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Now and Zen
Steve Carter | Photo: Charles David Smith | January 22, 2013
A collaboration in Dallas between architect Frank Welch, designer Paul Draper and savvy homeowners produces a one-of-a-kind modern temple.
A perfect home is a rara avis indeed. But once in a while, a dream team of disciplines comes together on a project so impeccably that the resulting gestalt is palpable. “We’d never built a house before,” Bill Ward recalls, “but everyone I talked to who has would tell me, ‘Well, I wish I’d done a four-car garage, or, I forgot this or that.’ We just don’t ever do that with this house.” His wife Cindy enthuses, “It’s just such a fabulous place to live, to be. It’s hard for us to go on a vacation because we feel like we’re on one all the time.” The Wards’ home is a hushed, contemporary classic in a parklike setting in the Devonshire neighborhood of Dallas and speaks volumes about great design, collaborative visioning, and mutual respect and affection amongst all the key players. Acclaimed Texas regionalist architect Frank Welch helmed the project, imbuing the design with his trademark elegant understatement. “I think houses should be rather quiet,” he maintains. “Someone recently paid me a great compliment when he said, ‘Your houses rest softly on the Earth.’ I love that.”
The Wards have been in the home for almost eight years, but their story dates back to the early ’70s, when they bought the house next door. They remodeled that Texas ranch-style house more than once, tweaking it to suit the needs of their family of four. But when the adjacent house hit the market, they bought it, doubling their property to about two acres. They razed that house and continued to live at their old residence while building the new one. Gallerist and friend Talley Dunn introduced the Wards to Frank Welch’s work, and a meeting was quickly arranged. “Frank came over, and we adored him right away—it was love at first sight,” Cindy says. “We gave Frank a list of the spaces we needed and then we gave him a list of the feelings that we meant to impart, like calming… we wanted a place where we could relax and have friends over and just enjoy it.” Welch weighs in, “Cindy’s said it’s sort of a restful refuge—that’s always appealed to me for a house.”
While Welch is renowned as a regional modernist, an irony of the Ward home is its quiet homage to Japanese design. Cindy acknowledges a Zen-like serenity that pervades the home and grounds, and Welch himself agrees: “It’s very subtle; it’s just an aroma of Eastern or Asian, but not anything specific.” Interior designer Paul Draper is a longtime student of Japanese design and art; that influence informs his predilection for natural material palettes and bare essential simplicity. One of Draper’s design cues for the home was Bill’s collection of bonsai trees; another was the Ward’s contemporary art collection, comprised largely of works by regional artists. Although Draper’s eclectic mix of appointments includes a mizuya, a large Japanese kitchen chest, in the living area, he says, “There’s a simplicity, and there’s a boldness to some of the art we helped them select, like the Richard Serra piece that’s in the living room. There might be associations with Japanese design, but there’s never anything literal.” Many of the furnishings are custom, designed by Draper himself and fabricated by Furniture Crafters.
All of the wood in the home is white oak—flooring, paneling, millwork and the striking stick ceiling that runs the length of the tripartite living area. That ceiling, a signature of both Welch and his architectural mentor O’Neil Ford, is a design motif that’s echoed in the horizontal slat window shades on the home’s exterior. Serendipitous sunlight through the slats creates shadow play, further reinforcing the exterior/interior unity. It’s subtle, but sound. “I don’t like to give it all away to the passerby on the street; I think a house ought to have a little mystery to it,” Welch comments. “I like that sense of surprise.” Some of the floors are fashioned of Arkansas flagstone, another unifying element that brings the outdoors in and the indoors out. Cindy says the 6,500-square-foot home is big for them now as empty nesters, but she adds, “We live in all of it.”
For her part, favorite areas include the screened- in porch, the office back porch, workout room, guest house and the ample storage throughout. Bill loves the living area, where Welch employed a favorite illumination source: a center skylight that bathes the rooms in light. “I love the openness and the light,” Bill Ward exclaims. “There’s times I’ll sit here and just stare up at the skylight. To me, the house is like living in a piece of sculpture; it’s just really, really neat.” Elite Homes of Dallas built the house, and the Wards and Welch himself rave about their contribution. “Elite’s John and Stephen Hardy are probably the best contractors in Dallas,” Welch says. “They’re able to do this kind of detail, all this exquisite work in here.” MESA landscape architect Mary Ellen Cowan was also on board, adding Japanese maples and ground cover to the already heavily wooded setting.
“It’s just the greatest house I’ve ever seen in my life,” Cindy says finally, “and all of Frank’s best attributes are here. This is more than we ever expected in our whole lives. We just say ‘thank you’ every day. I could talk about this house until midnight—and beyond!” she adds with a laugh.