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Historic Family Home
Historic Pease Mansion in Austin receives a fresh, modern makeover
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Pease Mansion is only minutes from downtown Austin—the hip epicenter of one of America’s most progressive cities—but it appears just-plucked from a sleepy Southern plantation. That impression doesn’t miss the mark by much. Built in 1853, the white brick mansion is a prized vestige of the city’s antebellum architecture. With two-story Ionic columns, a wide portico, and floor-to-ceiling windows (the old-timers’ cunning way around paying property taxes on doors), the home is a stellar example of Greek Revival architecture and a reminder that Austin’s roots run to the Deep South. (Not to say that the Wild West didn’t shape the town, too. As late as 1908, a frontier-style shoot-out shattered the peace in downtown’s elegant Driskill Hotel.)
Since its construction, the hilltop mansion has captured the imagination of almost everyone who sees it. Interior designer Mark Ashby was among the smitten. "From 1998 to 2000, I lived in an apartment in the neighborhood while the home was empty," he explains. "I would walk onto the property and peer inside, thinking wouldn’t it be cool if somebody would buy and restore the property and bring it back to life?"
Ashby, a Louisiana native who was still cutting his design teeth after moving to Austin in 1995, has a perfectly capable imagination. But in his wildest dreams, he never suspected that he would be the one tapped to give the majestic house CPR. "When I got the call from the new owners, it felt too good to be true," he admits.
Photography: John Granen
Produced by Helen Thompson
Design: Mark Ashby and Mary Ames, Mark Ashby Design, 902 E. Fifth St., Suite 209, Austin, TX 78702; 512/524-1220
Architect: Tom Hatch, Hatch + Ulland Owen Architects, 702 San Antonio St., Austin, TX 78701-2826; 512/474-8548, huoarchitects.com.
Warm Living Room
Designers Ashby and Mary Ames set a warm palette in the living room with an antique Oushak rug.
Drapery ("Montague’’/Amber on Wheat): George Cameron Nash, 214/744-1544, georgecameronnash.com, trade only.
Sofa: Mark Ashby Design, 512/420-8177.
Sofa fabric (#19543-116): Kravet, 888/457-2838, kravet.com, trade only. Coffee table: Mac Maison Ltd., 504/891-2863, macmaisonltd.1stdibs.com. Chairs: James Powell Antiques, 512/477-9939.
Rug: Creative Flooring, 713/522-1181.
Pedestal table: The Gray Door, 713/521-9085.
Brass-and-glass table; ram’s horn: Mark Ashby Design, 512/420-8177. Mantel and fireplace surround: original to house.
Chandelier; barley twist-style chair: Randall Edward, 713/521-9888, randalledward.com.
Gold shield in fireplace: Martha Sturdy, 604/872-5205, marthasturdy.com.
Youthful Dining Room
Only in their early 30s, Ashby and his design partner at the time, Mary Ames, had not cinched as much experience under their creative belts as had some other decorators in the city. But they possessed an even more valuable commodity: a fresh eye. That’s what Austin businessman Jeff Sandefer and his wife, Laura, needed to bring their newly purchased home to life for them and their three youngsters.
"Because they were a young family, they wanted the design to be understated, with nothing too formal or off-limits to small children," recalls Ashby. "Our task was to respect the architecture by creating a design appropriate to its scale and style but still make it family-friendly. That meant no silk settees and no swagged draperies." It also meant not allowing history to intimidate. Neither the designers nor their young clients permitted their vision for the house to be restricted by the fact that two Texas governors from two different centuries have called Pease Mansion home.
Dignified but youthful, the dining room fulfills Laura Sandefer’s intent for her home. "It was meant to have young children running through it again," she says.
Table; consoles: Lars Bolander, 212/924-1000, larsbolander.com.
Chairs: Dreyfus Antiques Galleries, 512/473-2443.
Chair fabric ("Cerro’’/Moth): George Cameron Nash, 214/744-1544, trade only.
Chandelier: The Gray Door, 713/521-9085.
Rug: Odegard, 800/670-8836, odegardinc.com, trade only.
Wheat sconces over mantel: Tipler’s Lamp Shop, 512/472-5007.
Drapery ("Provence’’/Sky by Kohly): Dorian Bahr, 713/599-0900, trade only. Lamps on console: James Powell Antiques, 512/477-9939.
