A custom-built Shreveport house with Gallic flair is small in size but has big quality furnishings.
Marlene and Edward Shaw's new Shreveport, Louisiana, home is like an elegantly wrapped small gift box that women anxiously eye, hopeful for a gem inside. The French-inspired architecture doesn't disappoint. Once inside the carved limestone entry, exemplary 18th-century country French and English antiques are proof: Downsizing does not demand any compromise in quality.
Quite the opposite, if you think about it. Downsizing requires distilling. And what's more effective than a tough-love purifying purge to ensure against a farrago of furnishings and fabrics of uneven quality and little cohesion? "You edit away the things not near to your heart, keeping the best," advises Marlene, a designer who won awards for both the home's kitchen and master bedroom. "At the same time, you select those pieces that will benefit and complement the house."
The couple's previous home, a stately Greek Revival on a hilltop, told a tale of Marlene's travels to France and England, where for three decades she's bought antiques for a shop she owns in tandem with her design business. She wanted their new, smaller home to continue the story. "The concept was to design a home with antiques that reflect my work," Marlene says, "and that has an updated look with fresh fabrics."
French 18th-century antiques like the great room's carved fruitwood armoire (check out that gorgeous waxed finish), the entry's more formal serpentine walnut commode, and the dining room's funkier canopy chair attest to Marlene's exacting eye. But viewed out of context, they may overstate her Francophile focus. "I started as an Anglophile," the designer says. "As the years passed, I crossed the channel and starting buying in France."
The French influence does seem to dominate now, but Marlene insists she "could never live with just one style." Case in point: the great room's 18th-century English mahogany secretary. Or its mantel's menagerie of free-spirited French piano-playing monkeys and a more reserved (dare we say judgmental?) terra-cotta English pug. Then there are the breakfast area's English Macclesfield chairs. With their charmingly vulnerable spindle tops, they're natural snuggle buddies with an 18th-century French chestnut farm table and about as charismatic as furniture can be.
"Along with my heightened love of French antiques, I continued to do all the things I've learned over the years in designing this house," says Marlene. "I used clean lines and paired modern accents with antiques."
The clean lines explain why these quintessentially traditional rooms don't reek of museum mustiness. Tip: Little touches of squeaky-clean lines, like the ultra-simple frame above the great room's fireplace, are sometimes all that's needed to counterbalance carved antiques. And as for the modern mix, what's not to love about those crisp tailored chairs in the master bedroom or the sharp edges of the cocktail table in the great room? Tip: Hard geometry like that of the cocktail table is a swift antidote for the squishier lines of oversized upholstered pieces.
As for squishy, not enough can be said about the rank of functionality in Marlene's design hierarchy. "I wanted this house to be easy and comfortable," she says. So much so that she walked away from more modern streamlined upholstered pieces, happily forgoing the hip factor in favor of ultra-comfortable sofas and chairs to relax into gratefully.
"The sofa is like a bed," Marlene says. "I'm tired when I come home from work, but I don't want to go to the bedroom. This is my resting spot. I wanted it deliberately stuffy [as in well-cushioned] and comfy." Benjamin Moore's "Calming Cream" on the walls is the ultimate backdrop of serenity.
"As designers, we all like the hip and the new," she says, "but functionality is one of my top priorities."
Photography: Werner Straube
Interior design: Marlene A. Shaw, Pilgrims' Progress, 6535 Line Ave., Shreveport, LA 71106; 318/868-3383.
The creamy palette of the great room's large Oushak rug is neutral ground for the warm tones of the sink-down upholstered pieces. The armoire is 18th-century fruitwood.
Chavelle's Niche with Quinces trompe l'oeil painting decorates the mantel.
A French trumeau hangs above a 19th-century French commode in the foyer. The antique wall sculpture above the lyre-backed chair with its cheerful yellow cushion is from Charles Faudree Antiques.
French antiques, including a Montgolfier chandelier, gilded mirror, and canopy chair join an English breakfront cabinet.
The table is set with English Imperial stoneware and Edinburgh Thistle stemware from Scotland.
Antique tea caddies adorn the sofa table in the great room.
An 18th-century Provençal carved étagère mounted on the wall above the built-in desk displays a collection of French faience plates. Subtle French-vanilla Wood-Mode cabinets allow the walls' custom Venetian plaster with a glazed-on wheat- sheaf motif designed by Marlene to command attention. Flooring is chiseled travertine, and counters are green marble. French reproduction bar stools pull up to the Carrara marble-topped island.
Crowned by a stately limestone range hood, the striking medallion behind the KitchenAid range is an 18th-century French iron fireback that weighs more than 100 pounds, now hung against a backsplash of buttery tumbled marble.
A breakfront displaying Marlene's collection of rooster-motif and other plates is a reproduction French vaisselier with a yellow-painted finish.
The long chestnut farm table, an 18th-century French antique, lends a note of rusticity. The chandelier, too, is an antique from France.
In the master bedroom, clean lines, a restrained palette, and antiques create a restful haven. The custom headboard features Grey Watkins fabric. Signed Murano glass lamps complete the bedside symmetry. Schumacher silk goblet-pleated draperies on gold-leaf traverse rods from J.L. Anthony add quiet pattern. Artist Kelly Cutter's quartet of tulip paintings hangs over the bed in mirrored frames by Trowbridge Gallery in England. An antique crystal chandelier illuminates modern chairs by TRS Furniture & Textiles.
Marlene collects crystal-and-sterling scent bottles.
Designer Marlene Shaw.