Houston Swedish Design



An antique Swedish Moro Clock sits in the hallway between the den and kitchen.

Last April, House Beautiful featured a Houston home that had been remodeled in true Swedish style.  The story made the cover and it was great fun for me because the owner is a friend of mine.  As is probably true of each story in a design magazine, there is always a more interesting tale that isn't told in its pages.  The home is located in Avalon, a section of River Oaks, Houston's toniest neighborhood.  But, this home isn't a mansion, it is a very livable 3,500 sq. ft.  The home is original to the neighborhood, so it is probably over 50 years old.  When the owners first moved in, they had just sold everything from their former house and they immediately got down to the business of amassing  an amazing collection of English antique furniture and paintings.  They spent years acquiring a house full of furniture - piece by piece.  Each purchase was deliberate and thoughtful, a process between the owners and their designer, Carol Glasser, one of Houston's finest.  It was a fascinating process to watch from the sidelines and one that could  cause great envy! Imagine the scenario - starting over completely from scratch and placing inside your home only that which you truly love -- no dreaded hand-me-downs and no make-do furniture.  This style of decorating is one at which Glasser excels.  She doesn't mind waiting years for just the "right" table or the "perfect" lamp to turn up.  This style might not be to everyone's liking, but these owners proved to be the perfect clients.  They embraced Glasser's style and, as a result, the finished project was perfect:  a cozy English, country-style home, filled with authentic antiques, Italian oil paintings, wall to wall seagrass, faux painted yellow and red walls, toile wallpapers, Bennison fabrics and Kenneth Turner candles.  It was an open, fun house - the site of many parties where people gathered around a roaring fire and lounged in the deep George Smith sofa, all the while remarking on how warm and inviting the home was.  So, it was a great surprise to many, including Glasser herself, when the wife declared she had changed.  She no longer loved her home's decor, she wanted a new look - a Swedish look - and not just a Swedish antique here and there, but a total, complete Swedish home.  And so, for the second time, everything in the house was either sold or was stored and they started the process of decorating their home, completely from scratch, again. 

On the sidelines, I looked on with amazement.  It was so exciting to watch - trips made to Breaux Bridge, Louisiana to visit an obscure, yet fabulous antique dealer from whom they purchased, amongst other things,  antique portraits of  unknown, serious Swedish citizens.  Piece after piece of beautiful peeling, gray painted Swedish antiques were procured from the ends of the earth.  The owners were ahead of the current Swedish trend and it worked to their advantage.  Glasser immediately enlisted the help of renown interior designer and author Katrin Cargill

from England.  Cargill's input in the project was formidable.  She had, after all, written a book on Swedish style. The house was taken down to it's studs and every single inch was changed - from the roof to the floors to the windows to the walls.  Nothing was usual or common, it was all custom and proved almost too difficult a job for the Houston builder who worked on the project. Cargill held to her guns and insisted on a certain degree of authenticity.  Their house is, without a doubt, the only house in Houston with limed, Canadian pine wood floors. 

Interestingly, the house had been a cover story before - the English interpretation was in  Country Living magazine several years prior.  Included here today are some of the pictures from that original story, although, unfortunately, there are a few missing.  Personally, I made out like a bandit in the switchover to the Swedish decor:  I now own a wonderful down-filled love seat in my bedroom that once lived in their sunroom, a glorious antique bulls-eye mirror from the French Quarter is now over my fireplace, my dining room chandelier once hung in their bedroom, and even some of my fabulous tortoiseshell blinds were once in their home!   What this couple did is something most of us will never be able to do:  to start over, with no baggage, and have only that which you absolutely love in your home, that is, until you change your style to - well, let's say something like - Indochine Chic.


The family room:  this half of the room is more dressy - antique French mantle, Swedish portrait to the right, antique Swedish table and chairs.


Family Room:  the other half with contemporary sofa upholstered in typical Swedish checks.  Authentic Swedish roll up shades, antique sofa faces "dressier" half.  For some unknown reason, no pictures were shown in the magazine of their beautiful living room.


Another view of family room from Cargill's web site.


Again, from Cargill's web site - blue family room with contemporary checked sofa.


The dining room:  Antique Swedish chandelier and sconces, buffet and mirror.  Chairs are reproduction Swedish.  Table is one of the only remaining pieces from the former English decor.  Moldings below are wood, above - painted.


From Cargill's web site:  dining room with antique faux Swedish stove on the left, view towards the family room.


