Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson
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PAST PERFECTED

Oak Court, completed in 1958, was designed by the unorthodox American Modernist Edward Durell Stone for Bruno and Josephine Graf of Dallas and instantly became an architectural icon. The Arkansas-born Edward Durell Stone was the architect of one of New York’s first International Style buildings, the 1939 Museum of Modern Art; he was also the chief designer for Radio City Music Hall and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. At the time Stone was designing the Graf house, he was also working on the United States Embassy in New Delhi, and both buildings are strikingly similar in the way they address hot weather. Oak Court might even be regarded as a mini-Embassy with its white terrazzo brise-soleil and interior lagoon (the embassy had a number of them–Oak Court has only one).

When Jennifer and John Eagle purchased Oak Court a few years ago, the house had suffered several imperfect renovations and was in danger of becoming a footnote in Dallas’ architectural history. The Eagles wanted to restore the imperiled house to its rightful spot as a city landmark and were determined to find an architect who felt the same way. Their long-time designer David Cadwallader suggested architect Russell Buchanan, a Modernist who understood that their house deserved resurrection. In some ways Buchanan’s job was already laid out for him by the late Stone, whose vision for the house was meticulous. Stone had designed Oak Court on a nine-foot grid and he adhered to that framework rigorously. It imparts logic and harmony to the house, but was also the perfect guide for Buchanan as he plotted the restoration.

David Cadwallader invigorated the house with fresh opinions. He kept the T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings pedestal dining table and chairs, a pair of sofas, and some floor lamps–all of which were original to the house and conveyed to successive owners. But the designer also added other pieces that kept the spirit of mid-century Modernism without adhering slavishly to it.

photo courtesy of MESA Design Group

Despite the earlier renovations, the architecturally striking brise-soleil–a Stone signature–was still intact. The sunscreen encloses the second story like a delicate framework.

A bronze Ishtar stands guard in the courtyard outside the music room where a small sculpture by John Chamberlain sits on the table. Lamp by Achille Castiglioni, from Flos. Buchanan and Cadwallader added museum-quality lighting as part of the restoration.

Buchanan restored the dining room’s famous floating marble island. A blue work by Michael Heizer is the dramatic backdrop in the room; Julio Larraz busts sit on the Giorgetti buffet; chairs by Robsjohn-Gibbings are original to the house.

Bulthaup cabinetry and hood. SubZero ovens, cooktop, and refrigerator. Marble-topped table and chairs are by Saarinen. Walter Knoll counter stools.

Russell Buchanan added a vaulted skylight above the second-floor terrace and encircled the original domed skylights, which look down on the first-floor gallery, with limestone seating. The teak lounge furniture is by Sutherland; all fabrics are by Perennials; planters are from Design Within Reach.

The master bedroom is just off the second-floor terrace. Helen Frankenthaler’s 1973 “Myth” hangs above the bed. Bed by Poliform; sofa by Cassina; Pollack sheers.

Buchanan opened up the ceiling in the all-marble master bath to bring light in overhead.

Buchanan designed a stainless steel stair tower for easy access to the second floor via the cantilevered bridge. The tower’s perforated armature pays homage to the brise soleil. Pool furniture by Paola Lenti.

The new pool (originally the pool was inside where the first-floor gallery now is) is a-glitter with midnight blue tile. Buchanan sited it exactly on the house’s central axis.

 

Buchanan and the team involved in restoring Oak Court documented their work in a signed and numbered limited edition hardbound book that’s available through Buchanan Architecture ($125).

Landscape by Mary Ellen Cowan of MESA Design Group.

Photography, except as noted, by Ira Montgomery for Architectural Digest.




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