It takes a special talent to look at an old house and see possibilities. The Monte Vista neighborhood, one of the largest and oldest historical districts in the United States, has its share of beautiful renovations. Here and there, though, there are structures whose inhabitants appear to lack the imagination or the drive to breathe new life into aging walls. Down one tree-lined avenue there is an old stone house that found a woman willing to revive it. Lobie Stone saw the bungalow for what it was and what it could be.
“The outside wasn’t bad, but the interior was awful at first sight,” she remembers. “The windows were covered with heavy drapes and blinds, and it was dark and gloomy. The front door opened into the living room, but you’d never realize it because the owner had set up these terrible screens, creating a cramped foyer that led you into a wall. The wall-to-wall carpeting was awful, and the kitchen was hideous.” On the plus side, the bungalow did have high ceilings and a good floor plan. The front porch offered possibilities for cozy socializing. The small house out back could serve any number of purposes, from an office or library to a studio rental. The neighborhood also had a very friendly feeling about it.
But what the house really had going for it was Stone herself, because as a designer and a painter, she has a way with antiques and renovations. The Monte Vista home was ready for both. “The day I closed on the house, I walked through and ripped off all the dusty blinds and window coverings,” she says. Over time, she made other changes. The carpets were ripped out and the wood floors restored. All the walls were retextured with a hand-troweled finish so they’d imitate plaster and cover imperfections. “And then I filled the walls with sunshine colors,” she recalls.
A LIFE OF ART AND COLOR
The sunshine colors are no surprise to anyone acquainted with Lobie Stone. She trained as a painter, graduating from the University of Minnesota with a finearts degree, and spent a year working in painting and photography in Paris. She returned to the United States to take up a business career in New Orleans, making several moves to other cities for jobs I in various financial arenas. But she continued heeding her artistic talent, designing interiors for friends and family.
When she relocated to San Antonio, she opened Lobie Stone Design Studio, a design studio and independent art-consulting business located on the edge of downtown on the San Antonio River. “I think my background as a painter helps me because my training taught me about color, scale, proportion, light and volume — all the elements you need as a painter, you also need as a decorator,” she says. “At the same time, all my education in art history fuels my desire to find the right art for my clients’ homes and offices.”
She doesn’t discount her business background. “I was an oil trader and a stockbroker for many years,” she says. “My strong business background helps me tremendously in understanding the needs of my commercial clients as well as the importance of bringing in a project on time and on budget.” In her free time, Stone uses her leftand right-brain skills to raise money for Artist Foundation of San Antonio, a foundation that provides grants for individual San Antonio artists. She also serves on the board of the Friends of the McNay Art Museum.
PACKED WITH PANACHE
Stone combines fabrics, furniture and color with a style that is all her own. “I believe in mixing periods,” she comments. “My antiques are interspersed with contemporary art. I never buy anything in sets because it’s the mixture that brings life to a room.” Her living room is a great example of her artistic panache. Two Italian sconces flank a large Louis XV mirror that reflects the golden walls defining the space. A big wooden corner cabinet on the opposite wall, made by Stone ‘s seventh-great-grandfather in Virginia in the late 18th century, has been passed down through generations to her. Perched on top of the cabinet are two large woven baskets she brought back from her travels to South Africa. The painted leather screen in the corner is from New Orleans, and the colorful painting over the living room fireplace was purchased in Vietnam. An Asian influence is detected in the black lacquer coffee table in front of the comfortable golden-colored sofa.
The sofa itself is local in origin and practical by purpose. “All my upholstered pieces are custom-made, with downfilled cushions,” Stone says. “In any design project, I always incorporate one sofa with a bench seat. Bench seats are easier to keep clean and much more comfortable to nap on!” The sofa lamp is a real attention-grabber. It’s a statue of a cherub holding an artist’s palette and brush, bought in homage to her mother, an accomplished painter. “I bought two and gave one to my sister, so we both have something that brings a smile to our faces,” Stone says. “I put a sheepskin shade on this one to make it a little less formal. I think you need a little bit of funk or whimsy in every room.”
A wide archway leads to the dining room, washed in sunshine by a wall of windows. The centerpiece of the room is a large round table, lighted by a treasured Russian crystal chandelier that Stone found in Germany. “The chandelier has moved from house to house with me because it is such a special piece,” she says. The round table seats eight; its shape is crucial to the room’s traffic flow. “Because we walk through the dining room to get to the kitchen, a rectangular table wouldn’t work in here,” she points out. “The round shape facilitates traffic, particularly when I entertain. It’s a very convivial shape; no one is left out of a conversation because of where they are sitting.” The subdued furnishings of the dining room bespeak elegance and allow the artwork to shine. A painting of two women at a Haitian fruit stand by British artist Ivor Weiss, with whom Stone’s mother studied, hangs over the sideboard. The sideboard is a Mississippi piece from the 1850s, discovered in New Orleans; the small 19th-century chest came from Virginia. The big bronze-colored Buddha that sits atop it is from Texas.
