Designers Leigh Anne Muse and Lili O’Brien decorated a warm Spanish Colonial Revival house using only creams and browns.
MIMI READ: I’ve only been to Richmond once before, and it seemed chockablock with Georgian houses. Maybe I blinked. Are there lots more of these exotic specimens?
LEIGH ANNE MUSE: Not at all. Richmond has many old homes, most of them extremely traditional in the English or American sense. This one’s very un-Richmond.
I feel like I’m in Santa Barbara or Boca Raton.
LAM: It’s a marvelous Spanish Colonial Revival home that could indeed be in some sunny resort. It was built in 1934 for a man who had ties to Miller & Rhoades, a department store that’s an old Richmond icon. He was a movie buff, fascinated by the California lifestyle, and he liked to entertain. The living room is enormous. The dining room seats a crazy amount of people.
The architecture has a great vibe — and the setting is blockbuster.
LILI O’BRIEN: In Richmond, we call this Mansion Row. Grand European-inspired estates border a 300-acre park with beautiful trees, lakes, and picturesque buildings. I love the weighty feel of this house. None of the openings are cased, so you get a sense of the thickness of the stucco walls. Everything has an artisanal hand. The floor tiles are terra-cotta, old and well-worn. The hardware on the windows is wrought iron.
Who are the homeowners?
LO: Caroline Wallace is a luxury-travel consultant who organizes trips around the world. She’s sophisticated but also fun and personable. Her husband, Gordon, owns a company that makes sound machines, and they have two college-age daughters.
Your decorating makes the house festive enough for a cocktail soiree, yet it’s still comfortable and livable.
LO: Their previous home had a formal French interior, with Louis XVI chairs and gilt bergères. Here, they wanted rooms just as elegant but much more relaxed. We repurposed Caroline’s French things and mixed them with modern and primitive art she’s collected on her travels, and she gave us free rein to select new furnishings. We added antiques and contemporary pieces.
Every wall is a fresh, elegant white. Did you ever consider stronger color?
LO: Never. I was born and raised in Aix-en-Provence, France, where my father was a painter studying with a Cézanne expert. I have never seen a stucco wall inside an authentic Mediterranean house painted anything but cream, and I wasn’t about to mess with that tradition.
But many Spanish Colonial Revival houses are at least furnished with lavish color — ruby reds, evergreens. You didn’t go there.
LAM: The architecture sets up a contrast between dark wood beams and pale stucco, and we wanted to continue that. In the living room, for instance, we chose a dark wood armoire to play off the creamy sofas. The iron on a side table contrasts sharply with the white marble of a lamp.
That glam powder room is high contrast, too.
LAM: The Art Deco black-tile wainscoting and the slightly Moroccan patterned floor tile are original to the house. They hark back to the first owner’s interest in 1930s Hollywood glamour. It proved to be a challenging space because it’s small, dark, and tucked under the stairs. We ended up using a painted and gilded bombé chest from Caroline’s old living room to add reflectivity and amp up the elegance.
Forgive me for alluding to a marshmallow ad, but this bedroom seems jet-puffed. I’d never want to leave it.
LO: It is sumptuously layered. At the same time, there are elements helping to tamp that down a bit, like the walnut headboard. It’s an early-18th-century Italian piece we purchased from the previous owners — too good to pass up.
The gilt furnishings and fine needlepoint rug give it a Southern parlor aspect.
LO: Most of the furnishings are from Caroline’s previous living room. We put her Savonnerie rug on top of a low-pile wall-to-wall cashmere carpet. The gilt sofa and coffee table were also from there. We used her cranberry-glass lamps for a burst of color.
Do the owners use the sofa as a place to strew clothing? This, I suspect, is the sad but true life of most sofas placed at the foot of a bed.
LAM: Oh no, they use it! They wake up and have coffee sitting on the softest white silk. The girls come in and hang out all the time. Nobody can resist those lofty down cushions. It may seem prosaic, but sometimes it’s the mechanics of furniture that changes the conversation.
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