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By Rhonda Reinhart | Photo: Nathan Schroder | October 29, 2015
Home is where the art is for an extended family in Highland Park.
Mike Mousel’s client was ready to get serious about collecting art. He was so serious, in fact, that when he enlisted Mousel to help him and his family decorate their newly renovated Highland Park home, he initially wanted to spend 80 percent of the budget on art and only 20 percent on furnishings. “I thought, OK, this is a challenge,” the Dallas-based designer says. “How am I going to help him understand that furniture can be considered art too?” To add to the challenge, the homeowners, who have a son in high school and a daughter in eighth grade, had mostly oversize furniture that didn’t fit their house. “They had the big leather couch. They had a lot of man-cave stuff,” Mousel says. “It was all the wrong scale. That was the biggest problem.”
Then Mousel heard some of the most encouraging words a designer can hear from a client: “He says, ‘I know I probably need to get rid of all of this. I’m not attached to any of it.’” And with that, the house became a clean slate and the two sides of the budget became a little bit closer to balanced.
“I think we ended up at probably about 60/40 when it [came] down to art versus furniture,” Mousel says. “He just really wanted to collect and build. He believes in Texas art; he believes in Latin American art and local art. And then he also wanted antiquities.”
So Mousel and his client, an entrepreneurial engineer and small business owner looking for his next venture, set about on their art-gathering quest. “We did a lot of research,” the designer says. “He took me around to galleries that he liked. I took him to galleries that I liked. It was very cool for me because there were over 30 pieces that I curated for them. It’s a wonderfully diverse beginning collection.”
Mousel sprinkled the mix of abstract paintings, realistic pieces, photography and pre-Columbian figures throughout the house, careful to keep the surroundings free of anything overly decorative so that the artwork would shine no matter where it was placed. In the living room, a brightly colored piece by Sam Reveles holds a prominent spot over the fireplace, which is fronted by a calm mix of neutral furnishings, including a split-arm Dunbar sofa reupholstered in a Jasper fabric and a pair of Dunbar swivel chairs in mohair. A small painting by Dallas artist Mary Tomás adds a dash of color to the room.
In the mostly white kitchen, a large-format abstract by Johannes Boekhoudt stretches almost floor to ceiling, creating a chaotic but mesmerizing focal point. “I wanted to do something really artful and fun and unexpected in their kitchen because it’s such a joyful place in their house,” Mousel says. It’s where the family gathers when busy schedules allow. Plus, everyone in the house loves to cook, including the kids and the husband’s mother, who moved in with the family after the renovation.
Elsewhere in the home you’ll find a painting from David Bates’ emotional Hurricane Katrina series, a realistic oil on panel by emerging artist Sarah Williams and a surrealist canvas by Puerto Rican painter Carlos Cancio. Several pieces in the collection, including a Lee Baxter Davis drawing in the study, came from the estate of Sonny Burt and Bob Butler, a pair of famed Dallas art collectors who spent several decades amassing an impressive collection of Texas artists. The homeowners appreciated that proceeds from the estate go to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. They liked that the art was going to local people and that the money was coming back to the city, Mousel says.
As for the furniture-as-art idea, they scored big there too. Noteworthy pieces include a rare Dunbar swivel tub chair in original leather, a credenza designed by Finn Juhl for Baker that is only one of a pair known to exist, and a 1950s walnut dresser with 14K gold hardware. The latter item, designed by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, is a showpiece in the master bedroom.
“This was just a fun, great project,” Mousel says. “One, I love art. Art is what separates somebody’s house from somebody else’s. The fact that I got to curate that art with them made it such a fantastic job. And he’s ready to go again. He just wants to continue to add to his collection.”