Fred and Jade Bettah bring to their sprawling, multilevel Alamo Heights home the unique blend of two cultures. Jade is originally from Portugal, and Fred is Lebanese though he came to San Antonio most recently from El Paso.
Jade arrived in the United States following the marriage of an aunt to an American military gentleman. “She missed her family and wanted as much of the family to come here as possible, so we came,” smiles Jade. Her parents and the majority of her fatherimmediate family made the sojourn and transition. Her maternal grandparents and all others in her mother’s family remained in Portugal, so visits to Europe are frequent.
The Bettahs have lived in the four-year-old house two years and have symbolically written their own signature in design and décor within the three floors of this most elegantly appointed home. It is a home that beautifully serves this family of four that includes daughter Francesca, age 8, and toddler son, Freddy, who turns 2 in March.
The structure of the home was meticulously designed by architect Don McDonald to sit within the confines of a large multilevel wooded lot. A previous house on the property was the boyhood home of San Antonio restaurateur Cappy Lawton. Though his home was razed, his room-sized childhood tree house remains. Painted a woodsy brown and accessed by a winding wrought iron staircase, it is a work of art in itself.
“There’s an interesting story behind finding this house,” notes Jade. “We had the last piece of undeveloped property in Olmos Park. It sat on three streets, and we were going to build (there) before we married. I had built a house before, and I know how frustrating it can be.
“My husband is so busy that I knew the majority of the work would be mine,” she laments with an understanding smile. It would be the natural choice, she acknowledges, because she does interior design work as a sideline. “But since we were planning a wedding, I would have been overwhelmed. Then we found this house, though it is a little smaller than what we wanted.” They have not looked back — just forward, as there are plans to extend one wing and add a pool at a later date.
The architecture is Mediterranean or reminiscent of a Swiss Alps resort, explains Jade, adding, “That’s what people seem to say when they walk through the house.”
She goes on to say, “My father-in-law lives in Lebanon, and he says it feels like his present home, which has beautiful mountains on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. Everybody has their own interpretation of the house and how they describe our home.”
Applying her expertise in interior design, Jade has created a very warm Old World ambiance. “Interior design is my passion,” says this busy homemaker, who quickly explains at present she primarily does design work for family and friends. Two lively youngsters are understandably her current priority.
Her philosophy of design in her own home is “traditional classic.” She explains, “I have gleaned much of the décor (plans) from traveling around the world. I think of my home as being eclectic traditional, and I try to make it as homey as I can.”
Architecturally, everything in the home is a custom creation, including all windows and doors. “Doors were made to look like they have been in place 75 to 100 years,” offers Jade. Woodwork for the most part is a soothing maple, while floors are pine. The rich maple and pine couple with native stone construction on the home’s exterior as well as throughout the interior.
Jade explains the arched niches found around the courtyard wall and the arches seen as architectural details throughout the home were inspired by those which graced the original wall that once spanned the length of the Olmos Dam. The arched niches of the Dam, part of a major flood control project completed in 1927, were centered with tiered electrical lanterns.
A few original arches are evident to this day in small remnants of the walls left in place adjacent to Olmos Park and Alamo Heights. Coincidentally, Jade gives a nod to the formerly illuminated niches as she places candles within her replicas surrounding the courtyard. A lyrical fountain centers the area.
The formal living room looks to that courtyard and is appointed with matching sofas in crocodile leather with a chenille base in the earth tones that dominate in most rooms. “I think they are very formal and masculine, but they are made with down,” observes Jade, “and are so comfortable that you just sink into them.” Pillows in rich fabrics are tossed about, and centering each sofa is a whimsical little stuffed fabric monkey from Lin Marche. “I love monkeys and have them throughout the house,” Jade says. “They are my favorite, and I pick them up in little places here and there. These (on the sofas) are the “prince and princess’ and on the master bed upstairs, I have the little “king and queen’.”
The coffee table from John-Williams Interiors holds a beveled glass top in a fluted design representing a simplified rococo revival style. The carved wooden base is painted silver and gold. The fireplace screen is Oriental and caught the eye of the homeowner for its muted hues — colors counter to bright shades usually found in Oriental art.
