A New Home Beautifully Unites Parisian Elegance with Modern Polish
When designers Eleanor Cummings and Megan Phillips agreed to take on the interiors of a young couple's new build in Houston, they knew the project would carry a French theme. But French style is such an umbrella term that its looks can go in many directions. Clarification was in order.
First, there was the possibility of Provençal country with humble characteristics including rustic textures, distressed finishes, and a stone fireplace. A second option was Louis XV rococo, which would have embraced lavishly carved frames and heavy gilding. But the French style that triggered excitement from the homeowners, like a robust Cabernet served with a steaming pot of beef Bourguignon, was the idea of modernized Parisian. The chateau-style house would be filled with moldings, geometric-pattern floors, a light and bright palette, and a modern interpretation of French style's chicest charm.
"They were so drawn to the idea of formal interiors," Cummings says. "But the spaces needed to be fresh and include visual interest without the visual fuss. This is a young couple who are well-dressed and well-traveled. We wanted the interiors to represent their taste in an updated way."
"Had we really stuck with the true French style, the interiors would have told a different story," Phillips says. "Furniture would have been much darker and fabrics would have been heavier. We went for an American in Paris theme instead of one that took French style literally."
In the foyer, a shapely tufted sofa sits with grand stature at the end of the gallery hall, where a marble floor and groin-vault ceiling imbue elegance.
It was a no-brainer that the house had to function well for a family—with comfortable areas to prepare for the tasks of each day and to relax during leisure time. But this house had two additional goals.
First, it had to withstand the traffic and activity of young children. When the project started, the homeowners had two kids and a third on the way. Materials, such as performance fabrics, that could easily be cleaned were important and high on their priority list.
Next, the layout needed to work well for entertaining. The homeowners are regular hosts, inviting friends and family into their home for situations as wide-ranging as intimate dinners and outdoor get-togethers for football games. Easy flow throughout the rooms and comfortable spots to sit and enjoy conversation were must-haves too.
With so many spaces of generous sizes to furnish, the design duo knew that specifying only new pieces would quickly deliver the look of a showroom with no real interest or story to tell. With storytelling in mind, Cummings and Phillips turned to antiques mostly discovered in two places: France, the origin of the style that the designers were aiming for, and Round Top, Texas, a small town about 45 minutes outside Houston that has become the hub of antique dealers in the South.
Once the pair built a collection that would work for the new home's desired style, they wove pieces into the scheme so that they appear integrated instead of as standouts.
The entrance hall serves as a perfect example of merging antiques with a fresh architectural foundation. Even with walls bathed in basic white, the room is rich with pattern established by the strict lines of moldings, the geometrics of a black-and-white checkerboard floor, and the curvy motifs of a wrought-iron railing that follows the contour of the staircase. A gilded antique Swedish settee, upholstered with two solid fabrics to form a center turquoise stripe, interrupts the neutral space with a modern spin.
The designers modernized classic French sensibilities. Tucked into one alcove, a marble-top table displays traditional blue-and-white porcelain and a modern abstract. The foyer wall contrasts a gilded fragment with a modern demilune table.
Step into the living room and guests may feel like there's a chance of seeing the Eiffel Tower outside the floor-to-ceiling glass French doors. Two arrangements furnish the large space. One is intended for conversation and before-dinner cocktails. Two slipper-style sofas, a feminine bergère that gently slips into the scheme with pale blue silk, a tufted suede ottoman, and a table that delivers rows of sculptural porcelain flowers encased in acrylic work together to create a chic ensemble in front of the fireplace.
To achieve the goal of Parisian chic, the living room shows off key architectural elements. An oval wreath carved into the stone fireplace suggests the traditional placement of a mirror. Instead, a rectangular mirror etched with a star design hangs above a chest of drawers to the side of the fireplace. A paneled ceiling caps the all-white room that is punctuated with matching sofas covered in blue mohair.
The opposite side of the room addresses relaxation with a tailored sofa that faces a painted black credenza where a television is housed. A mirrored cocktail table, a collection of starburst mirrors, antique sconces, and an oversize tone-on-tone abstract add to the elegant Parisian-inspired flair. A tulip table in a corner of the living room is surrounded by four midcentury chairs covered in luxurious lavender cashmere. An armchair wears the color, too, but in a lighter shade.
Most spaces in the house boast large dimensions, but the dining room is intimate in scale. Cummings and Phillips opted for light and airy elements to make it visually expansive. The raw oak floor was laid to create angles pointing in multiple directions. To offset the floor's geometry, a floral wallpaper in sophisticated beige, white, and silver wraps the walls with softness. An antique iron-and-crystal chandelier feels almost weightless as it dangles from the ceiling above a hefty table that shows off a new stone top on an old garden-structure base.
Inspired by the Hotel Lancaster in Paris, the dining room's elegance is reflected in the oversize antique French perfume bottles resting on a mirrored console table.
In the kitchen, the homeowners wanted a space that would melt into the rest of the house with an all-white palette. It's utilitarian but can easily be altered with colorful accents. Polished marble gleams on the island and backsplash. Silver accents on pendant lights and the range and hood add sparkle.
The kitchen offers space for the homeowner to practice her love of cooking and baking with her children. A French range is topped with a custom hood lined in steel that was built to coordinate. Glass-front cabinetry extends the airiness of the all-white palette. Coated performance linen was used to upholster the counter stools.
The primary bedroom suite blends the softest shades of blue, blush, and creamy ivory to establish its sophisticated scheme. Window treatments amplified by beautiful trims and a dreamy bed cornice make the room a place where the homeowners can wind down and relax after a long day.
A medley of pale fabrics splashes the primary bedroom in delicate color. Especially noteworthy is the tufted sofa upholstered in blush velvet. The thick back of the sofa houses a television that rises from it for easy viewing from the bed.
Just steps outside the primary bedroom, a private balcony mixes furniture that's both delicate and hefty. A custom daybed was made to extend the French vibe of the interiors but with a durable outdoor presence. Rose-color travertine slabs in sculptural geometric forms, bought from a local shop, are used as tables.
Clad in white marble, the primary bathroom features glamorous fittings, including a crystal chandelier above the soaking tub, a feminine slipper chair, and a chic bench in front of the window.
The pool is home to swim competitions that the owners host for friends. Used regularly for alfresco entertaining, the outdoor dining space references the pool with cushions in sky blue. A pair of outdoor wing chairs provide comfortable spots to relax by the fireplace. An open architectural fragment was fitted with a mirror that reflects light and the exterior spaces.
In a home where the designers could have continued to outfit the interiors with additional appointments, there was a stopping point when they knew their design hit the sweet spot of elegance and refinement.
"We've never tackled a house that was quite this formal," Cummings says. "This is a house of contrasts with clients who were open to our vision. We love what we delivered."