Michael Smith and a Trashcan Makes The News



The White House:  The Queen’s Bedroom under the Bush  Administration.  I’ll wager this bedroom is where Michelle’s mother will live.

Note:  Picture updated.


News of Michael S. Smith is everywhere these days.  And rightly so, being named by the Obamas to decorate the  private living quarters of the White House, is big, big news.  The appointment was first leaked by blogger The Peak of Chic, causing much excitement throughout the design blogosphere.  The official news came via domino magazine’s web site - how fitting for what is called the first high-tech presidency.   Who knows, maybe Obama downloads domino’s web site on his famous blackberry?  I can’t remember another White House designer creating such a stir.   Truthfully, I still don’t know which interior designer the Bushes used.  The choice of Smith was a surprise to me, a total surprise – though in hindsight he is a perfect fit.  His love and knowledge of antiques is legendary as is the way he puts together his interiors, warm, cozy and inviting despite the high price tag of the furnishings.  I had thought the Obamas would choose Sheila Bridges, an Afro-American designer from NYC.     I couldn’t have been more off-base.  As the days go by, the anticipation grows, and those first glimpses of Smith’s work for the Obamas will be highly sought after.  Unfortunately, the news this week concerning Smith was actually not all that great - in fact, it was terrible.  Read on.




This decor by Smith would make a wonderful guest room in the White House.   Smith’s style – mixing grand and not so grand antiques in warm and cozy interiors is exactly why the Obama’s hired him.


Californian interior designer to the stars, Michael S. Smith, couldn’t afford the huge amount of press he’s received in the past few days.  Too bad it’s all been bad press.  After a career unblemished by any hint of misconduct, this week has been a public relations disaster for the genial designer.  Smith, riding high after being named the Obama’s interior decorator is now embroiled in the Wall Street scandal and the story couldn’t come at a worse time for him, the Obama’s and for The White House.


Michael Smith and Wall Street?  What?  It goes something like this:   The disgraced CEO of Merrill Lynch, John Thain, was fired this week (or resigned as he puts it) by the new owners of the once reputable stock firm.  Apparently, Thain was unceremoniously dumped because he hoodwinked Bank of America, the company that bailed out Merrill Lynch:  the merger was finalized after just two days of due diligence.  Bank of America execs have been less than pleased with Thain ever since the magnitude of Merrill Lynch’s losses became apparent – something Thain apparently tried to hide.   Hired just a few years ago to bring Merrill Lynch back to profitability, Thain tried to salvage the firm, firing thousands and cutting expenses for everyone except himself.  While his firm was suffering  unprecedented losses, he hired Michael Smith to decorate his office at a total cost of $1,220,000.   The Manhattan office includes Thain’s conference room and private dining room.  Smith’s invoice was splashed all over the news this week – in detail, leaked no doubt by a disgusted Bank of America official.  I can only imagine the sheer horror Smith must have felt having his exorbitant tab laid bare for everyone to leer at.  Business blogs have had a field day with Smith’s bill – and Thain will forever be remembered for his parchment covered trash can, for which Merrill Lynch paid Smith a princely $1,405!   The maligned trash can is surely destined to become the symbol of Wall Street greed, 21st century style.  


What is especially galling about the story is that while Thain was spending millions on redecorating his office, he insisted his employees curtail their own expenses on travel, entertainment and cars.  At the same time, he paid his private driver an $85,000 salary with a bonus of $18,000 and  $128,000 in over-time pay.  It’s interesting to compare budgets:  the Obamas hired Smith to design their White House living quarters for a paltry $100,000.  While everyone realized this sum was probably not realistic – contrast this with Thain’s $1,220,000 budget.  Even more telling, Thain paid over $100,000 for just three chairs!   How in the world is Smith going to work with the Obamas’ $100,000 limit?   In Elle Decor’s Margaret Russell’s interview with Matt Lauer about the White House commission, she brags that Smith is known for shopping at bargain places, like Target and Anthropologie.  Really?  The only thing I’ve ever seen Smith do that was budget friendly was to purchase these bedspreads, below, at Urban Outfitters, which he used for wall coverings, curtains and upholstery.  The cost of labor to install all the Indian bedspreads surely catapulted this budget into the stratosphere.  So much for cost cutting.



Smith decorated this guest room using bedspreads from Urban Outfitters.


