MARY ANNE SMILEY IS KNOWN for an exuberant use of color throughout all her projects. No color used judiciously, is too bright or too bold to work in her statement interiors.
For the daughter of a longtime client who entrusted Smiley with an entire house redo, the interior designer willingly opted for pristine white walls and neutral furnishings. Because, as much as she loves color, she’s equally passionate that great art collections deserve their own spotlight.
The “very open, very streamlined” contemporary is the second home Smiley has done for this couple; the first she describes as a “mid-century glam” in Highland Park. Two children later and with changing tastes, they were looking for something different.
They settled on a North Dallas house built in 2015, designed by Dick Clark + Associates and built by Rusty Goff of Goff Custom Homes. “It’s got such great acreage in back, where the boys can play and the dogs have plenty of running space,” Smiley says. Combined with lots of windows and gallery-sized walls, they knew it was the kind of house built for active family life and their growing art collection.
That commitment to art is evident even before entering the house. The exterior features new landscaping by Bonick Landscaping. Materials are a mixture of steel, wood, stone, rock face and concrete for nuanced textures. The front door is nestled into the left bottom of a two-story entrance that says both welcome and wow. Stacked, horizontal floor-to-ceiling windows showcase two large-scale works of art that are strikingly visible from outside.
An upper gallery holds a collage made of repurposed billboard canvas by Jason Willaford of Galleri Urbane. Willaford paints the canvas cuts it up, sew pieces together and then assembles it for a textured effect on the wall. “It’s almost 3-D graffiti,” says Smiley. “That’s the look we were after. Then we wanted something in the window downstairs that would tie in color-wise but not conflict with it. That was really important to creating the entrance.”
Smiley and the couple chose Austin artist Meredith Pardue’s Orchestral Rainbow V from Laura Rathe Fine Art for the downstairs entry. It sets the tone that says this is a house that’s serious about art but refuses to be stuffy about it. Two Edward Bohlin parade saddles, hand-carved and covered in sterling silver, and Lakota Living Water, a painting by California artist R.S. Riddick, complete a sophisticated mix of art mediums in the entry.
Throughout the house, the sense of openness prevails. The heart of the lower floor is a combined living room, dining room, and kitchen. In the living room, Living Landscape sofas by Walter Knoll from Scott + Cooner are covered in durable indoor-outdoor white Perennials fabric and can face either the fireplace wall or swivel toward the outdoor space. A pair of black Eames loungers with ottomans adds classic sophistication. Together the black-and-white contrasts provide grounding for the painting by Dallas artist Christopher Martin that the couple brought from their previous house. “It was one of her first artist acquisitions,” Smiley says.
On the dining room wall, above a long console, is a series of detail shots taken by the homeowner as a young girl. They depict close-ups of a horse she grew up with. A picture she took of the horse was restored, and the features were blown up to create the black-and-white series.
A modern custom dining table was created out of a slab of iridescent labradorite stone that sits on a smoky acrylic base from Allan Knight. Saarinen dining chairs by Knoll in neutral wool with leather seats and cording complement the materials mix in the living room while still providing an open feel. The Chaos chandelier by Y Lighting was chosen for its commanding sculptural presence and to unite the elements in the large room. “The owner wanted all the backgrounds to be luxurious but simple so the art could pop,” says Smiley.
That design manifesto continues in the stairwell, where an installation by El Paso artist Adrian Esparza, from Cris Worley Fine Arts, shows the intricate, geometric patterns created from repurposed threads from a single serape. The threads are stretched across nails to create the piece, which is 164 by 82 inches. The look is both airy and vibrant. As in the other rooms of the house, a chandelier helps to combine art, light and solid textures. “Each ball is shaped differently,” Smiley says of the Melt pendant by Tom Dixon from Scott + Cooner. “Your eye sees the piece of art and that leads you right to the chandelier. It’s very organic and creates a line from the art to the outside and back inside.”
The master bedroom is the home of another R.S. Riddick piece from the owner’s family, a landscape with a vivid blue sky titled Special Kind of Freedom. The single-unit platform bed is from Roche Bobois and features a leather headboard with built-in nightstands. A blue silk duvet appears to be in conversation with the art while providing a luxurious touch to the room. Classic Barcelona chairs were updated in white leather for an understated glam finish.
The sense of style wasn’t confined to the adult spaces in the house. Upstairs, the owners and Smiley converted what had previously been a bedroom for triplet girls into a boys’ playroom. A sectional from Roche Bobois provides plenty of hangout space facing a wall of screens for video games and TV. Carpet tiles are easy to maintain, and huge closets are tucked behind no-reveal doors for ample storage.
“There are a pinball and a dart machine, and all the furniture can be reconfigured endlessly,” Smiley says. “Practicality and wearability are important to the homeowner, and the result is streamlined simplicity mixed with high design.”
While it is true that Smiley and the owner usually went for simple and clean oversaturated colors in the furnishings, they did have a little fun now and then. The owner’s favorite color is red (she went to Oklahoma University, Smiley explains), so where there is color, it’s often red. And then there’s the elevator, papered in a fun, whimsical pattern, Lips on Van Gogh Blue by Voutsa.
“Everyone says not to put the master bedroom on the second floor,” Smiley says, “but when you put in an elevator that issue goes away.” The print was repeated on seating in the owner’s closet. “In general, we didn’t go for a lot of fuss, but when we did do fuss, it had to be really playful, artsy and fun.” About that closet: Smiley and the owner cleverly problem solved what to do with two dining room cabinets from the couple’s previous house that weren’t going to the new dining room. Voila! They are now display cabinets for the owner’s luxury evening bag collection.
Other collections abound guitars, football jerseys, kids’ art. A hallway wall near the children’s rooms features a painting of James Dean atop a George Nelson Marshmallow sofa from Herman Miller. Smiley says, “We wanted to keep it as simple as possible, with the most white space around, so that the house does not feel busy, but very, very sleek.”
Smiley is adamant about one thing. She advises with all her heart to resist the urge to curate kids’ art. “It makes me sad when people throw away their children’s art,” she says. “It’s like pure art. Many children lose interest in art. I don’t know why, or if it’s because of peer pressure or teachers not knowing how to encourage them. At some point, we start being told about what we should and shouldn’t do. Every child has that love of doing art in them when they are young.”
That’s why Smiley created a special gallery wall just for framed art by the owners’ kids. “We know this wall is going to fill up. We hope they’ll continue to love it. It’s just where art begins, right there,” she says.
Freelance writer and editor Connie Dufner is a proud Texan transplant living in Washington, D.C. She is a former editor for Modern Luxury Dallas and The Dallas Morning News who has been covering interiors journalism since 2001.