Posted Tuesday, Nov. 06, 2012
At its best, a mid-century modern home is the architectural equivalent of a thought bubble. Intended by early architects to encapsulate the expression of a lifestyle, the iconic homes are built with structural lines that are engineered to be more suggestive than solid, a backdrop to the pulse points within.
Such is the studied translucence of Pam and William Campbell's home that, in the mind's eye, the Fort Worth gallery owners' collection of contemporary art and mid-century furnishings seems to float, independent of walls, within the light that transfuses the home at every turn.
White painted brick walls, glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows bracket the central living spaces of the house, which is cantilevered over a carport and slope of lawn in the front and nestled into the steep pitch of the pie-shaped lot to the back. Living and dining room treetop views, as well as windows onto two recently tweaked patios, not only extend the sightlines, but also infuse the home with natural light.
The Campbells bought the home in 1996 after years of watching the market for a mid-century modern house just right for them. Built in the Northcrest neighborhood of Fort Worth in 1953, the home was designed by Tom Stanley -- an artist and architect whose Dallas firm was one of the largest in the country in the '60s.
Move-in ready takes on a whole new meaning for collectors of art seeking a home that is an accommodating partner. Because it was built without overhead lighting, a signature of mid-century design, the Campbells had the entire house rewired for recessed lighting. Other renovations and updates followed to good effect.
"We love it even more now because we've been able to do some things to bring it back to its original design and to accentuate the mid-century modern aspect of the house while adding touches that make it more 'us,'" Bill says.
To that end, the couple replaced parquet floors with terrazzo tile and removed mirrors installed by a former owner across the living room brick wall, effectively reconnecting the flow from the home's white brick exterior and foyer, through the living area to the back patio. They covered cement floors in the bedroom wing with a black-on-black embossed carpet.
A small kitchen was brightened with white cabinets and exuberantly color-flecked terrazzo countertops, customized in answer to Pam's desire for a look "like an explosion of confetti." Most recently, a breakfast room has been updated with floating shelves designed to hold a collection of hand-thrown pottery.
In all corners, the home's spare lines are anything but static.
As is characteristic, beneath the tranquility and minimalism, there is the suggestion of movement wrought by the blurring of inside and outside spaces. An awareness of the passage of the sun, the wind in the treetops and the glimmer where sunlight meets glass energizes the home. But if the light sometimes suggests the shimmer of a mirage, it is the couple's art that provides the home's hum.
Facing the front door, a large painting by Scottie Parsons balances the light and proportion of the entry. Like a foggy window, the painting draws the viewer in, slowly revealing fragments of words beneath the wispy strata of paint like a visualization of the unformed thoughts that hover in our brains. It is the shifting depths of the painting, with its promise of something more formed, more comprehensible, that draws a guest into the home filled with many artful interpretations of life's levels, layers and surprises.
Pam Campbell likes to be surprised. In the formal living room, a sculpted limestone table by Jill Sablosky is relieved of severity by a ray of stone arching over the surface that can be rotated at whim and the serendipity of a tiny turquoise-colored stone set at its base. The formal living room -- open to a bird's-eye view of the street to one side and a flank of patio to the other -- is dominated by Palette Trout, Richard Thompson's oversize, modern take on a traditional still life, that features both the fish, the fly that ensnared him and floral elements, all entangled in colors drawn from the trout.
Across the room above the fireplace, an oil-stick-on-paper work by Jake Gilson also evokes water. Here, an amoebalike sprawl suggests an ink droplet slowly diffusing, perhaps to ultimate dissolution, possibly a statement about the protean nature of life. There's a hint of tropical vibrancy in both artworks, echoed by the outside bougainvillea and buoyant assembly of vintage rattan furniture.
Less strictly linear than many mid-century modern homes, the original footprint of the Campbell house has a T-shape, but also a sort of undulation. The living room intersects an east-to-west slope of rooms that terraces downhill from the cantilevered dining room with windows on three sides and a view down through the kitchen and breakfast room to the rear patio. A mounted limestone shelf by Jake Gilson serves as a bar in a small gallery-cum-anteroom that steps up to the dining area.