Smith’s public relations fiasco puts a damper on the jubilation that greeted the news of his White House commission.  It will be hard for the Obamas to justify hiring Smith while he is playing such a public role in the current excesses of Wall Street.   The leaked statement highlights the greed that these top CEO’s have and the cash it takes to fuel their lifestyles.    Thain’s personal life takes lots and lots of money to run and we have all paid for it.   While untold millions of people are facing financial doom, the ones responsible for the financial disaster  live lives that Kings would envy.   As Merrill Lynch faced collapse, the United States government, using tax payers money stepped in to stop the bleeding – averting their inevitable bankruptcy.  Using those tax payer funds, Thain made sure his buddies got their share – an estimated 3 to 4 billion dollars in bonuses.  Thain himself, perhaps in a rare moment of guilt, declined to take his promised $100 million bonus.  Nice of him, huh?

Thain and his wife Carmen live in a Park Avenue duplex worth $27.5 million.  Additionally, they own a country home that straddles two different towns – Harrison and Rye, New York.   His property taxes are over $150,000 a year to those two towns.  Purchased in 1995 for $3.7 million, the country home is now worth over $10 million and is on 10 acres of pricey real estate.  Included in the estate are beehives, a river, a stocked lake, a clay tennis court, several horse paddocks, and two swimming pools - along with a barn larger than neighboring houses.  The house is 97 years old and has 14 bedrooms and an underground heated garage.   Smith decorated both Thain houses, natch.

Though now out of a job, Thain will be busy in the coming months preparing a defense.  New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo is investigating the bonuses that Thain paid his cronies last December – just before the deal with Bank of America closed.  Bonuses at Merrill Lynch are normally paid in either January or February.  The timing of those ill-gotten bonuses, along with his decorating bills have made Thain public enemy #1.

Smith’s invoices, obtained first by CNBC news, show that Smith was hired for $837,000.  I have found two different lists of items ordered for the office, with some pieces appearing to either overlap or are misnamed.   Most prices are eye-popping.    The area rug for Thain’s conference room came in at $87,784.   Compare this with the $61,000 rug Laura Bush designed for her hubby’s Oval Office.  Obama is said to love that rug and will continue to use it – at least until he orders his own!



The Oval Office rug that Laura Bush designed – Obama is said to be keeping it, for now.

Other items ordered by Smith for Thain’s office are listed below.   I went to 1st Dibs to see how Smith’s prices compared to those on 1st Dibs and what the furniture might look like.  Most prices on Thain’s invoice are at the top of heap, unbelievably high, some items I had to really search to find a comparably priced item.  It makes one wonder if all of Smith’s clients pay such prices.   Thain’s list is below.   Enjoy!


1.    Mahogany Pedestal Table -  $25,713


On 1st Dibs, I found this Regency table from 1820 for $18,900.


2.   19th Century Credenza in Thain’s office -  $68,179, this must be a very nice credenza!


1st Dibs had nothing in this price range for credenzas, the closest I could find is a 16th century credenza for $23,800.


3.  Pair of Guest Chairs $87,784 – seems quite extravagant for an office.


Coming in higher on 1st Dibs are these George III Library Chairs, 1770, pair for $110,000.


4.  George IV Chair, this has also been reported as a desk - $18,468


1st Dibs has this wonderful George IV chair, although it still needs fabric!   $4350.


5.    Commode on Legs at $35,115 – this item has caused much  amusement as people think it’s a toilet!


On 1st Dibs I found this beautiful Louis XV Period Walnut Commode Raised on Cabriole Legs, c. 1760, France for $42,000. 



6.   Sofa for $15,000


At George Smith, I found this sofa for just $10,000.   Thain’s sofa probably came from Smith’s own company.


7.   Six Chairs for his private dining room - $37,000 – rather pricey


1st Dibs had this set of six, Chippendale Style chairs, from 1770 for $16,500 – a steal!


8.   Mirror for the dining room - $5,000 – this is actually reasonable for an antique.


I found this on 1st Dibs, French 19th century Bird’s eye maple mirror, $5,000.


9.   Chandelier for the dining room - $13,000 – again, somewhat reasonable for an antique.


1st Dibs had this beautiful chandelier, just slightly higher priced than Thain’s.


10.  Custom Coffee Table for $16,000 – seems pricey.   Probably came from Smith’s own company.


1st Dibs has this antique coffee table with slate top, late 19th  century for just $9,750.’


11.  Regency Chairs - $24,000.


1st Dibs has this almost perfect match, a pair of parcel gilt Regency period armchairs from England, Circa 1810 for $28,500.


Other items for Thain’s office includes:

6 Wall Sconces $2,741 – reasonable – again, wonder if these are from Smith’s line for Visual Comfort?

Rewiring of sconces $3,000 – reasonable.

Parchment Waste Can $1,405  – I can’t even comment on this.

Roman Shade Fabric $10,967.

Roman Shades $7,315 – reasonable for high end design.

