A New House at the Old Address
Home gets traditional makeover — with a touch of zen
BY STEVE BENNETT
PHOTOGRAPHY BY AL RENDON
Becky Schmitt was feeling a little restless in her own home, a four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot, two-story in north San Antonio. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she knew the harvest gold and cherry-themed wallpaper in the kitchen had to go. Also, there was a lot of red, her favorite color, and a predominance of antiques. It was formal, not fun. She and her husband Steve, one of the city’s top prosthodontists, had lived there for 27 years, and they loved the green, tree-shaded Deerfield neighborhood, where they had raised their three children.
“I wanted a new house in my old home,” Schmitt said. Having just retired from a teaching career, she spent a lot more time in the house, for one thing, and then there were “the girls.” It was her turn to host an upcoming recurrent gathering of five cousins, all women, all … not exactly critical, but discerning.
“I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want,” Schmitt said. “I didn’t want cold, or too modern, or staged. I wanted uplifting and comfortable and cozy and warm.”
After consulting with local designers Jenny Maples of JM Design Group and Gina Roth of Abode Interior Design, the Schmitts got “a new home at their old address,” as Becky likes to say.
The kitchen is the heart of the house, with Taj Mahal Quartzite for the countertops from Stone Masters of Texas and handmade glass and limestone backsplash tile from Palmer Todd. Michael Edwards Cabinetry built the custom cabinets, while the lighting is by Hinkley.
The iron headboard and lamps are from Ballard Designs, while the bedside cabinets are old pieces given new life with cobalt-blue lacquer and added feet to raise them up. The bedding, from Pine Cone Hill, is meant to evoke European luxury.
The changeover is, almost literally, night and day, and the New Traditional design — a blend of antique and contemporary — extends over the entire house, encompassing the living room, kitchen, foyer, and three upstairs bedrooms, reconfiguring one into an office/playroom for grandkids. The only holdovers are the master bedroom, which remains a comfortable sanctuary, with new windows overlooking a large backyard, and the dining room, with its striped red wallpaper, glass-front china cabinet, and formal dining table. And there’s talk of a do-over for that room as well.
The formal dining room was left as it was, with red striped wallpaper and a glass-front china cabinet with Schmitt’s collection of Wedgewood. Schmitt wants to make changes to this room as well, but the design must make room for her plates depicting Russian fairy tales on the back wall.
“Overall, I guess the house was very Tuscan, very dark,” said Roth, who handles the “soft” side — drapes, furniture, bedding.
“And we wanted it to be fresh and airy and clean,” said Maples, who works the “hard” side — cabinetry, stonework (she is also head of Stone Masters of Texas), construction.
In the end, the Schmitt house was transformed in a total makeover, from tile and carpet to furniture and window treatments. The designers even knocked out a wall, load-bearing, to open up the kitchen and living areas, and installed a header in the attic for roof support.
“I am now a believer in knocking down walls,” Schmitt said, “but it was hard for me.” No, Schmitt did not go along willingly with everything the designers pitched at her.
“We definitely pushed Becky out of her comfort zone,” Roth said.
Take the kitchen backsplash. It’s natural limestone and glass in muted browns and creams, in a feathered pattern. “Initially, I just saw a small sample size, and I didn’t want feathers all over my kitchen,” Schmitt said with a laugh. “But I love it now. It’s very subtle, just classic.”
The designers worked closely with Schmitt in selecting key antique pieces to keep, including a 1900s wooden dental cabinet with lots of small drawers for dental tools and chemistry, and Becky’s father’s desk, repainted black, with a leather writing surface.
The New Traditionalist design features contemporary pieces with selected antiques, including the desk where Becky Schmitt’s father, an oil and gas man, worked. It was repainted in black but retains all the original hardware.
The living room, repainted floor to ceiling in a neutral tone, features custom Wesley Hall sofa and chairs, antique trunk and rocking horse, both German, circa the 1800s, and Thibaut drapes. At right is newly constructed, floor-to-ceiling cabinetry.
The living room furniture, including a tweed sofa, two swivel chairs and a buttery soft leather chair, is all new, strategically placed around a rustic antique German trunk that serves as a coffee table, while a newly constructed wall of shelves contains heirlooms such as an old brass microscope and a set of scales — a birthday present from Becky to Steve.
“It sort of tells our life story,” Schmitt said of the floor-to-ceiling cabinetry. Walls throughout were painted a neutral taupe, set off by flashes of color here and there: a grandmother’s watercolors, cobalt-blue lacquered bedside tables, bright (red!) throw pillows.
“Becky had some very quality pieces, and where we could, we reused them, reupholstering chairs, or repurposing tables,” Maples said.
The heart of the house is, of course, the kitchen, which now makes the homeowner swoon.
“I like to entertain and to bake — I make gingerbread cookies year-round — and with all this counter space on the big island, I can really spread out,” Schmitt said. “Steve loves to come down every morning and drink his coffee and read the newspaper sitting right there at the island. He says it’s so zen.”
“I’m a real Santa person,” says Becky Schmitt. “I love Santa, Santa, Santa.” Becky’s traditional ornaments were freshened up with new ribbon and garland this year.
For the front entry and Christmas tree, designer Gina Roth used Becky Schmitt’s traditional ornaments and added the black-and-white checked ribbon and red silk for a “Southern Living” look. The front porch decor got a fun update with the iron lanterns.
A native Texan, Steve Bennett has written about art, architecture and books for more than 30 years, working for the San Antonio Light, Express-News and Austin American-Statesman. Currently a freelance writer and editor, Steve makes a mean dish of green enchiladas and believes there aren’t many better things in life than the drawings of Vincent Valdez and the Berlin noir detective novels of Philip Kerr.