside

[This article originally appeared in the March 2014 Houston edition of PaperCity magazine.]

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