Pendant Light Furniture $19,751 – not sure what this is???? Anyone know?

4 Pairs of Curtains  - $28,091.

40 yards of fabric for wall panels, $5,000 – actually not totally outrageous, but this is retail pricing.  Wonder if he used his own line of fabric?

Thain personally signed off on $30,000 in expenses that Smith incurred doing the job, in addition to the $800,000, presumably room and board while in NYC, I suppose.

I’ve added up all the items, plus Smith’s fee and I come out over the $1,220.00.  I’m not sure if Smith’s $800,000 fee includes these purchases or not.  Also – it’s possible these prices are retail and Thain was offered a discount.  It’s possible!!!!   These figures were originally made public on both CNBC and The Huffington Post.



A Manhattan high-rise designed by Smith – this could possibly be what the Thain’s apartment looks like.


Wait, the news blitz on Smith is not over.  As if the coverage of Smith’s unfortunate association with Merrill Lynch wasn’t enough – there was even more press for the beleaguered  Smith.     An antique bed he purchased for the Obama White House showed up in the newspaper, leaked by the owner of the shop from where it was purchased.   The Providence Journal broke the story of the now sure-to-be famous bed.   “The bed is an antique tall post adapted to king size from bedposts fashioned from tiger maple in the early 19th century” reads the press release, but exactly who released the press release was not released.  Oy!  The bed was purchased at Leonards New England.  Leonards, a 75 year old landmark,  has two locations, one in Seekonk, Massachusetts and another in Westport.   Leonards’ stock is pure Michael Smith and I can surely see why he shops there.  The manager confirmed that Smith is a customer, as is Steven Spielberg (a Smith client), Julia Roberts and Bill Cosby.  I’m surprised Oprah is not a client, she loves Americana. 

Concerning THE bed, the owners, the Jenkins, father and son, AND the store manager all had different tales to tell.  One says they delivered the bed to a warehouse in Maryland that Smith is using to store Obama goodies.  The delivery men couldn’t see what else was in the warehouse that is headed for the White House because it was all tightly covered up.  Another story says Leonards delivered the bed directly to the back door of the White House.  And still another story confirms the bed is tagged for the master bedroom.  The elder Jenkins said the phone call from Smith confirming the White House sale was the call of a lifetime.  I’ll bet!  But still, it leaves me wondering what the privacy-loving Smith thinks about all this publicity surrounding the bed.  After all, Margaret Russell told Matt Lauer that Smith hasn’t yet given any interviews about the White House commission and “he won’t.”    Maybe someone should tell that to the Jenkins, but who can blame them for their excitement?



Leonards, only in New England are shops this picturesque!  I wouldn’t mind moving in here!


Is this photo shopped?  Apparently the bed was delivered the night before the Inauguration, but I didn’t think there was snow on the ground then.  



The actual tiger maple bed the Obama’s bought from Leonards.  No surprise here – how many times have we seen Smith use beds similar to this?   I think the girls would love that carousal horse for their rooms!



Classic English Tall Post bed in Mahogany found on Leonards’ web site – I can see Smith buying this bed for another White House bedroom– it’s gorgeous.



On Leonards web site - 1880 English Oak – dog kennel Dresser – this would be a great piece for the playroom or private dining room, especially with the cubby for the new Obama puppy!



How American does it get?  This Federal New York sideboard from the 1840’s from Leonards would be a nice piece in the White House private quarters.



This estate in upstate New York, designed by Michael Smith and featured in November’s Elle Decor, reminds me of the type of furniture that Leonards carries.  I wonder if some of this was purchased there?   I hope Smith incorporates elements from this room in the White House, such as print curtains, cane furniture, tufted ottomans, and comfortable seating.



More from the New York house.  Wouldn’t this be a wonderful look for the Obamas’ private dining room? 


I am so curious as to whether the Obama’s will have a canopy over their new tiger maple bed.  Canopies are wonderful in large rooms, they become a room within a room and cozy up an oversized space.  I wonder if the First Lady perused this particular layout and felt a connection with this house and The White House?



After all, the house IS white and three stories!!


Hopefully, the press on Michael Smith will die down this coming week.  Along with most of the design blogosphere, I can’t wait to see what Smith does to America’s house.  I can’t remember another White House makeover – since Jackie Kennedy’s -  which sparked so much interest.  Most likely, Smith isn’t too bothered by all the negative press as he is frantically finishing up his work for the Obamas.   And hopefully, there won’t be any more bad news, as long as he isn’t the interior designer for the Taliban!