Old Treasure, New Life
"I remember driving by when the house was uninhabited and deteriorating," says Laura. "I would think, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be loved again.’ The idea of breathing life back into an old treasure strongly appealed to both Jeff and me." The idea of living in a museum did not. "We wanted to honor history while embracing an element of modernity," Laura explains. "We knew the house spoke for itself, so we wanted to give it room to breathe. That meant simplifying rather than adorning."
The 18th-century settee shown here sits in the entry, sparely furnished to "leave room for the family to grow," says designer Mark Ashby.
Settee: James Powell Antiques, 512/477-9939.
Fabric ("Casanova’’/Suede Chino, by Jacqueline Scott Ltd): owner’s collection.
Floor lamps (by Thomas Pheasant): Baker, 800/592-2537.
Paint ("Maritime White’’ #OC-5): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667.
Stair runner: Merida Meridian Inc., 800/345-2200, meridameridian.com.
Chandelier: Mac Maison Ltd., 504/891-2863.
Sunny Family Room
Simplification began by removing 5,000 square feet added in the ’50s, returning the house to its original footprint. Project architect Tom Hatch reconfigured spaces in the back to create a sunny family room, kitchen, and breakfast area, capturing space from a library and hall. Structural repairs, including a new foundation, also were required. "The hardwood floors were resting on dirt," recalls Ashby. Even worse, the house was dangerous. "Meeting with the architects one day, I asked, ‘Could this house actually fall in?’ Their answer was yes."
In the new great room, semigloss paint on the ceiling reflects sunlight like a calm overhead sea. Ashby "obsessed about the lighting, limiting recessed lights to the kitchen."
Sofas: Billy Baldwin by Ventry Ltd., 732/872-7300, ventryltd.com.
Sofa fabric ("Bravo! Caffe’’/Dark Brown #7550-18): Donghia Furniture/Textiles Ltd., 800/366-4442, donghia.com, trade only.
Pillow fabric (printed linen, by China Seas): Quadrille Wallpapers & Fabrics, 212/ 753-2995, trade only.
Roman shades: latex linen. Club chairs: Lee Industries, 800/892-7150, leeindustries.com.
Club-chair fabric ("Basketcase’’/Aquamarine Velvet #10011-14): Donghia Furniture/Textiles Ltd., 800/366-4442, trade only.
Sisal rug: Merida Meridian Inc., 800/ 345-2200.
Desk: Kay O’Toole Antiques, 713/523-1921, kayotooleantiques.com.
Bar stools: McGuire Furniture Co., 800/662-4847, kohlerinteriors, trade only.
Pendant lights (by Halofane): Wyeth, 212/243-3661. Kitchen cabinetry: Tom Hatch, 512/474-8548.
A hinge salvaged during a renovation of the Texas capitol in the 1950s.
Less is more in this home’s design.
Ashby had a strong sense of the direction the decorating style should go. "It required a classic, timeless aesthetic that’s still up-to-date." Marble mantels that had been added since the house was built were replaced with simple Greek Revival-style millwork surrounds. "Our biggest cue for the style was the owners. They are both understated, not a bit ostentatious. We ran with that," adds Ames. Semigloss paints in warm neutral hues call attention to the plaster walls and ceilings, especially shaped areas like the entry’s gently curving stairwell. Tailored linen window treatments honor the architecture without being fussy. A mix of 18th-century and newer European antiques join comfortable new upholstered seating covered in easy-to-clean linens and cottons. "The Sandefers’ collection of abstract art is the perfect finish to the house," says Ashby.
Here, a cinnamon custom paint warms the music room.
Paint ("Tawny’’ #2161-20): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667, benjaminmoore.com.
Rug: Edgar Kelly Rugs, 888/882-4406, edgarkellyrugs.com.
Console: Karla Katz, 504/897-0061.
French chairs and cocktail table: Mac Maison, 504/891-2863.
Drapery (silk taffeta): Robert Allen, 800/333-3777, robertallendesign.com, trade only.
Mantel and fireplace surround: original to house.
Fire screen: Stoll, stollfireplaceinc.com.
Chandelier (carved ram’s head): Skelton White & Co., 513/524-1990.
Interior designers Mary Ames and Mark Ashby