After a relationship ends, the designer remembers a home crafted over four years
By Troy Broussard
Photograph by Bob Jackson
Interior design can be one of the most expensive and time-consuming tasks one can undertake. Whether by hiring a professional designer or accumulating furniture over time, creating an interior is an important expression of individuality. An interior is a unique reflection of taste, a record of experiences, and a backdrop for entertaining. They are ever changing, evolving with time, necessity, and fashion. They are a labor of love. But unless you are Ima Hogg or Elvis Presley, design is an art form that is not preserved. Unlike quality furniture that can be passed down through the ages or architecture that will change ownership, interiors do not last.
This is an especially poignant and personal topic for me. After five and a half years, my partner and I are separating. We have sold our house. This month, I have decided to feature the home that we created together.
We bought the 1970s townhouse four years ago. The place had an ordinary apartment look, with white walls and plain carpet. But wooden accents, architectural elements, eclectic furnishings, and sensible ingenuity transformed it into a comfortable New Orleans-style environment.
I did not approach this project in the same way that I would for a client, but rather as a partner who knew the ins and outs of putting a house together. We created this interior not as a showplace, but as a place we loved. And it was an adventure.
When we first got together, his idea of design was a Pottery Barn catalogue. So my role was as an educator, showing him how to look at art and how to appreciate furniture of a more unique nature. We arrived at joint decisions on what acquisitions to make based on what would both enhance our lives and would compliment the style of the home. We would go out shopping, scouring antique stores and art galleries for the perfect items wherever we went.
Charity auctions, such the one that accompanies the Human Rights Campaign dinner, are great places to buy art at a good price. Hart Galleries’ auctions were also a good source of treasures. On many a Sunday, we found ourselves sipping mimosas and waving a bidding paddle. I recommend a thorough preview and inspection of the offered items, however. Furniture always looks better on the block—and after a few mimosas.
After a “pet accident” on the new white carpet, the wall-to-wall had to go. I did it myself. He came downstairs one Sunday morning, and I had half of the living room ripped out. “What in the world are you doing?” he laughed with disbelief.
The process of patching, grinding, and stripping the foundation slab began. I rented a sander from Home Depot and bought a transparent stain from Bering’s Hardware. Warning: This is an extremely dusty endeavor. The procedure took a week and cost $250. The result is a functional stained cement floor.
To soften the floor, we spread antique area rugs throughout the residence, adding depth, richness, and color. The two main rugs on the first floor were purchased from Denton Jones, Inc. (If you plan to visit, bring your decorator. Jones sells only to the trade.)
Given the myriad of patterned rugs, I did all upholstery on the first floor in leather—predominantly black. I chose leather for ease of care and to unify the eclectic periods and styles of furniture. Leather additionally transformed antique pieces that might typically be misconstrued as fussy into comfortable and masculine furnishings. (The decision to upholster everything in black leather no doubt saved us from arguments over fabric selections, too!)
The Rococo fauteuils (open armchairs) that flanked the fireplace are a good example of how leather can change the perception of a style. Characterized by curvilinear shapes, Louis XV is a style typically considered feminine and formal. Traditionally, these chairs would sport brocade or tapestry. Upholstered in black leather, they took on a more masculine quality, have more of an edge, and were more inviting. We always lounged on them with our guests.
A 19th-century center table combined with a set of four McGuire armchairs for formal dining. Again, black leather grounded the chairs and gave the rattan weight against the strength of the heavily grained rosewood table. A pair of Louis XV side chairs rested near the columns in the dining room to pull up to the table when we entertained a group of six.
Shopping for architectural antiques to plug into an existing space is extremely difficult. The shopping list must be precise, with proper measurements in case a find is stumbled upon. Searching for months for the right mantel, we discovered the perfect specimen at Antiques on 19th in the Heights. It was the perfect width and character for the interior. After a carpenter cut it down and installed it, the mantel looked as if it had always belonged in the house.
We found the antique pine columns—rustic, yet at the same time elegant—that divided the living room and dining room at the Emporium. Somewhere in time, two young lovers carved their initials into them.
When we first met, my partner was less familiar with art than I. But touring galleries and having discussions about art opened the door for his interpretations and a newfound appreciation. He has an excellent eye for art, and we share a voracious passion for collecting. Remember, art is what the viewer makes of it, not what he is told to think.
Our collection of paintings ranged from classical to contemporary and from fine art to folk. An inordinate amount of our income went toward the purchase of artwork, and we loved the pursuit as much as the collection. Meredith Long Gallery showcases some of our favorite artists, such as Sarah Lamb. Every time we acquired a new piece, a lively discussion would occur about where to hang it, and the walls were rearranged. Art is food for the soul, and collecting art was a feast that we shared.
We will always love each other and cherish the four years that we spent in this home. But the time came to divide our acquisitions. We divvied up the furniture, the artwork, the china, and the odds and ends. I got custody of the dog, a birthday gift from him.
The home we created was beautiful, and moving on was bittersweet. Though sad to be apart, we are both excited to create separate interiors, ones that will cultivate our growth as individual men, rather than as a couple. But, you know, an interior is a lot like a relationship. Once it is over, there are little more than photographs to convey its magic and articulate to others how wonderful it once was.
Troy Broussard covers interior design for OutSmart magazine, whose readers named Broussard best interior designer in the most recent Gayest & Greatest reader survey (“So Gay, So Great,” October 2003).
• French open armchairs
Carl Moore Antiques, 1610 Bissonnet
• Architectural columns
Emporium, 1800 Westheimer
• McGuire armchairs
Elouise Abbott Showroom, Decorative Center Houston, 5120 Woodway, Suite 3010
• Sarah Lamb painting
Meredith Long Gallery, 2323 San Felipe
Denton Jones, Inc., Resource Center, 7026 Old Katy Rd., Suite 167