Toto: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore




The Stone Schoolhouse, built in 1870, now home to Peeking Through the Sunflowers’ Deserae


Emails, I get emails.  One of the first readers of Cote de Texas who ever contacted me asking for decorating advice was a blogger herself, Deserae from Peeking Through the Sunflowers.  She sent me a picture of her bedroom, asking for my opinion on how to change it up.  I remember I emailed the picture to Beach Bungalow 8 and together we discussed what I should tell Deserae to do to her bedroom.   It was my first blogger design consultation and I wanted to get it right.   I took that first consult very, very seriously.   



Before:  Deserae’s Red Fabric Bedroom


Back then, Deserae’s style was all about reds and toiles and white slipcovers.   She was definitely a more-is-more kind of girl and had all sorts of knick-knacks everywhere, and then some.  I gave her my ideas for her bedroom:  add drapes, get rid of the valance and substitute woven blinds for the white shades, add seagrass, slipcover the chair, etc. – all standard Webb Design advice.   Des surprised me when she responded very favorably to what I had to say – she had already thought of all those same ideas.  She was up for a change, but worried about her prior investment in her new red bedding.   I visited her blog and discovered that we had similar taste, except there were a few years between that similarity.  You see, some time ago red toile was my favorite fabric too, but I had moved on while Des was still in it’s throes. 

After that initial consultation,  we established a routine.  She would send me pictures of her decorating and I would give her my opinion.   What I soon learned though, was that Des really didn’t need my advice, she was quite talented all on her own and very adept at home remodeling.  She and her husband lived in a stone schoolhouse built back in 1870 somewhere in the middle of the Kansas countryside.  Together they had redone their house, including adding a new kitchen and bathroom – all on their own!   Even the maple hardwood floors were installed by Des and her husband – they bought the old planks from a nearby gym.    I was in awe of her boundless energy.    And so, although Des really didn’t need my ideas, she continued to send pictures, showing me whenever she moved an accessory, or a chair – which she did – often.  She actually liked to change her furniture around even more than I did.  After the initial bedroom advice, she turned her focus on to the living room, which she was particularly unhappy with.  She wanted a change, but was in denial about how much of a change she really wanted.   She had so much invested in “red” – that going with her heart was going to have to be done in stages. 




Before:  white slipcovers, red toiles and plaid.  I suggested she get matching plaid drapes in both the dining room and living room – that’s the dining room behind the sofa.  The walls in the dining room were red then.  Deserae soon started a major editing process.   She wanted seagrass matting but worried about her husband’s reaction – he didn’t like them.  And, finally, I suggested she hang something on each side of the door opening that matched – symmetry is always a good decorating tool. 



Before:  On the other side of her living room, is the study.   The three rooms – the dining room, living room and study, are all on a straight line, enfilade style.  I suggested she move the two white slipcovered chairs together to the living room, as opposed to splitting them up.  Again, there is always power in symmetry.   Des’s house is wonderful, it has very high ceilings and vintage decorative elements.  The decor looked like a page out of Country Living Magazine – it was very attractive with the mix of white slipcovers, red toiles, plaids and yellow walls, and her blog readers absolutely loved it just as it was.   They didn’t know that Des yearned for a change.  Slowly, she began selling the excess knick-knacks piece by piece, advertising the sales on her blog.  Almost weekly, she would have something to offer her readers from her endless supply of accessories.  With the money she made, she bought replacements for her new, cleaner style.



During:   Deserae moved her furniture around, almost daily, it seemed, sending me pictures to document the changes.  Here is what it looked like with the sofa moved along the wall.  By this time,  the red toile pillows and skirted tables have been long gone, replaced by two red print pillows.  She ordered additional panels of the red silk plaid curtains for the dining room to replace the toile curtains that once hung there.  She bought a set of botanicals to hang symmetrically next to the dining room door.  But, the biggest change came when all the red rugs were put away or sold – replaced by seagrass matting.  The seagrass immediately brought a more calming, less cluttered look to the house.   The section of wall behind the sofa changed the most.  Here, the black baker’s rack looked pretty enough, but it didn’t stay like this for long.  She tried an assortment of other pieces of furniture there.  Different mirrors were hung, switched out at different times with paintings, prints, and plates.    That one wall was a constantly changing vignette.


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Here she tried her hallrack, which made sense – the front door was right next to it!



Here Des tried some botanicals and ironstone.



During:  As the year wore on, more changes occurred, the set of prints flanking the dining room opening disappeared when she found these wonderful triple arm sconces.  She added textured window shades behind the drapes, getting rid of the white blinds – another great change – the natural shades complemented the seagrass rugs.  The two armchairs and ottomans added a calming symmetry.  All the country style accessories were sold one by one.  Deserae added a beautiful gold framed mirror behind the sofa and she bought white slipcovers for her dining room and study chairs – even monogramming them herself.  I thought the room looked lovely as shown here. 


