Crescent City Comfort

by | Mar 26, 2020 | At Home, Current Issue, Mar/Apr 20 | 0 comments

Northside home is steeped in cozy French design

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Two custom couches built by San Antonio furniture maker Mark Maron, covered in luscious mocha velvet from Schumacher Fabrics, face off in front of a limestone fireplace with a rusty iron screen. The spaces beside the working wood fireplace were just voids that are now custom bookshelves to display not only books, but an array of keepsakes. They tell a story of a Texas family, as does a fireside milk can that holds old branding irons salvaged from a family ranch. Rather than the usual chunky oak coffee table, the glass-topped acrylic table offers a touch of contemporary lightness to the seating area.

Five years ago, Melissa Branch and her husband Warren, a local dentist, decided their house in Olmos Park was too big for them and their two black Labradoodles, Indie and Jack. They set out to find a home that was a little more intimate.

“My only criteria was that I didn’t want a cookie-cutter home,” Branch, retired from 34 years in the energy sector, recalled recently. “I never thought we’d end up in Oakwell Farms.”What they found, walking down a stone pathway through a gas lit courtyard to double wooden front doors, was a taste of Old New Orleans in north San Antonio.“We came in, and I immediately went, ‘This is it.’ It was very European,” Branch, who is this year’s Battle of Flowers Parade chairwoman, said of the faux-finished plaster walls, oak floors inset with Spanish limestone and 13-foot ceilings. “It was very warm, and there was nothing like it down the street.”

With an equestrian center abutting a large back yard where water trickles down a stone patio waterfall into a fishpond, “It felt like it was in the country,” she said. “It’s great on cold mornings when the horses are out, a little frisky, and you can see their breath.”

Built in 2000, the 4,028 square-foot, two-story home features four bedrooms, including a cozy, hideaway courtyard casita, and 4 1/2 baths on a quarter-acre lot. It’s a limestone structure with a hipped metal roof and bluish-gray garage doors and shutters.

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A French country kitchen wouldn’t be complete without massive iron pot rack suspended over a wood island with stainless steel top custom-built by Melissa’s father. The faux-finished walls, distressed cabinetry, and rough-edged granite countertops add to the feel of Provence. The built-in wine rack at back left is a perfect place to store Branch’s collection of cookbooks. The painting on the right is a portrait of a 3-year-old Melissa in a family-christening gown, painted by her grandmother.

“It just felt very French Quarter to us,” Branch said.

Branch called on local designer Meagan Lewis to help with the interiors.

“We just wanted to go French country chateau,” Lewis said.

They mixed custom pieces with family heirlooms, keying off the wall finishes and distressed cabinetry that echo Provence style in soft creams, browns, and grays, with a hint of muted aquas.

“We worked with what we had,” Lewis said. “I’d say it’s very high/low. There’s Pottery Barn and Pier One and Restoration Hardware, mixed with custom pieces of furniture and lots of Turkish Oushak rugs. The philosophy was what-you-like.”

The first floor is basically a large open room, with one wall separating the kitchen and dining room.

The dining area is just off the foyer, dominated by a large, glass-paned hutch, stocked with at least three sets of china, including delicate Belleek Irish pieces handed down from Branch’s grandmother.

A rustic, 8-foot dining table with a thick, unfinished wooden slab top extends for larger parties — “We’ve had up to 22 people here for holidays,” Branch said — while a doorway with decorative iron gates at one end of the dining room leads to a bar with pickled cabinetry in browns, taupes, and grays.

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The bar, in turn, leads into a kitchen dominated by a massive iron pot rack over a sturdy wooden island with stainless steel countertops — built by Branch’s father — and a brick, wood-fired rotisserie oven.

“I do love to cook,” Branch said. “And this kitchen inspires me.”

Open space is key to the comfort and conviviality of the home, with the kitchen looking out over a wide bar onto a large living area dominated at one end by a limestone fireplace, flanked by custom bookshelf units Lewis had built before the Branches moved in.

The living room features two seating areas, separated down the middle by a 200-year-old Shaker dining table with sides folded down — another family heirloom — that acts as a sofa table until it is called to dining duty for overflow holiday feasts. Cozying up to the limestone fireplace at one end of the room are two 8-foot sofas, custom-built by San Antonio furniture designer Mark Maron, upholstered in warm mocha velvet from Schumacher Fabrics.

“Growing up, my grandparents had velvet furniture, and I was always amazed at how durable it was,” Branch said. “And I love the way it ages.”

The glass-topped acrylic coffee table offers a touch of contemporary lightness to the seating area. “You’d think a big chunky wooden table would go there, but we wanted to keep it light and modern,” Lewis said.

