When Houston designer Sherrell Neal first set eyes on the 1997 house she and her husband would call home, “it needed a lot of updating,” admits the designer. Luckily, though, “my husband and I both being in the design industry, we could see a lot of potential.”
The biggest issue with the home—besides some “very old school Texas” ornate wallpapering in places as unlikely as the bathroom—was its awkward layout: “There were a lot of weird angles, and kind of nightmare corners,” laughs Neal. Plus, she says, “there’s nearly no storage.”
For the designer and her husband (who works for designer favorite lighting source Visual Comfort), “function, in addition to design, is always really important,” she says. So, without undertaking a complete gut renovation, Neal set out to turn a wonky layout with outdated design choices into a layered, welcoming home that works as well as it looks pretty. Step inside to see how it all came together.
The home’s layout challenges begin right in the entry—though you wouldn’t know it seeing the finished product. “When you walk in, immediately there’s a corner wall, and there’s not really a gathering space,” Neal says. Her solution? An elegant bench that’s practical for shoe removal with a large-scale artwork that provides some grandeur and introduces the color palette of the home (especially important because several additional rooms are visible from this space).
Neal found the bench for under $100 at a local antique store, then stripped and gesso-finished it and upholstered it in a bold purple. “It makes it a little fresh, a little new, and kind of mixes that traditional with a little bit more of a contemporary feel,” she explains. The art, an abstract work from Wendover, packs punch with a single canvas. “Because it’s so small there’s only so much we could do, and I just thought this would be a really easy introduction into what to expect in the rest of the house,” Neal says.
In a hallway off of the entry, existing niches in the wall made for the perfect place to hang a mixed media work by artist Lillian Blades, comprised of a series of frames sourced from across the American South. “My husband bought it for me as a birthday gift because he knew I’d love the meaning behind it,” Neal says. “And I just love how the light hits it throughout the day.”
The modern/traditional mix continues in the dining room, where a chandelier by Julie Neill was the jumping-off point. “Julie is a great friend of ours, and she gifted us this incredible piece when we bought the house,” Neal shares. “I just loved how abstract it is and the feel of the plaster.” To build off of this, Neal hung a temporary wallpaper (found at Lulu & Georgia but now sadly discontinued) that mirrors the chandelier’s branches, then topped it with another more modern, abstract canvas from Wendover. The chairs are Schumacher and the table is a limited-edition sample she scored on sale because it reminded her of a Jansen piece. “The traditional table and Louis chairs offset that abstract art,” she explains.
In the living room, a television is ingeniously hidden behind a large Paule Marrot print from Natural Curiosities, preventing an ugly black screen from taking over the space (especially since it’s open to the kitchen).
“I wanted to offset a lot of the softness in here with something really strong and abstract,” Neale says. The softness in the rest of the room is pulled from the color story in the entry painting, with a custom sofa upholstered in beige Suzanne Kasler stripe from Lee Jofa and swivel chairs covered in a light blue. The custom light fixture was designed to feel like a rain shower.
“I love color and I love pattern but I can definitely live in a tone-on-tone space,” says Neal. “I think there’s something so calming and kind of romantic about it.” That was the credo in the bedroom, which envelops its inhabitants with soft textures. “I really just wanted this space to bring our blood pressure down,” laughs Neal. “We are busy people, so just to have a sanctuary of our own was what really drove the color palette for this space.”
At 16 x 19 feet with an oversized bay window, the room gave Neal plenty to work with. “The size allowed me to try to elevate the room from a proportion perspective, like adding that bed canopy,” the designer says of the oversized headboard and surround. “And I just kept the colors really, really neutral so it doesn’t feel like things are screaming at you and everything has a presence in here.”
“The shower was literally the size of a closet, it was so little, and it had a huge corner tub,” Neal says of the bathroom before. By rearranging—and putting the tub in the center—she was able to fit both a sizable shower and tub. Towers surrounding it make for much-needed storage.
“When I travel,” Neal adds, “I always take mental notes of the little things that the boutique hotels incorporate into their spaces that just make you feel like you’re at home even though you’re not home.” One of those luxury details? Baseboards custom cut from white Carrara marble to match the tile. “I just really went all out in this bathroom,” she laughs.
“This was the first room I designed fully, before touching anything else in the house,” Neal says of this guest room, which is swathed in Brunchwig & Fils’s Talavera wallpaper. “The wallpaper was the perfect jumping-off point,” she says. “In the silver color way, it has this shiny reflection when the light hits it.” This iridescence is complemented with shades of lavender and wisteria. Neal had her workroom reupholster an existing headboard—and extend it, so that it’s still visible behind stacks of pillows and large Euro shams.
“I love a stripe, so this was a really fun room to make use of a blue ticking stripe,” Neal says. To accommodate this room’s small size, the designer created a built-in bookcase with a banquette (whose seat lifts to reveal additional storage for spare linens). “I wanted the room to accommodate sleeping, but also have this secondary vignette,” she says. “It adds a little bit and gives a place to work on a laptop or just read a book and have coffee.”
Neal completely gutted this bath and designed the custom, floating cabinet in a bold blue (Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue). “It’s pretty, but also functional,” Neal says of the cabinet, which provides much needed storage since, she says, “we only have one storage closet in the whole house!” She covered the entire wall in cut marble, noting: “It has this slight blue tone, which I found really whimsical.”
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