Photographs by Fran Brennan
Written by Jenny Bradley
Produced by Helen Thompson
There are moments in life when you realize that the one thing you’ve been looking for has been right in front of you all along. For Mary Lynn and Dave Mannon, that something happened to be a spacious 1930s home in an idyllic neighborhood of Houston.
They’d lived across the street from the house for years and were in dire need of more space for their family of four, but the thought of purchasing the house didn’t even occur to Mary Lynn when she found out her neighbors were moving. “I came home and told Dave how sad I was to hear they were leaving,” says Mary Lynn. “He said, ‘We’re moving!’?”
Months later, they were happily ensconced in their new home. And though Mary Lynn loved the home’s interiors and initially changed little, with two more children (Bo, now 13, and Mary Louise, 9, who joined Seth and Connor, now 20 and 19, respectively) came the realization that a renovation was in order.
“The house was decorated beautifully—painted in these wonderful dark colors,” says Mary Lynn. “In the beginning, I really didn’t want to change a thing, but once the kids got older we decided we needed to rethink things. This is a large house—5,200 square feet—and we live in every bit of it! With two teenagers and two young children, we simply needed to change the way the house flowed.”
They enlisted architect Kirby Mears and interior designer Eleanor Cummings to lead the renovation. Most all the improvements and additions were kid-oriented, Mears says. “The Mannons were most interested in making this a great house for kids,” the architect explains. The existing small sunroom on one end of the house gave way to a new two-story addition, with an enlarged sunroom-family room on the first level and children’s bedrooms and baths above.
Another addition on the back of the house links the former family room (now a casual dining area Mary Lynn simply calls the “round-table” room) with a new outdoor grill area, TV/game room, and garage on the first level. Above is a new master suite that gives Mary Lynn and Dave a quiet place to call their own.
Mears incorporated French doors and tall windows throughout, capturing natural light and opening the house to the outdoor landscape, including a renovated swimming pool in back.
As for the decor—elegant yet welcoming was Cummings’s charge. “Mary Lynn and Dave didn’t want anything over the top,” she says. “The palette is muted; the rooms are balanced and uncluttered. Nothing is too precious or fancy. They don’t live that way.”
The living room sets the home’s rustic-yet-refined tone. Long and lean, it is left uninterrupted by area rugs for the sake of simplicity. Cummings introduced a mix of materials to provide balance. Clean-lined linen sofas and reclaimed oak floors lend a provocative contrast to the fanciful silk curtains. A weathered mirror and a patinated console offset the room’s otherwise sleek characteristics.
In the adjoining sunroom-family room, the needlepoint palette comes to life—its greiges and blues evolving into a comfortable space for gatherings. A mix of upholstered pieces in leather and linen dance around the room’s jewel-toned centerpiece—a tufted ottoman covered in cut velvet. Proof that furniture can, indeed, age gracefully.
Large enough to house an entire varsity wrestling team, the round-table room is what Mary Lynn terms “a home run.” The room evolved after Cummings dropped by and found the three boys and their sister crammed around a small breakfast room banquette they’d obviously outgrown.
Taking on multiple personalities depending on the job at hand, the space serves as library, dining room, study hall, and art studio.
“We spend a lot of time here,” says Mary Lynn. “You’ll find gift wrap, study guides, books, a violin, hockey sticks, cards. It’s just a great place to gather, and it can be many different things. And our dinners here last for hours. I guess there’s just something about a round table.”
It could also be the room’s serene palette and open furniture plan. Anchored by a large Belgian bluestone table, the room is otherwise sparsely furnished. Accentuating the less-is-more design philosophy is a palette dominated by simple bleached pine used on the floors and ceilings, as well as on cabinets surrounding the fireplace. The result is a Belgian-inspired Zen zone.
Having had its heart-of-the-house status usurped, the kitchen is free to concentrate on its culinary duties. While it’s pint-sized compared to other rooms in the house, Mary Lynn wouldn’t have it any other way.
An extra-wide travertine-topped counter separates the kitchen from the updated breakfast room. Anchored with a tufted banquette upholstered in spill-proof plastic linen, it’s a room meant for the hands of children. A pale gray palette paired with bleached pine-paneled ceilings proves that kid-friendly and refined design don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Separated from the breakfast room by antique sliding doors, the dining room is arguably the home’s most formal space. Italian with silver gilding, the doors were a savvy space-saving solution, replacing a swinging door that monopolized floor space needed for the farm table and dining chairs. But while the room may be stately, comfort is still king in this home.
“The room is sophisticated but cozy,” says Cummings. “The dining chairs are generous and comfortable. They’re covered in hemp on the back and cotton on the front. The fabrics and the clean lines of the farm table balance the more stately antiques in the room. And the doors are quite fancy but beat up a bit. It all balances out.”
“It’s simple,” says Mary Lynn. “Uncluttered. It’s light and airy and not filled with lots of little things. It sums up what I love about this house. It’s casual but elegant and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It reflects who we are and what we like. It’s the perfect backdrop for our life.”
Architect: Kirby Mears, Murphy Mears Architects, 1973 W. Gray, Suite 13, Houston, TX 77019; 713/529-9933, murphymears.com.
Interior designer: Eleanor Cummings, Eleanor Cummings Interior Design, 2726 Bissonnet, #240-215, Houston, TX 77005; 281/924-3787, eleanorcummings.com.