And then…..her blog disappeared into the black hole of the internet.  Gone.   Along with it went her spirit for the stone schoolhouse that she had worked so hard on, for so long.  Being out in the country was taking a toll on Deserae.  She felt isolated.  The area is so windy, she couldn’t really enjoy the outdoors – she decided she wanted to move back to the city.   And so, along with all her knick-knacks she had for sale, her house too, was now included.  Des started a new Peeking Through The Sunflowers blog, but for the first time, nothing much changed in the schoolhouse for her to show her readers.   After all, why would you change anything?  The old schoolhouse finally looked like Des had imagined it.  Streamlined, less cluttered, with seagrass and white slips.   It was all so pretty with just the touches of red and anyway, the house was for sale - it would be silly to change anything now.    I heard less and less from Des during this time while she sat idly, waiting for her house to sell.   I thought our days of redecorating via the internet were over for now.

Until, that is, the other day, when I glimpsed something strange on her new blog – a white wall!   What????  Where were the rich yellow walls?   Deserae confessed she couldn’t sit still any longer and she just had to paint.  You know that feeling, you’re all bundled up against the cold weather, nice and toasty inside, and you decide to jump up and paint your entire house white!    I know, I know.  I can’t relate either – that feeling has never quite happened to me before, but then, I don’t have Des’s energy.  In the end, she may not live in her house for a long time with it looking exactly how she had wanted it to look, but she doesn’t care.   She’s happy now.    Enjoy!



After:   No, this isn’t Sweden, this is still the middle of Kansas, but isn’t this just beautiful?  I love what Des has done to her house!  In fact, I’m green with envy over her white!!!   


First, she painted all the walls in a flat white* with a semi-gloss white on the trim.  The red plaid curtains were replaced with long, flowing linen curtains layered over the textured shades.  The red pillows are now gone, replaced with a large French feed-style pillow and two plump white ones on the sofa, along with two zebra pillows on the chairs.  The brown wood coffee table was faux painted gray by Des, of course (that was my idea!)  The new all-white look extends into her dining room and through the study.  This is so dreamy – it’s hard to remember it all red toile and country-fried.    And this is the hottest look going right now – Swedish white. 

But even more important is how Des chased her dream.  We’ve talked it over how she could get her husband to agree to all the changes she wanted to make, like the seagrass, and the curtains, and yet – her worries were unfounded.  In the end, her husband absolutely loves the new look!   Piece by piece,  tchotkie by tchotkie, she sold what she no longer needed or wanted – not for a lot of money, but just enough to buy her the new  look.  She didn’t spend a fortune, she chased sales in catalogues and on Ebay, watching each dollar she spent, until she got the exact look she wanted.   The house is still for sale, though Des knows it might be a while before it sells in this economy.   And anyway, after living in such an romantic home - a century old stone schoolhouse -  the new houses she has toured in the burbs don’t hold much appeal.   It will be a special house that catches Deserae’s heart and that might take some time to find.   Until then, she’s very happy to be living in Sweden, sort of.   

* The paint is Antique White by Pratt and Lambert.



And at night with the chandelier on and the candles lit.   So romantic.




The antique buffet-a-deaux is now behind the two chairs.  The stairway was redone by Des.  When they bought the house, there was industrial carpet here, so she installed the beadboard and added the wood treads. 




Looking towards the sofa with the new gray French pillow.   Des’s ironstone is stored in the wood cupboard. 



The dining room with the slip covered chairs and her new Venetian mirror.  




The dining room this Christmas, with the real estate brochures on the table, ready for possible buyers.  Del has since sold the black terrarium in the corner. 



The study, newly white and sparse.  I love the wooden rocking horse on top of the antique armoire.  



The antique long clock in the study.   Something tells me that Deserae is going to be on the lookout for a Mora clock now!


What Deserae’s redecorating teaches us is that there is power in paint.   It’s been said over and over again, but the cheapest and quickest way to change a look is with a simple coat of paint.  Once the yellow paint was gone, the look in the schoolhouse changed dramatically.   With the white paint on the walls,  it became clear that the last remaining touches of red had to finally go, replaced by more whites and grays.  Drastic changes don’t have to happen overnight, as Des shows by example.  A slow, evolving process, makes it less painful on the pocketbook and easier on a husband who is against change (aren’t they all?)  Deserae persevered, she didn’t quit until she got her house looking picture-perfect – exactly as she imagined it, a long time ago.