At the other end of the home, a hall hung with artwork leads past the original two bedrooms -- one is now a guest room, the other houses Bill's collection of guitars -- to the fireside white leather "dog bone" sofa and chair in a den adjacent to the master bedroom suite. A sitting area between bedroom and den features lipstick-red reissued Eames chairs and a stunning multitextural painting on aluminum by Bernd Haussmann. The vignette faces sliding glass doors onto a private patio where a long-standing problem with an unsightly fence has recently been resolved by the creative construction of a metal fence with sculptural qualities.
All three of the home's bathrooms are filled with the sort of surprise that informs the couple's choices in both art and decor. "Bathrooms should be fun. You can do the unexpected," Pam says. Artist Pam Summers was commissioned to create the painted ceramic vessel sink in the guest bath. The Guitar Room's bath features a brilliant yellow pedestal sink that could not have found a better home, along with a Mondrian-influenced tile pattern in the shower.
Innovation created the modern architectural vibe of the master bath, where concrete was cast onsite for the square-cornered trough tub and washplane sinks. The industrial modern look of the galvanized metal-lined shower stall and exposed ductwork works in delightful contrast to the artisanship of the patina-green Venetian plaster walls. Light from clerestory windows filters into the womblike master bedroom over the three-quarter-height bathroom wall set with wooden fish by different artists.
Equal to the significant paintings throughout the home is the number and selection of chairs. In every room, at least one makes a style statement. One searches for a collective noun to describe the collection. "Assembly" might work in an auditorium setting, "crush" in a small space, "rank" had they less character. Seriously dedicated to the overarching and thoughtful design of the home, perhaps they are best saluted as a cadre.
Pam says simply, "I have a thing about chairs. They can be so sculptural." It is a sentiment echoed by Bill.
The couple, who met as students at TCU and now work together at the William Campbell Contemporary Art gallery, appears to share a vision for their home that is seamlessly compatible.
In the formal living room, a lipstick-red Verner Panton cone chair holds a place of honor near a Isamu Noguchi coffee table. The chair's Space Age lines are in period accord, but also the red has become a signature card for the Campbells, played sparingly but to great effect throughout the house. Two cushioned leather side chairs in the room were but skeletons when purchased from an antique shop that Bill entered while insisting that they would buy no more chairs. Then he spotted the tubular steel frames hanging from the ceiling. Their funky industrial vibe is in perfect harmony with the dining room's iconic hair-on hide and chrome chaise that was described as a "resting machine" when Le Corbusier designed the original in 1929. Sculptural tulip chairs invoke Eero Saarinen in the breakfast room. In the guest room, a seasoned rattan pretzel chair from the '40s has been re-covered in delicate vintage bark cloth.
"Basically, the chairs are all like pieces of sculpture. We like to combine classic mid-century design with a touch of funkiness thrown in for fun," Pam says. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the bedroom where a 1920s-era Gerrit Rietveld artwork, the Red Blue Chair, has the minimalist lines and sculptural quality that define the Bauhaus era. The whimsical colors and geometry make it a perfect fit not only for the room, but for the Campbells' cadre of chairs.
And yet, cherished as they are, none of the house chairs -- not even the Jetson-like white patent-leather Paris salon chairs that grace the dining room assembly -- proves central to the happiest hours the couple spends at home. They share a belief that what makes a house a home is a personal connection to the environment.
At the end of a long, art-filled day in the gallery, Bill and Pam frequently withdraw to their den. Initially, they do not lounge upon the curvaceous white leather furnishings. The couple most often cap the day sitting harem-style on the floor, dining aux deux surrounded by the art created by friends old and new.
It's a ritual anyone in the habit of visiting art museums can understand. Who hasn't wished to make a more personal connection to a great collection by settling in on the floor and making oneself at home?
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