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Into the Woods
By Helen Thompson | Photo: Interior photography by Robert Yu | Exterior photography by Charles Davis Smith | October 2, 2018
The connection between dwelling and nature is a revelation to the owners of a new house designed by Max Levy.
“It’s like getting to know a calm person,” says Dallas architect Max Levy about a house he designed for Anne and Ethan Underwood, “and discovering they are more interesting than you thought.” The couple’s new two-story residence radiates serenity—an aura due in part to the pink hue of its St. Joe brick exterior and in part to the elegance of the siting under the benevolent watch of five mature oaks. The house is composed of two long rectangular buildings connected by another—horizontal—rectangular building. Levy developed a relationship of the three rectangles to the trees that defines both functionality and aesthetics. The alliance reveals itself gradually, starting at an unassuming stone cobble walkway that leads to a 5-foot-wide translucent glass front door crowned by a screened porch. It would be easy to think that the portal provides admission to a secret natural world—and, actually, you wouldn’t be wrong.
“The Underwoods,” says Levy, “are that rare Texas couple that likes to open their windows.” That was news worth taking seriously, revealed to Levy when the couple first met with him to discuss building a house on a lot they had acquired in Greenway Parks. The Underwoods had lived in the idyllic Dallas subdivision since 2002—and, as parents of three children, they wanted to stay there. “We didn’t want to give up all the relationships we had built,” says Ethan. The child-friendly enclave was developed in the 1920s in the English commons tradition of clustering homes around private parkways. Ethan, an investments manager, and Anne, a retired lawyer, had always admired Levy’s work—the native Texan is known for the eloquence with which he connects buildings and nature. That was a bond the Underwoods were eager to cement: “Their number one priority,” says Levy, “was to preserve the trees.” The couple are also longtime friends of interior designer Wendy Konradi—this project is her first solo effort after working for designer Emily Summers for 13 years.
The homeowners’ mandate to Konradi and Levy was that every room and all the furniture had to be usable. The couple wanted an informal house—“no living room or dining room,” says Ethan about the five-bedroom, 6 ½-bath home built around a courtyard. The three rectangular buildings divide function—on the left is an 18-by-50 barnlike living, cooking and dining area. In the horizontal middle section, the front door opens onto a study overlooking the courtyard and pool. To the right, there’s a two-story bedroom compound with the children’s rooms above and the master suite below.
The architect found a design soulmate in Konradi: Materials are the language Levy uses to convey meaning to a building, and Konradi’s philosophy for selecting furniture, fabric and finishes is compatible. “What we appreciate about Wendy’s style,” says Anne, “is that she picks beautiful pieces that go with the architecture.” One of the designer’s meaningful decisions was to opt for a diamond-finish gypsum plaster on walls throughout the house. Although it is glamorous, plaster is durable and offers a soft, luminescent backdrop for the homeowners’ art collection. “The plaster is so beautiful,” says Anne, “that we are not in a hurry to fill up wall space.”
The method Konradi used to acquire furniture was familiar to Ethan and Anne. “I was collecting one-of-a-kind, vintage and limited-edition furniture for them,” says the designer, “and they understood that process from collecting art.” Not that the designer’s selections were precious, because they weren’t. In the study, the chain link Privat Lampe II by artist Franz West lights a Vladimir Kagan Boomerang sofa purchased as is. The aqueous pattern in the gray-blue rug anticipates the view of the pool just beyond. The great room is easily adaptable to family time or party time, with an everyday table Konradi designed that’s topped with Caesarstone on an oak base. When the Underwoods throw a party, they can pull apart the table to seat up to 16; no worry about spills—the waxed-linen cushions on the banquette are wipeable. For larger gatherings, the steel and glass doors slide back for access to a patio that wraps around that end of the building.
The outside is an ever-present facet in the enjoyment of the house—from the screened porch (“It’s in the sweet spot,” says Levy) to the decor. Konradi’s nuances are everywhere, from the watery blue and white ombre pattern on the upholstered bed in the master bedroom that’s parallel to the pool outside to the striations in the silver travertine marble in the master bath that suggest you might be bathing in the middle of an exotic archeological dig. Then there are the surprises the architect left for the couple to discover. “I knew it was going to be a cool house and fun to live in,” says Ethan. “But after being in the house about a month, we realized how connected we felt to nature and how good the natural light made us feel—we never asked Max to do that, but he was just so far ahead of us. It has been very moving to discover the world we now live in.”
Max Levy Architect
Wendy Konradi Interior Design
Hocker Design Group
Vladimir Kagan sofa in study
Coffee table in study
George Cameron Nash
Alabaster table lamps in master bedroom
Katavolos, Littel & Kelly dining chairs in great room
Holland & Sherry
Custom wool rug in study
Jean Rispal lamp in great room
Joseph Carini Carpets
Wool and silk rug in great room
Scott + Cooner
Walter Knoll sofa in great room
Counter stools in great room