October 18, 2011

Small House - Grand Style

A few weeks ago my husband and I spent a decent part of Friday evening, after we had tucked the kiddos into bed, discussing the state of the economy and its effects, and our own goals-- where we are with them and what parts of them need tweaking. The "needs tweaking" list was, shall we say, healthy and robust. Why do things take so much longer to accomplish than I originally plan? Probably because patience is not my natural-born virtue, but I digress. One of the items on the "To Tweak" list was the size, layout and overall practicality of our daughters' rooms. That's code for: Wouldn't it be so much easier to be organized if we had a bigger house?!

Our daughters are eight and two, and particularly the 8-year-old (who has recently let us know that she is now teenager-ish) has an ever-growing assortment of interests, activities and all the accompanying stuff treasures. So I was completely thrown off the morning after the economy conversation when she told us (I'm not making this up) that she wanted to trade rooms with her sister whose room is considerably smaller! She said it would be easier to stay organized in a smaller room. (huh?!) I thought maybe our conversation the night before had been overheard, but no, it turned out that she was just ready for what she considered more grown-up digs. Despite the smaller bedroom's diminutive square footage, it has ceilings that rise to 14 feet & are outfitted with wood beams, and there are tall casement windows that let in tons of natural light, & to her it was cozier. So we gave our okay. I found her move across the hall very telling. She left behind almost everything in her old room & asked me to put them somewhere else. All she wanted to take to the "new" room was her bed, desk, a lamp, a few very special toys and her books. Apparently, she had learned an early lesson in editing. (A complete post on her room later.)

My little girl's mini-editing lesson is age-old and for lots of people one that is worth repeating frequently not just for practicality or necessity, but for style as well. Thoreau touted the virtues of living simply and discussed the possibility of making ones life less complex by living in a small space. Churchill said, "Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge." And Leonardo DaVinci said that "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

Sophistication in simplicity is what this beautiful, hewn limestone San Antonio home is all about.  I have kept photos of it in my files as a go-to for edited elegance without being at all minimalist and cold. When the owner, antiques dealer and interior design consultant Linda Keenan first saw it she said, "The house was small, but I sensed it wanted to be grand. I knew I would put grand things in it." You may remember it from the cover of Veranda magazine a few years ago.  Linda paid close attention to the the scale of each room adding oversized architectural pieces and large antique furnishings for drama. The walls of the house were stripped to its bones, then replastered, waxed and buffed.

A view of the living room. The ceiling was made from wood salvaged from old barns and a schoolhouse, then coffered and painted with Texas animal scenes painted in 18th century style. The pine floors are original to the house and were stripped and left bare.

Another view of the living room. The French 18th century limestone fireplace surround adds a feeling of greatness. The view of the adjoining room past antique English doors makes you wonder whats just around the corner.

And just around the corner in the room that adjoins the living room a pretty wall of windows lets in the Texas sunlight. The tile floor is original to the house.

On the other side of the room is a 17th century French sofa covered in 19th century linen. The large European limestone saint figure is in keeping with the grand scale of the furnishings. Linda was careful not to "clutter" the small spaces with too many little things that would've made the rooms feel smaller. The gorgeous ceiling and doors were designed by local architect Don B. McDonald who was hired to help with the renovation.

An antique French trestle table is combined with Italian 18th century church benches. So charming! The torch is an Italian antique. The shutter panels are from an antique Spanish cupboard.

French street cobblestones cover the wall over an 18th century butcher block in the kitchen alongside a Lacanche stove.
To me, the prettiest room in the house is the master bedroom. The ceiling is again reclaimed barn wood. The canopy and side tables are French, 18th century. Toile bed hangings are 18th century antiques as well.
I love this house for the obvious visual treat that it is. But secondly, it is a fantastic reminder of the optical illusions that can make a small house seem bigger and grander.

  • Use a limited color palette that flows throughout the entire house. Notice how the walls of this house are the same color throughout, and with the exception of the exposed limestone walls, the same texture too.
  •  Don't clutter a small space with lots of tiny items. Use fewer well-selected pieces of grander scale to create the illusion of space. The tapestries used throughout this house are a great example.
  • Use antiques when you can to give a small space, any space for that matter, character and depth. When it isn't possible to use antiques, use pieces that were created in traditional period style to create a feeling of warmth rather than sparseness.
  • And this last item has nothing to do with space, it's here just because. Add fresh florals. They can bring a room to life. In this house all the floral arrangements are either soft coral tones or white - another example of the restrained use of color. The floral arrangements are all by Danny Cuellar's Trinity Flowers in San Antonio.
And wherever in the world you happen to live, big or small, grand or not-so-grand, I hope you dream great-big, grand dreams! 

xo Keri


  1. A child's vision of the world and our place in it is a humbling reminder that wisdom doesn't always come with age. It's possible to live in a small footprint. It's our "stuff" that demands more space.
    What a smart little girl you have!
    Great post, Keri
    ~ Wendi ~

  2. I love this, Keri! Thanks for the tips. Currently, I am in a smaller home and am trying to use my creativity to maximize my space. I'm finding a little bit of organization goes a long way :)

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