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Understated Elegance in a Classic Home

Tightly edited spaces in a Normandy style home make a dramatic statement

Written by Candace Ord Manroe
  • Alise O’Brien

    A switchback course of abrupt stops and sharp turns led to the design of Bill and Joan Koman’s St. Louis home. "It all began 12 years ago in Colorado, where we were thinking of buying a ski condo," says Joan. "We saw a unit designed by Marshall Watson, and I was so taken with it that I told Bill we had to retain him to design ours." Her love-at-first-sight experience was soon validated in a phone conversation with Watson. Like a couple of teenagers, they talked for nearly two hours. When the Komans’ priorities schussed in a different direction, leaving their plans for a ski house behind in a spray of snow, Watson kept pace, designing two other projects for them. By the time they bought their current home—a stately but poorly aging house in St. Louis—he could nearly read their minds.

    Bill and Joan Koman’s seven children and 13 grandchildren love the living room’s sink-down comfort, seen here.

    Photography: Alise O’Brien
    Produced by Mary Anne Thomson

    Interior design: Marshall Watson, Marshall Watson Interiors, 105 W. 72nd St., Suite 9B, New York, NY 10023; 212/595-5995.
    Decorative paint: Judy Mulligan, through Marshall Watson, 212/595-5995.

    Upholstered sofa and chairs; tea caddy: Lewis Mittman, 212/888-5580,, trade only.
    Pillow fabric (discontinued): Clarence House, 800/803-2850, trade only.
    Console table (Irish Georgian reproduction); side table: Baker, 800/592-2537,
    Bronze urns: Lee Calicchio Ltd. Antiques, 212/588-0841.
    Mirror: Mirror Fair, 212/288-5050.
    Obelisk: Lexington Gardens, 212/861-4390.
    Chinese vintage urn: John Rosselli International, 212/772-2137, trade only.
    Lampshades: Abat Jours, 212/753-5455. Fauteuil: Agostino Antiques Ltd., 212/533-3355, trade only.
    Chair fabric (discontinued): Quadrille Wallapers & Fabrics, 212/753-2995, trade only.
    Drapery (velvet): Nomi Fabrics inc., 831/728-4335.
    Drapery hardware: Blome Corp., 800/875-0042.
    Coffee table: Mrs. MacDougall, 212/688-7754, trade only.
    Carpet: Darius Antique & Decorative Rugs, 212/644-6600.
    Paint: custom.

  • Alise O’Brien

    New York designer Watson, above, praises Joan’s impeccable style, and it’s no coincidence that the designer shares her quietly refined taste. "We definitely have similar viewpoints," Watson explains. "After her initial phone call from Colorado, I knew I had to meet this person because she had so much to teach me. In design, we all have our muses. Joan is one of mine. I inspire her style; she inspires mine."

  • Alise O’Brien

    Their mutual admiration isn’t just talk. It yields results.

    In every room, Watson practiced restraint. What’s absent is as important as what’s present—maybe more. "The spaces are tightly edited," he says. "When you look at the dining room, you’re able to see the gorgeous grain of the woods. You can also see the architecture. Those things aren’t hidden by a lot of objects. Each element is allowed to become architectural, with its own strong silhouette."

    The dining room is big enough for the Komans’ large family.


    Table and chairs (discontinued); butler’s tray: Baker, 800/592-2537.
    Chair fabric; chairs at window; china: owner’s collection.
    Table at window: Kentshire Galleries, 212/673-6644.
    Chandelier (rock crystal and iron): Holly Hunt, 312/661-1900, trade only. Drapery (discontinued): Brunschwig & Fils, 212/838-7878, trade only.

  • Alise O’Brien

    A period Sheraton table and an antique French chair sit in the dining-room alcove.

  • Alise O’Brien

    A striking testament to that restraint is the entry, where a round antique Georgian table and a pair of terra-cotta urns on columns prove that minimal can make a mega impact. The room’s evolution was a collaboration between Joan and Watson. "We were in New York, looking for furniture, and Marshall took me to see this table with its beautiful wood and ‘just right’ proportions. It was so exquisite we decided to buy it," Joan recalls. "Then I saw these two urns, and of course we had to have pedestals for them. That was what was so fun about shopping with Marshall. There was always this element of surprise. When we saw something we liked, he figured out a way to make it work."