Small sunroom is a highlight of the home.  Gray and white botanicals were photocopied, pasted on the walls and then handpainted to glorious effect.  Antique Swedish sofa, chair, demilune tables, and chandelier.  Checks are used again as they are in every room in the house.


The breakfast room is charming:  antique Swedish chairs, table.  Banquette is covered in checks, French linen used for shades.  Wallpaper is a red and cream Swedish pattern.


The kitchen has Carrera marble countertops, Swedish shades, and a turquoise, contemporary pendant fixture.


From Cargill's web site - same view, unstyled.


Another shot of the kitchen with it's custom hood.  Close up of wood paneled walls used throughout the home.


Close up of Swedish portrait of a lady in the family room.


Set of white French dishes with owners' initial.


The entrance hall, from Cargill's web site.  Note the doggie door that leads to a secret hiding spot.  Cargill inserted touches like this throughout the home.


One of the daughter's bedroom with antique furniture and red checks.  Note how the rug is actually three separate pieces. 


The master bedroom:  House Beautiful did not show any pictures of this room.  It is captured here from Cargill's web site, unstyled.   The room has Chelsea Editions fabric wall covering along with Chelsea Editions curtain fabric and furniture.  To the left, you can barely make out an antique Swedish sofa.


Country Living Magazine:  From the first incantation - the English version of the blue family room with its wonderful slipcovered furniture.  Coffee table was a tufted ottoman atop false books.  Italian paintings, Oushak rug over wall to wall seagrass.  Walls were faux painted yellow.


The original kitchen:  antique center island, freestanding range, large hanging pot rack and red and cream toile wallpaper.  Floors were painted hardwoods.

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Unseen in House Beautiful, the original living room:  Originally there were faux painted red walls, antique mantel, center ottoman, antique sofa, Colefax and Fowler chintz draperies.  Bullseye mirror over fireplace lives over my fireplace now!!


Original dining room:  same table, Kenneth Turner center basket, antique tole chandelier, leather French chairs, Oushak carpet over seagrass, antique mirror and sconces.  In the new Swedish remodel, doors were removed for cleaner lines and in order to create enfilades.


Original front facade, covered in ivy.  Rose garden to the left.

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New facade:  while windows are in the same place, they are new ones, new door color, ivy and shutters are long gone.  The biggest difference is the landscaping.  A landscape architect from England, brought to the project by Cargill, changed the center walkway.  Now an alee of clipped, square shaped trees creates a path up the center of the lawn.

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The "official" walkway up to the house is now on the right side of the facade.


My family room with the antique bulls eye mirror now resides over my fireplace.


My dining room chandelier moved from the owners' bedroom.  Hi Sammie Jo!!!

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And last, my bedroom with the love seat on the right under the tortoiseshell blinds moved from the owners previous sunroom.


The Inspired Room


Months ago I read a blog by another interior designer who talked about a disease she suffered from called "Magazine Coveritis."  She described it as a disease "that makes one obsessive about each and every corner of their home maintaining a cover shot existence. Creating an image of beauty becomes a priority over creating a beautiful home."   Melissa, the sufferer of Magazine Coveritis, writes the blog, The Inspired Room.  As you can imagine, after reading about Melissa's infliction, I was forced to admit  that yes, I too suffer from Magazine Coveritis and since we were both sufferers, we became instant blogging friends.  Melissa is now in recovery from the disease which she attributes to realizing her home will never be perfect and maturity!  I wish I was that mature.  Oh well, maybe one day. The Inspired Room is a very - well - inspiring blog, filled with inspirational talks from Melissa on the home, design, love of family, and faith.  She has a huge readership and is much beloved by them all.  Once, Melissa wrote about my blog and my stats went through the roof with visits from her many readers.   She is always there for me when I need advice or someone to lend an ear.  She is such a sweet person and that sweetness comes out through her blog loud and clear.  She wears many hats, a mother, a wife, an interior designer, blogger, and author for  Christian Women Online magazine.  Melissa reaches out to her readers with special themes - she invites guest bloggers, she throws cyberspace parties, she has gift giveaways - there is always something exciting going on at The Inspired Room.  This week she hosted a theme on Design Inspirations and invited guest bloggers to discuss design and what it means to them.  Melissa was kind enough to include me in on this and last night she posted my entry on design (read it here).  I'd love for you to read my article, but even more, I'd love for you to check out The Inspired Room.  Thanks, Melissa - you're the best!

Melissa's sitting room off her kitchen.  I love the red toile on the chair and the painted table.

Melissa's remodeled kitchen - what great skylights.

Once again, Melissa' kitchen with the beautiful wood countertops.

