New houses, like new cars, have their perks—shiny countertops, scuff-free floors, HVAC systems that actually work. But they can come with their own particular kind of problem: A lack of the kind of charm that can take years, or decades, or even centuries to develop. Such was the case with the newly constructed home in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood that Chandos Dodson Epley was hired to overhaul. “It was actually built as a show house, so there were multiple designers who designed multiple rooms before it was sold to the current owner,” she explains of the five-bedroom house.
Architecturally, everything flowed surprisingly well— “There really was no construction work that needed to be done,” Epley says—but the interiors begged for a dollop of enchantment that can only come with time—and some well-chosen eye candy. “The house was beautiful on its own, but needed more warmth and aesthetic eloquence,” says Epley, a longtime designer who launched a new brand, Chandos Collective, in June.
Speaking of warmth, the client “really wanted to be able to use some of her existing furniture,” Epley recalls of the homeowners’ stash of sentimental pieces and fine antiques. “And she felt like [every other potential designer] that she had talked to kind of had their own view of how this house should look. My take is always that the home is about you and what you love and what you want to see every day, so that’s really important for us to incorporate from the beginning.”
Layering in new—or at least newly bought—pieces that felt at one with the owners’ existing items was equally crucial. “My favorite part of this project was shopping for all the antiques!” says Epley. “So many times, you walk into a home and things look too bright and shiny and new; any time you can add some smoke, or a little bit of patina, it makes everything warmer.”
Blessedly, these clients existing pieces showed their excellent taste. Over the years, the now-empty-nesters had amassed a collection that practically any designer would drool over, from several pieces of museum-worthy art to a showstopping needlepoint loveseat. Epley updated the latter by recovering the black seat in a bone-white linen. “It was such a statement piece already that it kind of needed to not be the whole center stage of the room—it needed to be a little more quiet,” says Epley, whose trademark is marrying classic details with modern restraint.
That choice was in keeping with the home’s existing color palette, which was largely made up of easy-to-play-with neutrals. “The client loved color,” Epley says, but “she really didn’t want to touch the house too much in terms of repainting or reinventing what was there. We had a really neutral palette to begin with, so we added jewel tones.” One key piece of inspiration was the aforementioned needlepoint loveseat, woven through with “rich reds and greens,” Epley explains. “It was an evolution of color from the pieces she had into what we incorporated into the house.”
While such storied, timeworn hues and pieces could read as a bit stuffy, here they’re anything but, partly because the designer presciently left so much breathing room in the interior and partly because of the modern art throughout the home. Epley also runs an art advisory business, C2 Art Advisors, and one of her finds—a Dorothy Hood painting, “Red That Sings,” with a metallic gleam—adds a crucial bit of juxtaposition in the front living room. “It’s an amazing piece,” says Epley. Hood, a modernist painter who lived in Houston, “did a series in the sixties which was all about the satellite pictures and images from space,” Epley says. Ensconced below it: a custom-made sofa by The Joseph Company, upholstered in a Cowtan & Tout fabric with an unexpected ornamentation: a flouncy fringe.
“Everything we do is about layers of detail and precision,” Epley says. “It was a pleasure working with someone who would do a tassel fringe!” Just call her a mix master.