CALL IT A REUNION AND COLLABORATION of ultimate design. Gwen Belle-Isle, formerly of GBI Designs in Dallas, was basking in semiretirement in Birmingham, Alabama, when she recently received an out-of-the-blue call from a former client who wanted to transform their home in the burgeoning area of Fairview, Texas. Belle-Isle had moved away from Dallas years ago and had not touched this old-world, Mediterranean-style home in more than a decade. “They wanted to completely start over, and I knew that I needed to partner with someone in the area that I trusted and respected, someone who had the pulse of the design community,” says Belle-Isle. Her first and only choice was Nicole Arnold, the president and principal designer of Nicole Arnold Interiors, a boutique residential and commercial design firm based in Dallas. The two women were introduced by their hairdresser when Arnold was just beginning her career and have called for one another’s help on projects when they worked alone. “I’ve always loved Nicole’s style and her ethical standards,” Belle-Isle says. “For the first time ever, she had an opening in her schedule, and I knew this was meant to be.”
The homeowners were so unhappy with the six-bedroom home that they initially considered moving, but the expansive, beautiful wooded lot that the house sits on had captured their heart. For a true reset, Arnold, and Belle-Isle suggested they host an estate sale to clear out the entire house. “They did it enthusiastically,” notes Belle-Isle. “In the end, we bought everything from the sheets to the L’Occitane products for the bathroom.” Previously, the home exuded an old-world, Mediterranean feel, with heavy furnishings, draperies, and architectural accents, so the designing duo set out to lighten and brighten the space, tearing down overpowering columns and mantels, and adding transitional furnishings and touches. “We took this home from Mediterranean to ‘Moditerranean,’” says Arnold, who adds that they paid extreme attention to every detail in every room of the house. “We didn’t short-cut any room.”
Of utmost importance to this client was a home boasting an elegant vibe—highlighting sophisticated furnishings without pretention and needing little to no maintenance. Throughout the house the designers incorporated performance fabrics that are sustainable for pets and children, offering elegant ease that transitions from outdoor to indoor. They also focused heavily on the convenience factor, bringing the home deep into technology with media seating for a true media room, custom motorized shades in every room, TVs that reveal with a simple push of a button, and even desks that transition from a standing to seated position. Of course, you can’t have convenience without some glamour, and a former sitting room that was converted into a dressing room will make any woman’s eyes pop with envy. The to-die-for closet features power rods that float down for easy reach, a dressing mirror with wings that fold in and LED lights that change colors, a bench covered in couture fabric for distinctive perching, decadent carpeting and tons of shoe storage.
Making an Entrance
A modest yet modern approach is immediately felt in the entry hall and living room, where there are fewer furnishings but ample statement pieces, such as huge chrome floor lamps and an eye-catching emerald rug embellished with a climbing leopard, designed by fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg, that seems to invite you to move from the entryway to the living room. Formerly overpowering columns were reduced by a stonemason, so the rooms now feel streamlined, and a crystal chandelier from the Aerin Lauder Lighting Collection punctuates the living space and is accentuated by draperies dangling from acrylic rods. “The crystal, glass, and acrylic in this room are all in juxtaposition with the black lacquer side table, velvet chairs and piano,” points out Arnold. The team also made sure the entry hall stood out with a staircase covered in a plush, tone-on-tone animal print carpet. One of the biggest feats? Belle-Isle ensured that a grand piano, a sentimental family treasure, was carefully transferred from Alabama, and it now sits front and center in the living room. In its previous life, the old room was never used. Now, the family has a better place to entertain, with music floating throughout the home, thanks to a self-playing feature.
Designed to Dine
In the dining room, a striking Palladian arched window presents unobstructed views of that beautifully landscaped yard that the homeowners love so much. The designers opened up the room, removing heavy draperies and swapping them with drapes that emphasize the groin-vaulted ceiling made with mosaic tiles of travertine and onyx. A large acrylic chandelier extends the room’s airiness, and the designers, once again, purposely kept the room uncluttered with simple, refined touches. Furniture is richly upholstered in couture fabric and spotlights Arnold’s signature style of covering furniture in two different fabrics. “One of my favorite design tactics is to cover the exterior of a chair in a feature fabric with a more durable fabric on the interior,” Arnold explains. Other standout details include a hand-knotted rug enveloped in ginkgo leaves and woven with lustrous gold fibers, and a custom floral centerpiece starring delicate pieces of agate in a modern vase and orchids stabilized with airy acrylic rods.
Move on to the master bedroom, where the homeowners wanted to reflect the gentleman’s love for the outdoors and sporting interests, and the designers managed to incorporate that outdoor feeling with elegant touches. “We think of this as Ralph Lauren meets the Ritz,” quips Arnold about the mingling of differing styles. The bedding and shades are made of exclusive Donghia fabrics in a contemporary graphic pattern, while a faux shagreen covers the front drawers of the nightstands and ottomans sport a suede pillowtop affixed with leather buckles for an equestrian feel. Chairs partially covered in hides, matching crystal lamps and a towering traveler’s palm offer visual weight so that the expansive room feels full but smartly neat. In the master bathroom, the designers kept the existing inlay onyx flooring and countertops from Rioja, Spain, but added expansive mirrors and light fixtures for a more modern feel.
The designers embraced the woman’s love for blush in a second bedroom, which is now a luxurious oasis splashed in colors of deep rose and mixed textures like metallics, velvet, alabaster, and crystal. Artwork enhances the feminine feel to the room, while a chandelier dripping in crystal clusters steals the show. “It’s the perfect punctuation of the room,” says Arnold.
The homeowners now spend most of their time in the reimagined family room that’s adjacent to the kitchen and offer easy access to the pool. Arnold and Belle-Isle gave extra attention to trending window treatments to boost those coveted outdoor views, and they draped chairs in dreamy Thibaut fabrics and added an antelope-print fabric on swivel chairs. When a statement-making blue wool rug wasn’t large enough for the room, they used design-forward thinking to reposition it over a larger sisal rug to create texture and contrast. The room also glimmers with green glass lamps by John-Richard perched on the cabinets. “They tell us each time we’re there how much they love every room,” says Arnold. And those old thoughts of moving? “They want to stay here long enough for another update in the future,” she says.
Angela Caraway-Carlton is a Miami-based freelance writer, travel and lifestyle expert, and television producer. Her works have appeared in Indulge Magazine, Time Out, Elysian, Aventura, South Florida Luxury Guide, and Modern Luxury Weddings South Florida & the Caribbean. Caraway-Carlton has covered lifestyle trends in South Florida and beyond for more than a decade.