Moving On with Ginger Barber


imageShe’s on the move again.  I swear, this girl moves more times than anyone I don’t know (because I don’t really KNOW her – I just admire her from afar).  The nomad is Ginger Barber, one of Houston’s top interior designers and a personal favorite of mine.  Barber likes to pick up stakes and move every other year, or so it seems.  Her office too.  A lot.  I get a kick out of stalking her because it’s a sport keeping up with all her moves.  Actually her last house was on my Starbucks Route.   Oh, and the one before that one, too.   The last house was really cool because she had installed these tall, antique shutters on her tall, antique front door.  They actually functioned, too – antique wood shutters that totally closed off her front doors.  Her last house was beautiful, all taupe facade, landscaped with boxwoods.    Barber had redone it and spent quite some time getting the landscaping just perfect – very simple, just the sculpted box.   Boxwoods, always boxwoods.  I’m familiar with her former house – I was actually in it, not invited of course, but it was on the West University house tour.  Shortly after that, it went on the market and she moved somewhere else, off my Starbucks route. 

So, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see her current house on HAR this weekend,  there it was - another one bites the dust.  I would love to move into one of her ex’s.  I love her personal style and share some of her trademarks – I only wish I shared her talent!   When designing for herself, Barber favors seagrass rugs, white walls, linen slipcovers, muted colors, pine furniture, natural fibers, spare, large accessories, and rustic antiques.  Her houses are all about textures – sisal, wicker, and concrete play important roles.  Nothing is superfluous – everything is edited and then, edited again.   Her homes are a calm haven, a refuge from the cacophony of colors and patterns she works with at the office.

And don’t think for a minute that her office has stayed in one place either.   She recently bought a permanent place on West Alabama – a few doors down from the first Sitting Room – years and years ago.  Between those two spaces – she’s been in Rice Village then Montrose then downtown West University.  I’ve loved all her work spaces - her shop is more like a cozy home than a place of business and it’s hard to walk out the door empty handed.  She culls the best of best from Round Top and jaunts to England and there is always something to buy – Kenneth  Turner candles, baskets, trays, dreamy “Fresh Butter” platters, down-filled sofas and chairs, antique mirrors, white ironstone, pine tables, chinoiserie lamp bases and wicker shades.   I’ve yet to leave The Sitting Room without a package of goodies – ever!




Over the years, Ginger Barber’s star has risen and today, she’s at the top.   She’s decorated houses all over the country – ski lodges and country farmhouses are mixed in with city townhomes and tony mansions.   She’s done it all and then some.  She’s been published in the best of magazines, many, many times and her wanderlust life has been chronicled in the press.   A Barber-decorated house on the market is always noted, often without any mention of the architect.   She recently decorated, along with her friend, Houstonian interior designer Pam Pierce, a health spa and resort in the Hill Country.   Another important recent project was published in House Beautiful, here.    She’s friends with all the great Houston’s designers, a small group of the most talented in our town.  And with good reason – she has the talent and the personality to hang with the best.

Today – let’s examine the house Barber has up for sale and compare it to her previously sold house.   It’s interesting to see how she utilizes her furniture from house to house.   By designing with a quiet background, her possessions move easily from place to place.  There’s no wallpaper to match, no loud colors that clash, instead – both houses are cozy, warm, and perfectly Ginger!





If you are a Ginger  Barber fan, here’s your chance to live in one of her houses.  Located in picturesque Southgate, near the charming Rice Village, this two story classic was recently remodeled by the popular interior designer.    At 2,251 sq. ft, the 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath house is perfect for a young family starting out,  or even empty nesters looking for a close location to downtown’s entertainment venues or the Medical Center.   The serene facade gives a hint to lies inside.



The living room runs from the length of the house from front to back.   The plaster look fireplace was redesigned by Barber using an antique concrete tile surround.  Once, Barber lived with a more cluttered look – decorating with red paisleys and red upholstery fabrics and kilim rugs – but with each move (most of which are documented in magazine spreads) Barber’s personal look has grown quieter and more peaceful.  The two Os de Mouton chairs moved from the previous home, slipped in a wonderful brown and white large linen check.    White walls are matched with the beautifully custom cut seagrass matting – two details Barber uses time and again.  Her down-filled sofas are always slipped in a neutral linen.  An array of dark wood antique tables provide the contrast.     Above the fireplace – a large relief has followed Barber from house to house to house.



The dining room is simple, no frou-frou crystal for Barber, ever.    Wicker is a favorite texture and the table adds yet another tactile surface - iron.



The kitchen has wonderful vintage styled cabinetry, marble countertops, farm sink, and open shelving.  A pine dresser is here with a Pure Lard platter - which Barber sells in her shop, The Sitting Room.  She prefers the pine furniture mixed in with dark wood tables and bamboo accent pieces.