Draperies in yards and yards of sage French silk flow from the ceiling and are caught in graceful swags to reveal plantation shutters complementing the maple woodwork. Antique furnishings abound, but a special console is Italian and came from the antique store her father-in-law once owned in Florida.
Silver accent pieces confer a luster upon the room. Jade collects cut glass rose bowls of every size, and each glows with a romantic scented candle. A console from John-Williams Interiors holds several bowls placed at various heights. She says stands for the bowls are almost impossible to find any longer. To solve the dilemma, she purchases sturdy stands made for oversized pillar candles. They display her glass collection to perfection. Joining the mix is a crystal and silver chess set on a mirrored surface.
A cozy library is situated off the home’s foyer. It is served by two comfortable chairs flanking a table and ottoman. The room is Jade’s occasional escape. “It is a nice little private area in my home, and I really do utilize it,” says this busy mother of two. “I close the doors, and no one bothers me,” she laughs. Walls are faux-painted soothing green, and a small office space is a hidden surprise nearby.
The formal dining room with beamed ceiling showcases an Italian suite, including table, chairs and china cabinet that “have great meaning for my husband,” says Jade. The furniture came from the antique store her father-in-law once owned and was a special gift to Fred from his father. “It is hand-painted and, to me, absolutely priceless because it is so beautiful,” Jade adds. The colors include a dominant salmon hue, various pastel shades and gold. Chairs have a Louis XV influence.
A flower arrangement centering the table and those within conical sconces on the wall are from The Home Accessory Company, a favored shopping venue of Jade’s. Ninety percent of the home’s floral arrangements, accessories and throws are from that store, she says.
Centering the table, two fabric throws of silk and velvet offer iridescence in gold, burgundy, mustard and deep green. A Mediterranean chandelier illumines. Centering the room is a French knotted rug in pastel shades.
The master suite on the third level features a Henredon columned bed holding an arched iron canopy. The bed and two marble-top bedside chests are from the designer’s Amalfi Coast collection that features European designs with impeccable carving, marquetry and woods of olive ash burl, myrtle burl, pecan, French walnut and rare Russian walnut burl.
A velvet counterpane in dark coffee is joined by pillows in shades of cream, beige and taupe. A tiny touch of sparkle and color is seen in a small slate blue pillow. Built-in shelves hold family photographs.
The adjoining master bath is painted Ralph Lauren Olympic silver — a color choice found elsewhere in the home. Practical and forgiving unpolished granite serves the elegant room.
The master closet is actually larger than the bedroom, and Jade laughs as she recalls gatherings therein while friends tour the home — gatherings so comfortable guests fail to realize they are in the closet.
Freddy’s room is awash with murals wrapping him in vibrant and deeply hued scenes from Cirque du Soleil. Francesca’s room flows with yards of illusion in a zebra stripe. Happy hues of pale-to-hot-pink join purple in her room.
The first level holds the family room, originally intended to be a theater screening area. The floor is red brick, and furniture is upholstered in leather and suede. The coffee table, topped with glass, is a large primitive door from a Middle Eastern church. Framed family photos are clustered on one wall. A jukebox offers fun, and Fred’s ample wine cellar, a hobby of his, is nearby. “It is our place for being with friends and with each other,” confides the homeowner.
A state-of-the-art kitchen with stainless steel appliances anchors the second level and is at a right angle to the formal living room. Both areas look to the courtyard. A work island, which offers seating as well, is made from a 15-foot wooden bowling alley that came from a small South Texas community bowling center. Two light fixtures with custom hand-blown glass shades in a tiger print hang overhead.
Glass-front cabinets in steel gray are French in design, says Jade. Countertops are polished granite. A highly decorative French chest purchased in a Boca Rotan antique shop sits adjacent to Freddy’s toddler table and chairs.
The kitchen is extremely important to this homemaker. “I always cook a meal every day,” she exclaims. “I love to cook. That is my forte, and my Mom was so good at it. Everyone is moving so fast and times are so chaotic that it is important to sit around the table, eat a big home-cooked meal and say, “How was your day?'”
Author: Kay McKay Myers
Photographer: Al Rendon