By Kathryn Brookshire Brown
Decorator Jan Showers decks a Dallas house in posh opulence and mirror galore.
Best friends sometimes tell painful truths. Like when your new coiffure leaves something to be desired or your boyfriend just isn’t comme il faut. So leave it to a pal who’s also an interior designer to hint that your rooms aren’t nearly as stylish as you are.
A formative year in London in the 1980s inspired Texas philanthropist and art historian Jeanne Marie Clossey to collect 18th-century English furniture and Chinese K’ang-his porcelain of the same era, all of which ended up furnishing every nook and cranny of her house in Dallas. Some 15 years later, however, those beloved backbones of traditionalism were looking a bit long in the tooth. In the brisk opinion of decorator Jan Showers, that historical cache—finely wrought but a bit stuffy en masse—was too old lady-ish for a woman who is a notably stylish mover and shaker in the city’s cultural circles. (Clossey is on the board of directors of the nascent Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, a $260 million multiuse theater complex with buildings by Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster.)
“I have to be honest,” Showers told Clossey one day, with the accuracy of a heat-seeking missile. “It doesn’t look like you—it’s not chic, young, or personal.” So Clossey, who was moving into a new place, challenged the designer to come up with a solution without divesting a single piece.
The answer, in Showers’ estimation, was simple: Mix the old with the new or, at the very least, the suavely vintage. The Provencal-style house, built about a decade ago, is no great shakes architecturally, but it’s blessed with an army of French doors on the first floor that fills the room with sunlight and a sweeping staircase of lacy black iron in the entrance hall. Clossey’s furniture, on the other hand, was elegant but dark. It needed some oomph, some sizzle to match the lady of the house. “A gal about town” is how Showers describes her. “She is never out without a date; she doesn’t sit at home.”
And what better background for a 21st-century femme du monde than ingredients plucked straight from the canons of modern glamour—pale back—grounds in lingerie shades of the 1930s, the sparkle of mirrors, the slither of silk and taffeta? Clossey’s new rooms are as airy as a soufflé and as different from her previous house as possible. “I really didn’t need a family home any longer,” says Clossey, the mother of a grown daughter. “I’m divorced now, and I wanted something that was more sophisticated, that said more about me.”
Showers, a well-known proponent of glamour-girl décor—she also produces a line of sleek home furnishings suffused with cocktail-shaker chic—was the perfect designer for the job. “The end of the 1930s is very specific for me,” says Showers, whose influences include Syrie Maugham, the British doyenne who made white rooms all the rage way back when. “That period was so fresh, so new, and the woods used were incredible,” she says. “The look was modern but referenced the 18th-century.”
Behind Clossey’s front door, antiques that once seemed dour and genteel now kick up their heels in rooms that sparkle, shimmer and shine. Mirrors glitter, but in carefully calibrated doses: mirrored sconces in the master bedroom, hefty mirrored table lamps in the morning room, a spectacular mirrored mantelpiece in the living room that reflects snow-white furniture scattered across a carpet the color of celadon porcelain. (“Hints of mirror care best,” explains Showers. “Too much of it looks sleazy.”) Lamps of Murano glass provide delicate punches of candy color throughout the house. A 19th-century Japanese screen of elegant ladies mincing across fields of gold leaf spans one wall of the dining room, a spare space filled with a set of Ruhlmann-like-dining chairs by an anonymous 1940s French cabinetmaker teamed up with a Louis XVI-style dining table by Baker, circa 1960.
Secondhand Baker furniture with custom-made chairs and sea grass with venerable English antiques? “I’m not afraid of mixing thins,” says the designer, who placed a sycamore side table by 20th-century French designer Jules Leleu in the entrance hall along with a few cowhide benches she created based on a Ruhlmann design. And effective mingling means an element of surprise. At the top of the curving staircase is the house’s piece de resistance—a black-and-white library, as sophisticated as any film-star head shot by Hurrell, with luxurious satin-black walls, glossy black ceramic lamps, a white cotton sofa, and a zebra skin rug, all leavened with heavenly shots of blue Venetian glass and ice-blue silk-taffeta pillows. Glam? You bet. Just like the lady who lives here.