Adjacent to the kitchen is the breakfast room with more of the wonderful cabinetry, paneled ceiling, and pine table.  This room connects with the large family room addition.  Barber added the French doors when she remodeled the house.



The large family room addition is bright and airy.  Barber raised the roof in this room which gives it its wonderful atmosphere.  The surprise here is the rug!  No seagrass!  Another Barber trademark is the large, down-filled sofa and comfortable arm chairs – always slipped in cottons and linens, either plain or a ticking stripe.  The oversize antique pine cupboard  has followed Barber through all her moves – this piece has been showcased in the numerous magazine shoots of her former houses.  The blanket chest, used here as a coffee table, is another favorite and oft used piece.



The inviting master bedroom continues the feel from downstairs with its white walls, shutters, and custom cut seagrass.   The slipcovered bed and dust ruffle are lighter than that in her previous home and the curtains appear to have been used in the prior living areas.    Simple, dark wood, antique furniture pops against the white walls.   The lamps are wonderful oriental vases with just a hint of brown.  



The bathroom has Barber’s touch – it looks like she added a rustic, old table in lieu of a built in cabinet.  The shower is the only modern touch in the house.



Barber’s teenaged son always gets two rooms – a study and a bedroom. 



Denim and ticking bedding – perfect for a boy!  Shutters and wall to wall seagrass throughout.




The powder room  - simple and straightforward.  A linen skirt on the sink.  Antique rug, bamboo shelves and mirror add an English touch.




Now – take a look at the former house, sold by Barber, it is located in West University, straight on my Starbuck’s route.  Perfectly symmetrical, with boxwoods and lanterns – the large wood and iron antique door is the focal point.   It’s hard to see the shutters on the outside, which when closed – completely block off the front door.




Barber remodeled this house, first painting it white.  She then opened the staircase to the living room.  She installed the antique front door and added traditional white shutters throughout.  The two check chairs used here, are also in her new living room and this chest is in the new family room.   These drapes, here and in the dining room, are in her new master bedroom.   Using a neutral background, the furniture moves easily from room to room and house to house.  With no wallpaper, colored walls or patterned fabrics to contend it, the nomadic Barber can reuse her possessions, over and over again – which is a wonderful lesson to take from her.



The  close up view of the stairs – styled for a photo shoot.    Bamboo accent tables are a Barber trademark, as are all the muted linen pillows piled on the rustic antique bench.




The living room styled for the photo shoot – the same coffee table in the new home’s living room shows up in this picture.    Barber replaced the traditional mantel with a more contemporary one fashioned out of stucco and surround by antique roof tiles.  The large pine armoire adds the simple, rustic look that Barber prefers.  The concrete relief above the fireplace has followed her from home to home.  Barber collects the framed herbiers for their lack of color, she says.   The pillows are a mix of antique tapestries and velvet and linen (sound familiar?) 



And styled by the realtor photographer –  here the roaming blanket chest returns.   Again, this picture highlights the often asked question – why do realtors take such bad pictures?  Out of focus, totally uninspiring – contrast this view of the living room with the above professionally styled photo. 




In Barber’s current house, this large pine bookcase is in the family room.   Here, it fits the dining room wall perfectly.  The wood chandelier here is much dressier than Barber’s current dining room fixture. 



Another view of the dining room – the bookcase holds a large collection of French yellow ware, wood crosses, and capitals – things she gathers for her home and The Sitting Room. 



The small sitting room off the living room – the wicker chairs and toile down-filled chair are mixed with a pine table and oriental armoire.  Baskets and chinoiserie lamp are from The Sitting Room, Barber’s shop.  The current dining room fixture shows up here.  Barber added the wood rafters, for more texture, of course.  The armoire and wicker chair are used in her current dining room.  The seagrass is wall to wall in this room, again a Barber trademark.



And styled for the photo shoot.   For the  magazine – Barber brought out the antique Oushak rug and paisley, though she clearly lives her every day life without the red!



This kitchen in her former house featured concrete floors and countertops and a large antique butcher’s table.  Barber totally remodeled this kitchen, stripping it bare, and then added wood rafters.  Notice though – no farm sink this time and no beautiful plumbing fixture as she has in her current house.   Bamboo hall stand has moved from house to house, along with her wonderful collection of pine stools and miniature chairs. 




The bedroom styled for the magazine shoot.  The printed bedspread is a highly unusual touch for Barber’s personal life.  This bedroom appears more decorated than the usual Barber master bedroom.  The ticking armchairs appear in the new house’s family room.   She uses the same wonderful lamps here.   So pretty!




