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Let There Be Light

Austin interior designer Heather Blue Harkovich’s enlightened renovation changes a forbidding house from glum to glam.

A French Blue La Cornue Grand Palais stove and hood occupy pride of place in the kitchen, where Design Within Reach bar stools offer the best seating to watch what’s cooking.

“I have a thing for chandeliers,” says one of the homeowners of a Mediterranean-style house in a gated community west of Austin. Little did she know that her bling obsession would come in handy, or that chandeliers—such as the 16-tier extravaganza of glittering crystals that encompasses much of the ceiling in the 30-foot-wide entry—would be the linchpin of her change of opinion about the house. With the help of Austin interior designer Heather Blue Harkovich—who discerned the hidden beauty in the native stone structure—the homeowner turned a gloomy dwelling into a light-filled home for herself, her husband and their three children.

“I hated this house the first time I saw it,” says the wife. She and her husband—a race car driver and entrepreneur—had lived in Los Angeles for 12 years, in a house that she loved. If there was a polar opposite, it was certainly the five-bedroom, eight-bath residence in Austin that resembled a fortress. “It looked like it was built to withstand an invasion,” she recalls. The house also had a few things going for it: “My husband appreciated the craftsmanship.” And there were the three garages, plus another one the size of a high school gymnasium that was perfect for housing his seven vintage racing cars and 21 motorcycles.

The couple bought the house, although with such a lack of enthusiasm that they never lived in it. They put it back on the market after a year. But those garages were an amenity they couldn’t find anywhere else, so the couple changed their minds again, determined to keep the house and figure out how to brighten it up. “The layout wasn’t arranged to let the sun come in,” the wife says about the vast, double-height rooms with windows and French doors positioned on far walls. An entry opens to a library on the right, and to the left it stretches past a living area before opening onto a family room and kitchen. Other hallways traverse to the master suite and the media room (there’s even a secret passageway). Merely taming the dark hallway system would be a challenge. “I just wanted to make it French and light,” says the wife. A chance visit to Harkovich’s retail store, Heather Scott Home & Design, which is filled with the designer’s breezy, Hamptons-style furniture and accessories selections, convinced the couple that the designer was up to their challenge.

“The house was depressing,” admits Harkovich, who knew the fix. It would take eight months to banish the darkness, and Harkovich’s approach was somewhat unorthodox: She didn’t change the floor plan, move walls or add windows. Instead, she proceeded with a labor-intensive, low-impact plan that relied on editing and painting, and on making sure that every single surface somehow reflected light. The painstaking process got its power from the accumulation of tiny gestures; a silvery thread in a pillow, tiny rhinestone embellishments in a curtain and mirrored legs on a side table added up to a glamorous personality turnaround for the house.

A pair of sofas provides a place to sit in the library, just off the entry. Harkovich framed the double-height window with Schumacher’s python-print Serengeti silk panels, which serve as a backdrop for the dramatic Space Age version of a Murano glass chandelier.

“The first thing on my list,” says Harkovich, “was to get rid of the 300-plus heavy iron light fixtures, sconces and chandeliers.” Other things had to go too: Up came the dingy parquet floor in the family room, which Harkovich replaced with wide gray oak planks. Light-blocking mullions on every window were removed, as were complicated Moorish details on the wall and ceiling woodwork. “I just wanted it to look more modern,” says the wife. Then Harkovich painted nearly every linear inch of woodwork white. The walls got new life with a coat of light blue waxed Venetian plaster. The effect is a vibrant ambience that imbues every room with luminescence.

The pièce de résistance is the kitchen. Harkovich lit the center island with three outsize clear glass Moorish-style pendants, and switched the dark granite for white Calacatta marble. A new backsplash aglitter with hundreds of 1-inch-square iridescent glass tiles in a mother-of-pearl sheen invigorates the entire room and beyond. Across from the kitchen, two blue satin chairs, a velvet-upholstered sofa, metallic-laced curtains and a silk rug generate subtle sheen in the family room. Harkovich amped up reflective opportunities in the master suite too. There, curtains charged with metallic threads, two mirrored nightstands and headboard, a silk rug, and a chandelier empower the room with subtle sparkle. But the designer saved the best for last in the master bathroom, where the wall behind the sculptural tub shimmers with a ribbon-pattern marble-and-glass tile. Antiqued mirrored glass behind the wife’s vanity is the backdrop for an ornate Venetian glass mirror. 

The metamorphosis of this formerly doleful house to glitzy mansion is total, a reinvention that reminds the homeowner her first instincts were correct. “I felt like this house wasn’t in the right body,” she recalls. Now, thanks to Harkovich’s fearless pursuit of light and the homeowner’s love of all things sparkly, the two have brought the invasion-ready house out of the 17th century and into the bright light of the modern world.


Single-family house


Heather Blue Harkovich

Brent Allison

Dan Meyers

Amy Howard
Bed in master bedroom

Architectural Tile & Stone
Wall and floor tile in master bath

Binswanger Glass
Mirrored glass behind Venetian glass mirror in master bath

Design Within Reach
Bar stools in kitchen

Hickory Chair
Sofa in family room

Abrazo tub

La Cornue
Stove and rotisserie

Lee Jofa
Frosted Leaf silk curtains in master bedroom

Osborne & Little
Manzoni wallpaper in master bedroom

Shaws Original Fireclay farmhouse sink in kitchen, Perrin & Rowe Traditional Etruscan faucet in kitchen

Tile Circle
Mother-of-pearl tiles on kitchen backsplash

Rug in family room