“I found the Buddha in a decorator shop,” Stone says. “I am always inspired by the peacefulness I find in it.” An iron console opposite the Buddha holds a bowl containing art postcards. Taking pride of place over the table is a painting of sailboats at dock, done by Stone’s mother.
A KITCHEN DISASTER
A tour of the galley kitchen brings back a flood of memories. “This room had Coca-Cola-red cabinets,” she groans. “The backsplash was of broken pottery set in cement. The laminate countertops were mauve and teal, swirled together. It was quite a sight!” The floor was a challenge, too. “At one time, the kitchen must have been half the size it is now,” Stone says, “because there were two floors, as though part of the room had been a porch. We had to take both of them up before I could lay new tile.” Stone painted the bright red cabinets creamy white, replacing wooden panels with glass panes. She used white tiles, handmade in Mexico, for the backsplash and replaced the laminate countertops with white Carrera marble. A small café table with two chairs sits in a sunny corner beneath another sparkling chandelier. A massive French armoire beside the table opens to reveal a bar setup. The master bath also was in bad shape when Stone bought the house. “The floor had rotted out around the toilet. I had to gut the whole room,” she recalls. She retrofitted an antique bureau with a sink, hanging a gilded mirror above it, and added sconces from New Orleans for lighting.
“The mirror is the same one that was on the old medicine cabinet that originally hung over the sink,” Stone says. “I removed it from the cabinet and reframed it with a gilded frame found in a local antiques shop.” Small white Mexican tiles form the shower walls, interrupted by a small window. An oval-shaped rod allows the translucent shower curtain to encircle the entire shower, offering privacy while leaving the window uncovered for natural light. And, of course, there is a small chandelier in here, too — “because no room should be without one!” Stone exclaims. The master bedroom is painted a cool green with white crown molding for accent. The colors are taken from another of her mother’s paintings that hangs in the bedroom, this one of a waterfall. The green also brings the colors of nature into the room, creating a tranquil atmosphere.
A big iron bed anchors the space. The French settee at the foot of the bed is upholstered in old bed linens from Paris. The Sheraton ladies’ writing desk provides display space for family photos, as does the Georgian chest. The crystal lamps on the chest are heirlooms from Stone’s grandmother; the mirror that hangs behind them is an antique, too. The bedroom belonging to Stone’s daughter, Lyndsey, is done in pink, white and lace. Yet another crystal chandelier hangs in the center of the room; this one came from a flea market in Seabrook, Texas. The small chest of drawers is a family piece, lovingly painted by Stone’s mother. Botanical prints grace the walls. The room is brightly lighted by a large bank of windows at one end of the room. The space feels crisp, clean and comfortable, feminine without being fussy. Stone uses the third bedroom as a den. “We call it the red room, because of the deep red color of the walls,” Stone says with smile. “We come here to relax and watch television.”
But no television is in sight. “We hide it in that big English linen press,” Stone says. “We keep family photos there, too.”
Across from the linen press is a small sofa. Over it hangs a large, colorful painting by noted San Antonio artist Bettie Ward. The painting appears to be suspended in space but is actually hung from an iron rod with monofilament fishing line. Stone designed the iron and limestone side tables that sit on either side of the sofa, commissioning local iron artist Robert Diaz de Leon to make the pieces. The tall lamps on the tables were made from candlesticks she purchased in Rome. A large ottoman covered in a Moroccan-inspired fabric serves as a coffee table in front of the sofa. A colorful antique Persian rug covers the floor, tying all the colors in the room together.
Storage in small homes can be challenging, but Stone solved the problem by integrating a small hall linen closet with her bedroom closet. The two were juxtaposed, making the renovation fairly simple. In the process, she was able to gain space for a stackable washer and dryer and make the bedroom closet more user-friendly. “Sometimes you have to think out of the box to get the space you need from the space you have,” she says.
Stone is justifiably proud of the work she’s done on the house. It’s been featured in several publications and in the Monte Vista Historical Association’s 2005 Home Tour, as well as filmed for HGTV.
In many ways, the house was a blank canvas when Stone bought it. Over time, she’s covered it with treasures from her travels and paintings from here and there, embellishing it with love from friends and family. The result is a true work of art.
Author: Robyn Barnes
Photographer: Al Rendon