Blue Opaline




A pair of blue opaline candlesticks pop out from this soothing interior.

One of my favorite things to collect is a glass called blue opaline.  Authentic opaline was made in France from the late 18th century through to the end of the 19th century.  This semi-opaque, hand blown glass first came into popularity during Napoleon's reign and later peaked in Napoleon III's time during the 1850-60s.  As you might imagine, these antique French pieces are very rare and very pricey.  Besides France, other countries produced a similar glass that captured the beautiful, rich color of  blue opaline.  But only the glass from France can truly be called opaline.  Italy produced a glass in the 1900s that was made in the blue shade that mimics opaline.  And the Portieux Vallerysthal factory made a blue glass that is often mistakenly called blue opaline, but it is not as rare nor as valuable as true French opaline.   Additionally, English Bristol Glass produced during the 19th century is often confused for French Opaline.  The true French pieces from the late 18th and 19th centuries were made for a lady's dressing table - trinkets such as small jewelry boxes, perfume bottles, vases, watch holders, and sewing kits were favorites.  Other pieces were made into boxes, or caskets, to hold sugar and what-nots.  But mostly, opaline was made just to be admired and  just to be gazed at.  And although blue is by far the most popular and most produced shade, it does comes in other colors such as green and white.  Rarer shades include pink, red, and lemon - which is considered the most rare opaline color of all. 

Over the years opaline has gone in and out of favor.  Initially the French pieces were bought as souvenirs during the later years of the Grand Tour era.  There was a resurgence of its production in the 1920s.  And during the 50's and 60s, new pieces of blue opaline colored glass were made, often in the shape of perfume bottles.  But, today in general, opaline remains obscure and mostly unknown.  It's hard to learn much about it's history or the provenance of the antique pieces.  There are only two books that have been written about the glass and both are in French!  Today there are a few dealers who specialize in opaline and now these dealers have internet stores.  Rare antique pieces are more easily obtained today as opposed to the days before cyberspace commerce.  Then, one could scour antique show after antique show and maybe find one decent piece of opaline, if you were lucky.   

Every few years or so, European design magazines will feature the glass and proclaim a resurgence in just around the corner for opaline, but it never seems to happen.  The glass has also been shown in American magazines once or twice. Today, the term blue opaline is perhaps most associated with the interior designer Jan Showers of Dallas, Texas.  Showers sells a Murano glass lamp in her collection that comes in a luscious blue opaline color.  This lamp "pops" wherever it is used, just as a single piece of antique French opaline does whenever it is placed on a vanity table or a coffee table.  Because of it's intense blue shade, you don't need to amass a large collection of blue opaline to enjoy it.  One piece is just as beautiful as a hundred pieces are.

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My entry:  A single piece of blue opaline pops out from the mulberry colored transferware.  The hydrangea and blue and white vases blend in with the opaline.


A box filled with blue opaline bottles.


A rare early 19th piece which opens where the ormolu is.


A serving dish inside a metal frame.


A vanity piece with watch holder and perfume bottles.  Eglomise miniatures of Paris are affixed to the front of the ormolu.


Here are examples of newer blue opaline perfume bottles. 


This New York apartment has a blue opaline chandelier and two pieces of blue opaline are on the console behind the sofa.


Another antique blue opaline light fixture.


This rare and intricate chariot pulling two opaline vases is for sale for over $14,000.00


A popular shape of blue opaline is the egg or oval shape.


  An oval box with two perfume bottles inside.


Another oval shape with ormolu.


A jewelry box that still retains it's original key.


A watch holder in a green shade of opaline.


A white opaline perfume set with a watch holder.


Pink and green opaline together.


A fanciful cherub over a pink opaline cradle.


Here horses pull a green opaline inkwell.


Two matching green opaline vases with gold banding.


A new chandelier with blue opaline crystals.


A pillbox made of pink opaline with a miniature portrait.


A rare lemon colored casket.


Atlanta designer Suzanne Kasler used blue opaline sconces in this living room.


A powder room showcases a blue opaline fixture. 

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These goblets, often mistaken for true French opaline, are from the Portieux Vallerysthal factory.


Jan Showers produces this gorgeous blue opaline colored Murano glass lamp.


Again, Suzanne Kasler - here she uses blue opaline colored lamps.

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My bedroom, with my blue opaline collection.

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A close up of my collection.  Some pieces are French antiques and others are newer.


A Southern Accents cover features a chandelier with blue opaline crystal drops.


And finally, my powder room has two pieces of blue opaline which pop against the brown marble.