richard rabel: a 1930s Dallas home renovation (before and after)

Richard Rabel Dallas home Renovation Dining Room

The independent town of Highland Park sits inside the Dallas city limits and is an upscale neighborhood known for its lovely mansions and manicured lawns (plus it’s 30 miles/hour speed limit that can drive you crazy!). It’s also the home of some of the most influential people in the country – from the Hunts and Crows to the Perots – and the place for my recent Dallas home renovation project.

I’m lucky and grateful that as a nyc interior designer, I have fans throughout and so tucked onto one of the streets of this delightful “village” lies a recent Dallas home renovation and decorating project for a venture capitalist and his small family who engaged my services: first as a design consultant to insure uniformity in the project and to work side by side with their architect in reconfiguring and expanding the original 1939 Georgian Revival home and secondly as their interior decorator. The new home added some necessary square footage for the family while remaining a very comfortable, manageable and livable place to call home.

The first set of drawings of this Dallas home renovation represented an uber traditional aesthetic. But with my subtle persuasion, little by little the Doric columns, wainscoting and heavy moldings began to disappear in favor of larger windows and simple trim that resulted in liberated, though still classical rooms that could breathe unburdened by the weight of historical conventions. Pocket doors replaced classic hinged doors where appropriate and the staircase and some rooms were switched to reflect a more comfortable footpath for this contemporary (and active!) family of four.

My decorating directive was complicated – “retain and exhibit most of the antiques but make the rooms modern”… right! It’s tricky to make a lot of brown furniture and heavy antique decorative objects sing in a contemporary atmosphere. But the owners also had a sybaritic taste for modern art so between what they had and what we purchased – works on paper and sculpture by Picasso, Motherwell and Moore – the task became more manageable. Every design project is a melding of two visions – the client’s and my own – and as my client’s guide to enriching their surroundings by having them look just outside of their comfort zone, the results are shown below.



Richard Rabel Dallas home Renovation Entry Room

There is a palpable difference between what you saw in the old house and what you see today after this Highland Park Dallas home renovation project was completed. The staircase to the upper floors was repositioned to allow an open vestibule that could be closed up from the rest of the house for entertaining. This is not only welcome, but necessary with children. The new and open space boasts honed marble checkerboard floor with a Georgian chest-of-drawers accessorized with collected objects and a stunning contemporary painting (encaustic) by Keith W. Johnston that pulls you into the space. The Art Deco alabaster chandelier by Jules Leleu is from Maison Gerard in New York (first photo). Your entry hall should always give guests a glimpse of what’s to come: in this case, the traditional marble entry coupled with cool contemporary colors and sleek modern art.



Richard Rabel Dallas home Renovation Dining Room 2

To the left of the vestibule, is the Dining Room, which was opened and enlarged by adding floor-to-ceiling windows on one side and a modern version of a bow front window to another to allow natural light to flood the room. The mahogany sideboard and dining table are original 18th century and sit above a lovely wool hand-knotted rug from Afghanistan that now helps lighten the mahogany-filled room that replaced a perfectly nice though expected red medallion carpet from Turkey.

And while the décor wants to remain classical, there are elements that pull it into the 21st century. For example, Kravet fully upholstered mohair chairs replaced the owner’s Sheraton-style dining chairs to lend a sense of cool but modern tradition. Motherwell’s bold and graphic work on paper helps to anchor the room. And one of my all time favorite pieces are the re-purposed vessels on the sideboard from B. Gover in Dallas. Filled with seasonal flowering branches, they are easy to change any time the mood strikes keeping the room in a continual state of freshness.




Richard Rabel Dallas home Renovation Living Room

Directly to the right of the vestibule is the Living Room, which was enlarged by adding a bow front window and a sunroom that hugs one side of the home. As in the rest of the house, I used long wide planks of oak wood stained with my proprietary formula that brings out their warmth and beauty. Given the decorating parameters of incorporating as many antiques as possible, both my clients and I are pleased with the eclectic decorating mélange that resulted in this room.



Richard Rabel Dallas home Renovation Living Room 2

Custom furniture from Kravet rests on a subdued colored, hand-woven Nepalese silk and wool rug with hints of gray, blue, yellow and cinnabar that relate to the inside of the 19th century chinoiserie (japanned) cabinet in the corner. Under the watchful eye of an English 18th century gilt mirror, sculpture by Anita Huffington and Mike Cunningham share the antique English mantelpiece with a vintage Scandinavian cylinder. Contemporary sculpture adorns other parts of the room as well including a bronze piece by Tom Waldron on one of the sofa’s side tables and a cast iron knot by John Fick sits atop a concrete pedestal that commands attention from another corner of the room. The shagreen covered cocktail table in the center ads another layer of texture and color that helps ground the space. Inherited pieces of antique furniture are allowed to shine in a room that nods to the past while fully embracing the present.




Powder rooms are a great place to experiment with the unusual, and in this Dallas home renovation, I chose to run tile vertically on the feature wall to lend drama to a tight space. Slender sconces flanking a simple frameless mirror again guide the eye upwards. I love the contrast between the deep blue cabinets and the pale grey walls. The slate colored vein in the Bianco Bello marble counter picks up elements of both and seamlessly unites the space. The duVerre hardware on the vanity doors help complete the room.



Richard Rabel Dallas home Renovation Kitchen

The kitchen again combines the classical features that the client was seeking and will be as beautiful in ten or twenty years as it is today because it’s not uber trendy. The new cabinets were inspired by the 1939 originals but they have been updated with hidden pantry pull-outs, sleek hardware from duVerre and a hue of gray paint that works well with the rest of the room. One of my favorite places in the entire house is the kitchen breakfast nook that overlooks the garden. It was the perfect place to infuse color and comfort with accent throw pillows that work together with the Toile de Jouy upholstered Louis XV-style chairs and fabulous hexagonal Art Deco breakfast table and light pendant.

When I finish any project, I always look back and think of a dozen things I could have done differently, but that’s the curse of creativity! My clients were very specific in what they wanted and they came with a laundry list of family antique pieces that they wanted incorporated into the spaces. While I will always guide clients towards what I think they really are looking for in their new home, in the end, the look and style is theirs. I design for my clients, not for myself and it’s therefore a great compliment to me that this Dallas residential renovation and decorating project ended with spaces that really look and feel like the family that lives in them.

As a New York interior designer, I love to get out of the city and work in places like Dallas because they give me a fresh look at my own work and make me a better designer. In this second project in Dallas, I picked up a few tricks that ya’ll will see in future projects!

I’m terribly grateful to Siobahn Westphaler, Randy Price, Stephen Karlisch and Kevin Shortridge whose help in putting together this Dallas home renovation project proved to be invaluable. Thank you.

Some of my go-to art and decorating resources for this project include:

Dallas proper: B. Gover Ltd., Laura Lee Clark, Valley House Gallery, Joel Cooner Gallery, Mecox, J. Mackie, Kravet, Lee Jofa, Brunschwig & Fils, Napa Home, Interior Resources and Tatum Art Advisory.

McKinney, Texas – Historic District: Chase Hall, Patina Green Home and Unique Unique Design.

Others: Maison Gerard and Sotheby’s New York; 1stDibs, duVerre hardware


For better photos of this dallas home renovation and other selected art and interior design projects, kindly visit richard rabel: interiors + art.