A contemporary condo filled with light and potential

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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She remembers the moment she stepped into this house as if it were yesterday, not a decade ago.

It is in a little constellation of condos designed by Albert Komatsu in the 1970s — the clean lines, flat roofs and bright white walls marking them as part of Fort Worth’s architectural vanguard of the day.

Even now, this cluster of homes on the city’s west side constitutes a fashionable enclave of contemporary design.

“I stood right here,” says Virginia Street Smith, planting her feet in the foyer, “and I thought, ‘This is it.’”

She remembers that light streamed through floor-to-ceiling doors in the living room, which is four short steps below the entry. To her left, a long hallway opened into the master suite, and to her right, a short corridor led to two bedrooms and a guest bath.

In that instant, she knew she was home again.

Oh, there were things that had to change, of course. The kitchen and master bedroom were too small. She wanted a garage, not a carport, and where would she play cards and mahjong?

But this light-filled house had so much potential, she couldn’t walk away.

Smith called her sons and her longtime friend and interior designer, Ken Blasingame, to have a look.

“I like the clean lines, the light ... all these floor-to-ceiling doors,” Blasingame says. “Everyone who comes in loves this house.”

And so Smith, who had lived most of her life in very traditional homes, set out to make this contemporary box her own.

“I wanted to downsize, but I didn’t want to give up my things,” she says. With the help of contractor John Guerin and Blasingame, she managed to fit all her treasures into the expanded space and even add more art.

“It was about 3,300 square feet when we started. It’s about 4,300 now,” Guerin says. That doesn’t include a garage that has the biggest overhead door he says he has ever installed.

It took a year to renovate the house. A wall in the 20-foot-long master bedroom was pushed out 5 feet, and the space in one of the two master baths became part of Smith’s closet.

Every window in the house was actually a door, and all were replaced by custom-made mahogany doors that were then painted.

“Mahogany was the only wood stable enough to carry the height,” explains Guerin.

Hand-scraped oak floors were laid, and Blasingame added a traditional note to this sleek space by installing antique pilasters at the entrance to the living room.

Living room walls are painted a soft parchment, and still the room vibrates with color from the diverse art collection displayed there. An English pine sideboard is flanked by a large sky-blue contemporary piece by Scottie Parsons on one side and a dark 18th-century Austrian painting of Cleopatra.

Contemporary paintings in shades of red share the wall with more realist and romantic Adrian Martinez works.

The room is a feast of eclectic finds: a curio cabinet filled with one-of-a-kind music boxes, an 18th-century Italian painted desk bedecked with a series of terra-cotta figurines from Spain and a collection of silver boxes.

An enormous shell filled with more shells shares an antique writing table with a large bouquet of fresh flowers from friend and florist Mary Parks, a colorful miniature Mexican gondola, and a whimsical sculpture by Robert McAn.

“I buy what I like and Ken finds a way to use it all,” Smith says.

“If you like something well enough to buy it, you’ll find a place to use it,” Blasingame says.

He says clients are always looking for comfort, function and beauty in their homes. Kitchens are central to establishing this feeling of ease, and everyone agreed that Smith’s small kitchen had to be reworked.

The enlarged kitchen gobbled up a small courtyard on the north side of the house, and the west wall was pushed out 5 feet, making the once-narrow room a generous space that accommodates not only cooking and dining, but also a snug sitting area with fireplace.

Blasingame turned his back on the requisite granite kitchen counter tops and sniffed out lovely handmade turquoise tiles instead.

“These tiles have a brilliance I’ve never found again,” he says.

Smith wanted to keep the original “glass backsplashes” that span the space between upper cabinets and counter tops, but that wall was being moved and it wasn’t easy to keep those short “windows.”

“We had to install a steel beam to carry the weight of the cabinets,” Guerin says.

Underfoot, a bright red rug rests on the hand-scraped Honduran pine floors that anyone would swear were 100 years old, thanks to a custom treatment. A colorful collection of ceramic ware is displayed on ecru walls.

One of Blasingame’s own early works hangs above the brick fireplace. It is a vibrantly hued collage of three women.

He shrugs. Well, yes, this Amarillo boy, the baby in a family of seven, once dreamed of making his way in the world as a painter, but instead he became an interior designer who paints and sometimes represents other artists while quietly tending to a long list of notable clients.

“I like to create harmony,” he says as he repositions an ottoman before moving on to the living room, where he moves a sofa a few inches and shifts the placement of an antique Portuguese armchair covered in Fortuny fabric.

This constant adjusting of objects is second nature.

Blasingame is always trying to feed the eye. For him, color is the spice of any interesting decor.

Smith likes color, too, and when a little-used courtyard was appropriated to make space for a card room and bar, they agreed to paint the walls a vibrant green. Blasingame never paints just one wall with an accent color, he says.

It’s the same green used in George Washington’s Mount Vernon dining room, but for Blasingame, this pedigreed color carries none of the sometimes tedious patina of history.

“It looks so contemporary,” he says.

A vintage card table and McGuire chairs with new cushions dominate the room, but Smith says it is jammed with many of her favorite things: R.C. Gorman’s bronze bust of an American Indian woman, an early Bob Stuth-Wade abstract landscape, a collection of contemporary watercolors by Pamela Nelson, three small pieces by local artist and friend Alex Williamson, works by Jane Helslander, and a large piece by McAn, as well as a leather screen that once hung above her bed.

“This room was such a good idea,” Blasingame says. “It balances the whole house.”

While the interior was shaping up, Smith and Blasingame didn’t forget the outside challenges. The house hugs an intimate courtyard, but 10 years ago, the land behind it sloped upward.

Blasingame suggested the addition of a massive retaining wall, creating a terraced retreat with steps up to a Mexican fountain and planting beds. It has become one of Smith’s favorite spots.

He also wanted to enclose the exterior approach to the front door with iron gates and matching screens between existing columns, and Smith was game.

The flowering fig vines they planted have almost covered the house now, and it is the comfortable, beautiful home Smith had imagined that day a decade ago. She is happy with her home, satisfied with the life she has lived filled with travel and friends and art.

But it is not necessarily the life she expected when she was a girl growing up in Graham or living with her grandparents in Dallas during the years of World War II.

“I always wanted to live on a ranch and raise horses,” she says.

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