The bedroom unstyled, seems more Ginger to me.   The slipcovered vanity in front of the window is a surprisingly feminine touch.  The dark wood furniture is the same as used in her current master bedroom.  Here, the headboard is still covered in the darker fabric – in the new house, it is in the lighter linen, matching the creamy dust ruffle.



Master bathroom seems very similar to her current bathroom.  Again, Barber totally redid this room, using a rustic antique console, rather than a built in cabinet.  The bathtub was fashioned out of concrete.



Her son’s study in the former house.



And his bedroom – with the same denims and linens.   This pine chest of drawers ended up in the new house’s kitchen.



The powder room with a few embellishments for Barber:  beautiful nickel faucet and blue and white porcelain.




In the former house, shown in the magazine,  the back yard was quite a showpiece.  Here is the deck with the wood pergola and wonderful wicker chairs and iron based tables. 



The deck with faux bois table and wicker chairs.  Evergreen wisteria grows on the pergola.



The back yard, looking towards the house – the grass was removed, and gravel takes it’s place – totally maintenance free.



Looking from the house towards the backyard with the allee of fruit trees Barber planted.  This small lot is typical of West University, where backyards actually become courtyards.  This yard in this former house was very French in feel and quite pretty.  As there are no pictures of her new house’s backyard – I can’t compare the two.


It’s interesting to see how similar the two houses are, stylistically.  Her wonderful assortment of pine and dark wood furniture, down-filled upholstered pieces covered in linen slips, and all her textural wicker, seagrass, and stone moves from house to house almost seamlessly.   I wonder where she is moving to – will she continue with the same style, or is she changing?   And don’t think that Barber’s personal decorating style, shown here in her two houses, is typical of her work, far from it.  Below – is a small example of two of my favorite jobs of Ginger’s:



Published this past year in House Beautiful, this River Oaks mansion shows Barber at her dressiest.   While she repeats her light walls (though assuredly these were not just painted!) and though the rug appears to be her usual seagrass, it is actually Tibetan jute – this room  is a more upscale version of Barber’s casual style.  The pedigree of the antiques here is far finer than Barber’s beloved rustic pine pieces.   Listen to how Barber describes her design process for this room:

“I felt strongly that the house needed simple casual linen upholstery on chairs and sofas to balance out the amazing English fringes and all the silks and the taffetas the couple wanted to use…..There's something that happens in my head. I have this beautiful big gold mirror and this drop-dead Renaissance painting, and I know I've got to stay down with the fabrics and the rug or else things will get too-too.”



The dining room with its wood paneling, crystal chandelier, and  Dessin Fournir chairs.




The family room, yes the family room – this couple has teenagers -  with its Beaumont and Fletcher furniture.  The red leather ottoman was added for “fun.”



The master bedroom is all Bennison silk Roses, checks and taffeta stripes.  The carpet was custom created to resemble an upscale hotel.  I love the small mirror highlighting the bed.



The conservatory/pool house’s sofas are covered in outdoor fabrics. 




My favorite commission of Barber’s is this high rise apartment.  Barber has managed to turn a contemporary space into an English country home.  Using a neutral palette and antique tables with wood-framed chairs, the look is sophisticated, yet inviting.



The dining room is my favorite space – white walls and seagrass – mixed with a French table and large mouton leg chairs.  The sconces and chandelier mixed with the antique trumeau and altar candlesticks turn this large room into something more cozy.



A surprise in the dining room is the Swedish sofa flanked by columns and urns – lovely!



The master bedroom has a wonderful barley twist four poster bed, mixed with antique styled lamps and herbiers.  The large chest at the foot of the bed adds rustic texture.  I wonder if the TV pops out of the chest.



And finally, the bathroom is wallpapered in a beautiful Rose Tarlow print.  The relief is similar to the one found in Barber’s own house – yet this one is more dressy.



The modern day nomad, Ginger Barber, at her beach house,  photographed by Coastal Living.  I love this picture of her, I think it reflects her style so perfectly.   But, below, she is dressed for success!




So, which Ginger Barber do you prefer?  Her personal, pared down style, full of texture and linens?  Or her more dressy style – the side her clients see?  And which house of hers did you prefer – the new one with the large, airy family room and vintage styled kitchen, or the former one, with the antique front doors and wonderful back yard?  


Barber has a web site, full of her published works.  Go here to see more of her designs.    Also, if you are in Houston, be sure to visit her shop in its new location, The Sitting Room, located at 2025 West Alabama.    And, if you are interested in purchasing the house for sale in Southgate, find the MLS here.  Be sure to let us know if you buy it!!!!!