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Guests are welcomed into a foyer with 13-foot ceilings and limestone flooring accented in the first of many Oushak Turkish rugs throughout the house. A refurbished accent chest provides ballast for the room, which features a repainted chandelier reflected in a gilded antique mirror. A painting of mother and child by Melissa Branch’s grandmother hangs on a limestone accent wall over a metal console table, setting the stage for the mix of family heirlooms and modern pieces found throughout the house.

The other, less formal sitting area features a campaign sofa with a deep seating area in an ivory textile, with an old trunk for a coffee table. A huge armoire holding a media center dominates the far wall opposite the fireplace, while two sets of French doors on the back wall open out onto a patio with outdoor kitchen and views of the fishpond — and those frisky horses.

“With its mix of new pieces and family heirlooms, I think the house really reflects the owners,” she said. “It’s unique to them. Everywhere you look, there is something that catches your eye, and there’s a story behind it.”

 

View Full Slideshow

Home dining
Guests are welcomed into a foyer with 13-foot ceilings and limestone flooring accented in the first of many Oushak Turkish rugs throughout the house. A refurbished accent chest provides ballast for the room, which features a repainted chandelier reflected in a gilded antique mirror. A painting of mother and child by Melissa Branch’s grandmother hangs on a limestone accent wall over a metal console table, setting the stage for the mix of family heirlooms and modern pieces found throughout the house
Home dining
Home art
Two custom couches built by San Antonio furniture maker Mark Maron, covered in luscious mocha velvet from Schumacher Fabrics, face off in front of a limestone fireplace with a rusty iron screen. The spaces beside the working wood fireplace were just voids that are now custom bookshelves to display not only books, but an array of keepsakes. They tell a story of a Texas family, as does a fireside milk can that holds old branding irons salvaged from a family ranch. Rather than the usual chunky oak coffee table, the glass-topped acrylic table offers a touch of contemporary lightness to the seating area.
Home art
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Wrought iron gates and a transom lead from the dining room into the bar.
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Home Living
A French country kitchen wouldn’t be complete without massive iron pot rack suspended over a wood island with stainless steel top custom-built by Melissa’s father. The faux-finished walls, distressed cabinetry, and rough-edged granite countertops add to the feel of Provence. The built-in wine rack at back left is a perfect place to store Branch’s collection of cookbooks. The painting on the right is a portrait of a 3-year-old Melissa in a family-christening gown, painted by her grandmother.
Home Living
Home Kitchen1
The story of winemaking - from crushing grapes to the inevitable hangover - are carved in relief into six cabinet doors in the bar, which is just off the kitchen and dining room. “It’s another of the touches that really made me fall in love with the house,” said the owner. “I just love the whimsicality of it.”
Home Kitchen1
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A rustic dining table dominates the dining room, just off the entry. The glass-paned hutch holds three sets of china, including delicate Belleek Irish pieces handed down from Branch’s grandmother. On the far back wall is a painting of a toddler. “It’s another family heirloom — that nobody else in the family wanted,” Branch said. “They had these traveling painters in the 19th century who had canvases with the body already painted, and then they would add your child’s face to them. We call it ‘the Crazy Baby Painting.’”
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Faux-finished walls glow golden in a courtyard casita, which offers guests a serene sanctuary with an antique sleigh bed outfitted in Bella Notte linens, an old trunk, and a bedside stair-stepped table that is a family heirloom.

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Home kitchen2
The master bedroom, with a door out to the patio, is dominated by a king-sized bed with a custom headboard upholstered in muted aqua fabric by Schumacher, outlined with antique bronze nail heads. The bench echoes the same fabric. The iron bedside lamps are from Pottery Barn, with new shades chosen by designer Meagan Lewis. The design throughout is a mix of "high/low," said Lewis, with pieces from Pottery Barn side-by-side with custom-built furniture, exclusive fabrics, and fine art. The Branches art collection also holds works hung in the home by San Antonio painters Brad Braune and Carolyn Korbell.
Home kitchen2
Home chair
A back, out-of-the-way staircase leads to two guest bedrooms upstairs, one of which is full of family relics, including Melissa Branch's grandparents' 70-year-old twin canopy beds (“the Lucy and Ricky beds”), a custom dollhouse Branch played with as a child, built by her grandparents, and an old dresser at right whose top is still marred by her grandmother’s cigarette burns. The framed Audubon bird artwork on the wall at left came from a book that Melissa recalls studying closely through with a magnifying glass as a child while she sat on her grandmother's lap. The aqua linen drapes feature exquisite embroidered tape.
Home chair
Home bedroom
White onyx countertops with gold veining add a touch of elegance to the master dressing area. The vanity stool was covered in a leftover fabric sampler that was just the right size.
Home bedroom
Home bathroom
The musical sound of water falling enlivens the patio, which features a three-tiered waterfall in slate and river rocks and bashful cherubs, cascading into a fishpond about the size of a pickup truck. The patio also features a large seating area and an outdoor kitchen.
Home bathroom

 

 

 

By Steven Bennett
Photography by Al Rendon

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