    The urns, Watson adds, are a good illustration of pieces with strong silhouettes. Reproductions with a little age on them—he guesses these to be 20 or 30 years old—the urns also have an "exquisite patina" that he says characterizes all the furniture and accessories. In this case, it’s "efflorescence, a white crust that is the result of lime leaching out of the terra-cotta over a period of years."

    With only a few furnishings, the entry makes a dramatic architectural statement. The French doors and sidelights are gracefully geometric, with their shape underscored by the round counterpoint of the circle fountain outside.

    Circular table: Agostino Antiques, 212/533-3355, trade only.
    Hanging lantern ("Gothic Lantern’’): Holly Hunt, 312/ 661-1900,, trade only.
    Urns: Randolph & Hein, 800/844-9922,, trade only.
    Pedestals: The Bayberry, 631/267-3000.
    Rug: Beauvais Carpet, 212/688-2265.
    Flooring: oak with walnut stain.

  • Alise O’Brien

    The couple added the courtyard fountain.

    Lantern ("Navarre Lantern’’): Holly Hunt, 312/661-1900, trade only.
    Brick pavers: Haddonstone Ltd., 856/931-7011,
    Rug; console; bowl: owner’s collection.
  • Alise O’Brien

    Because Watson understood what had attracted Joan to the St. Louis house, he was able to preserve those features while bolstering weaker areas and correcting the mistakes of previous decades.

    Built in 1938 in a Normandy style, the house was an architectural beauty downstairs. Upstairs, not so much. "It was a disaster," says Watson. "It was a rabbit warren of small rooms. Our challenge was to create more graciously scaled spaces in character with the rest of the house."

    Its Normandy style and large scale attracted the Komans to the house seen here.

  • Alise O’Brien

    Watson made major architectural changes to the family room, including the addition of the Palladian window/door that replaced dated glass sliders.

    Chairs; chairs at game table (The British Khaki Collection): Robert Lighton, 212/343-2299,
    Carpet: Odegard, 800/670-8836,, trade only.
    Leather bench; coffee table; drapery (burlap): owner’s collection.
    Walls: crosshatch textured glaze with a weathered aged fabric.
    Floor: Shelly Tile, 212/832-2255, trade only.
  • Alise O’Brien

    Going into the attic to raise the ceilings to 11 feet, then adding interest with tray ceilings, brought better scale and detailing to the upstairs. Opening up the rooms to create a large master suite completed the transformation.

    Above, the bedroom exhibits the graceful proportions, balance, and careful selections that characterize the entire house.

    Hanging lantern: Lewis Mittman Inc., 212/888-5580, trade only.
    Drapery (discontinued); shears (wool shears); settee fabric (discontinued): Clarence House Ltd., 800/803-2850, trade only.
    Drapery hardware: Blome Corp., 800/875-0042.
    Settee: Agostino Antiques, 212/533-3355.
    Bedside table: Baker, 800/592-2537.
    Table lamp (Mercury glass): John Salibello Antiques, 212/838-5767 and 212/668-7499.
    Bed: Leonard’s Antiques, 888/336-8585,
    Headboard: Marshall Watson Interiors, 212/595-5995.
    Quilted coverlet (custom): Chelsea Editions, 212/758-0005,, trade only.

  • Alise O’Brien

    While Joan describes her style as "classic, understated elegance," she’s quick to praise its practical side. "Not only does it never go out of style, it makes a home very comfortable." That’s important when you have seven children and 13 grandkids, including a pair of 1-year-old twin boys. "Our large family was really why we bought the house," she explains. "Before we could get inside, we peeked in the dining room, and I saw that it was big enough for a table that could seat all of us. I was sold."

    Bill, a former all-pro linebacker for the St. Louis Cardinals, is just as content, if not more so. "Every time we go away, he asks why we left, since it’s so comfortable here," shares Joan. "And I agree. Each time we return home, it’s a joy."

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