Dark Exterior Paint Modernized This 1918 Spanish-Style Stucco Home

Check out how designer Dustin Dorr transformed his century-old Oklahoma home by quieting its traditional detailing and blending in midcentury modern favorites.

After 21 years away, Dustin Dorr and Sarah James returned to their hometown of Oklahoma City. They felt pulled back to raise their kids close to family, yet they weren't looking to re-create their own childhoods. "We wanted to experience this city as a whole new place rather than the place we grew up," Dustin says.

They eventually found an old house with a stucco exterior and Spanish architectural influences that reminded them of homes in Southern California, where they last lived, and Santa Fe, a favorite place to visit. The dated interior didn't faze Dustin, who knew he could flip the script. "I'm kind of pushing the boundaries and making this house ours—creating something that reflects us and where we've been," he says.

Dorr family outside front door
Hector Sanchez

Dustin's first love is midcentury modern, but he says, "that alone is overdone and boring." So he sprinkles in flea market finds, formal antiques, and new pieces. But first, he simplified the backdrops and surfaces. "When you neutralize," he says, "new, old, and everything in between work well together." He didn't take things too far, though, to keep the home's historical integrity. "It feels correct, yet up-to-date and fitting for our life."

In a bit of a rebel move, Dustin replaced the grass lawn with a xeriscape garden of stones and drought-tolerant plants that will survive an Oklahoma winter. "It's going against our rolling green lawns here, but it piques people's interest," he says. He retained the trees that keep the house rooted in tradition. "We have giant pecan trees and blue atlas cedar mixed with yucca and cacti," he says."The unexpected mix is key." A bold color on the front door prepares visitors for what to expect inside, Dustin adds.

Dustin turned the formal dining room into a den where he and Sarah watch TV and play card games with their kids, Anders and Malou. "It's our most comfortable, most used space," he says. "I like that it's cozy and close to the kitchen." A bold rug sets off the clean-lined chairs and tables.

open spacious living room fireplace
Hector Sanchez

"Backgrounds are the first thing I think about," Dustin says. "I like to white out things so the focus is on the art and objects." Painting crown molding the same white as walls was his way to downplay the traditional millwork. It gives the living room an updated look, as does the dark gray paint on the doors, sashes, and mantel.

A hand-rubbed aging solution gives the brass curtain rods a dark, always-been-there look. Two sitting areas—one set off by the rug, the other along the window—make efficient use of the long space.

Grayish green kitchen cabinets counterbalance a pink backsplash and checkerboard floor."We really went for it on the floor and backsplash—those were risks for us," Dustin says. Both the checkerboard pattern and the hex tile have traditional references, but the larger scale updates the look. Shelves replaced boxy upper cabinets to help modernize and visually open the small kitchen.

small circular kitchen table
Hector Sanchez

A midcentury tulip table base topped with a new piece of marble fills the breakfast nook."It's a small space, but it has such a great feel," he says. The dentil molding, a holdover from a previous owner's remodel, nods to the home's traditional styling.

master bedroom natural window treatments
Hector Sanchez

Dustin's usual rule of thumb next to the bed is to use matching lamps if there are mismatched nightstands and vice versa. Here, though, he went mismatched for both and used old chests as night tables. Window treatments are natural linen pleated curtains. Hanging just one panel on the outer side of each window streamlines the look.

"We feel lucky," Dustin says, of having a bedroom fireplace. To mimic the look of the living room fireplace, he replaced the tile surround with white marble and painted the rest of it blackish gray. Dustin restored oak flooring under the carpet and swapped one vintage light for another.

bathroom vintage desk red marble
Hector Sanchez

The vintage desk is Sarah's vanity and where she records videos for her beauty blog, Whoorl. Dustin had the wall behind it plumbed for a possible future tub. Shiplap hides some of the old home's settling issues by evening out where the ceiling meets the wall—a less invasive option than tearing out the ceiling. "It makes the room almost go a little beachy, which tells a little bit of our story too," Dustin says. He chose the old-school reddish marble vanity top as a surprise—"like it could have been here the whole time," he says.

Updated by
Page Mullins

Page Mullins is the Homes Editor for Southern Living Magazine. Previously, she was an editor at Country Living, Brides, and Real Simple.

Sarah Alba

Sarah Alba is a creative consultant, publicist, and founder of the photoshoot production, photo styling, and scouting agency Albaworks. For close to 20 years, Sarah has placed more than 400 locations in national magazines and styled over 200 photoshoots for editorial features. She has worked with companies such as Dotdash Meredith, Hearst, Hachette Media, and Time Inc. She has worked with titles such as Better Homes & Gardens, This Old House Magazine, Skiing Magazine, and Popular Science. Sarah attended the University of Colorado Boulder, Leeds School of Business, and Tulane University, graduating with a degree in Business and Business Marketing.

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