AT HOME: A modern sense of the old world

by | May 3, 2021 | At Home, Current Issue, Mar/Apr 21 | 0 comments

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Homeowner Wende Lancaster mixes European antiques with contemporary accents in her elegant Terrell Hills home.

By Steve Bennett

Photography by Al Rendon

With its clean white walls, square clerestory windows, and 25-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling, Wende Lancaster’s living room has the feel of the nave of a church. 

A dark, centuries-old painting depicting the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes hangs over the carved stone fireplace mantle, rescued from a French chateau, and Lancaster’s collection of old metal crowns — Mexican and Italian in origin — rests on a shelf supported by a reclaimed classical column capital. 

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Elsewhere in her graceful Terrell Hills home, Lancaster has a small painting from the 1400s of a madonna watching over the master bedroom, antique carved angel statues, a wall of retablos in the home office, and old-world gilt candlesticks dripping with melted beeswax.

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But it would be wrong to pass off the 3,645-square-foot, four-bedroom house, built in 2008, as a one-note pseudo-religious experience. 

Svelte and stylish and blonde, Lancaster, 60, is a Tyler native, a ranchwoman with a discerning eye, a love for antique-collecting (especially Italian, Spanish, French, and Mexican from the 17th and 18th centuries), and, most importantly, a sense of fun.

“I’m a churchgoer, but not holier-than-thou religious,” she said. “I’m more spiritual, and these things keep me going, both finding them and living with them. They offer a sense of security and comfort and just … being at home.”

The church-vault living room also features a portrait of the homeowner against a bright pink background, painted with love by her ex-husband, Spanish artist and designer Fabian Lainez; a low-slung, L-shaped contemporary custom-built couch in sand-colored linen; a shiny black Yamaha grand piano; and an antelope trophy and taxidermied wild turkey in flight. 

In the adjoining dining room, a large, vibrant painting of horses by contemporary San Antonio artist Bettie Ward dominates one wall, while the adjacent kitchen features stainless Miele and Fisher & Paykel appliances and an island topped with a slab of veined Calcacatta marble the size of a billiards table. The dining tabletop is a slab of sheet metal pattern-painted, and the dining chairs, so the story goes, were once owned by singer/songwriter Carly Simon, snapped up at auction.

“Wende has good vision when it comes to design,” said Lori Urbano, founder and owner of San Antonio’s Urbano Design and Build, which helped with a remodel and extension of the master bath suite before Lancaster moved in 2014. “And it’s fun to work with somebody like that. She offers an opportunity to really be creative and do things outside the box. But the design is all Wende.”

Not completely. Lancaster’s cohort in creativeness is local designer and antique dealer Sherrie Sanderson, who has accompanied her friend on many collecting excursions, whether at Round Top or fairs in the south of France.

“We both like to mix the old and the new because it’s just more interesting to, say, pair an 18th-century European piece with a contemporary painting. You try to achieve a balance. We both enjoy taking old architectural elements and making something new out of them. Wende has a beautiful sense of style in her home and in the way she dresses. She’s edgy yet loves beautiful old things with a warm patina. She has soul, and her house reflects that.”

Often, antique collectors can go overboard; visiting their homes is akin to dropping by a junk shop. But there is a seamlessness to Lancaster’s design choices that makes her home captivating rather than claustrophobic. 

Sightlines are clear. Although there is something to marvel at in every room — from a monumental Belgian tapestry depicting Alexander the Great to a collection of antique apothecary jars in a glass-doored kitchen cabinet — there’s a sense of organization rather than confusion. It’s not going too far to say that Lancaster is a collecting addict with a sense of economy.

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“I’ve loved antiques since I was young. I’m a collector, and the house represents 20 years of collecting,” she said. “I’ll go in any antique store and even a junk shop and look at any little thing.”

She likes to mix things up, enjoys the juxtaposition of, say, upholstering her headboard with a swath of an 18th-century tapestry, or transforming antique four-foot candlesticks into lamps with shades covered in rich Fortuny fabrics. Throughout the house, hand-knotted Oushak rugs from Turkey cover what seems to be acres of once-dark wood floors that were stripped and whitewashed and distressed.

“I guess my best advice is don’t do too much,” Lancaster said. “Whatever you do, don’t clutter. And, if you find beautiful things that you love, you’ll never get tired of them.”

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Steve Bennett

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.

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