The 4,800-square-foot Memorial home is a little bit French, a little bit Italian, and entirely classic after the renovation

The 4,800-square-foot Memorial home is a little bit French, a little bit Italian, and entirely classic after the renovation | Pro Club Bd

Early in their 29-year marriage, Althea and Henry Lee traveled to Europe and immersed themselves in the elegance of French design and the simplicity of Italian style.

Henry is a radiologist but has a background and a taste for art history, so he was just as involved as Althea when it came time to phasedly renovate the 4,800-square-foot home they bought in Memorial.

They turned to interior designer Julie Dodson of Dodson Interiors, who had helped them earlier when they were building another home in Memorial for the Lees and their children Natalie, now 22, and recent University of Texas graduate student Nathan of Trinity, built Classical School and their angelic daughter Nicole, who died of brain cancer 12 years ago aged just 7.

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After Nicole’s death, Althea dedicated her time to volunteering, and she is now the director of the Houston chapter of The Cure Starts Now, a nonprofit organization that raises money for hospitals researching pediatric brain cancer. The Houston Chapter has raised $500,000 in five years.

Both Henry and Althea are first-generation Americans. Althea’s parents were born in Hong Kong and came to the United States as college students. Just a month before she was born, they moved to Houston, where her father worked in the energy industry. Althea occasionally works in commercial acting — you may have seen her in a Methodist Hospital commercial portraying a mother seeking online care.

Henry’s family moved to the United States from Taiwan and settled in Chicago. His father was a nuclear engineer and Henry is the first doctor in the family, although his siblings all work in medicine too. (His twin brother is a teaching pharmacist, another brother is a doctor and his sister is an optometrist.)

Their goal was to make their house a comfortable, elegant home that could accommodate both a family with children and their Siberian husky Suki, a stray they found at a church they used to attend.

“I love that Julie isn’t entirely traditional or modern. She uses a nice mix of parts so it doesn’t feel dated. It’s a great balance of fun and whimsical,” Althea said.

Early on, they gutted the kitchen and used space at the back of the house to create a kennel area for Suki and a new bathroom topped with powdered sugar with black-and-white Chenonceau wallpaper by Schumacher and black marble floor tiles.

They reconfigured the kitchen to be more functional and eliminate the odd, pie-shaped island with a stove in the middle. Althea also didn’t like the placement of the sink or fridge, and felt that she had very little counter space to prepare family meals. The new design, which added six feet of space, added 20 linear feet of workspace.

A great kitchen was important to the Lees as Althea cooks a lot and the room is the heart of the home. She likes to work from here when her son is doing homework

White marble replaced mottled brown-and-black granite counters, and some of their wall units now have glass-fronted doors to showcase pretty white crockery. The wooden beams on the coffered ceiling were painted the same light gray as the cabinets.

The focal point of the room, however, is the antique backsplash tile that Dodson found at Chateau Domingue, a Houston company that specializes in architectural antiques and salvaged antique European building materials, many of which are centuries old. These kitchen tiles, in a gray and cream palette with a chic circle-and-square pattern, were used as floor tiles in a house in a French village sometime in the mid to late 19th century, according to Ruth Gay, owner of Chateau Domingue.

The nearby breakfast area includes a table and chairs from their previous home, but they chose to reupholster the chairs, with pretty blue and white fabric for the backrests and vinylized white fabric for the seats to withstand splashes.

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“I love the traditional style and I love the transitional style — and I love putting this jigsaw puzzle together, finding the right pieces and mixing things that you wouldn’t think would go together,” Dodson said.

A blue linen wall treatment gives the dining room a dramatic new look, as Dodson used yards of fabric to cover the walls – similar to wallpaper but with a whole new look and feel. This fabric was used again in the family room for curtains that hung on large windows.

The dining room chairs got a new treatment here too, with Galbraith & Paul fabric featuring circles in muted blues and grays and white vinyl for the seats. Other Galbraith & Paul fabrics come into play in curtains in its delicate sumi pattern, birds, branches and paper lanterns in a blue-grey colourway.

And an antique mirror they found for their previous home worked perfectly here too.

“We were able to repurpose a lot from their previous home, it involved resourcing and adding new things and changing some things,” Dodson said. “Some people buy things and worry about whether they can reuse them when they move. If you buy classic, high-quality pieces, you can use them again and again as long as the scale isn’t completely different.”

The family room was also redesigned, incorporating a sofa with a rounded chaise longue at one end in place of the white slipcover sofas they had given their daughter and a stripe print swivel chair and antique-style chair that was rediscovered in one Ikat print pattern. For fun, they added a pair of Made Goods poufs surrounded by floor-length fringes. They might seem like a trending piece elsewhere, but they’ll always be popular in Texas.

“Fringe stools, they’re so cheeky,” Althea exclaimed. “It feels like a dress you want to start shaking. It feels like high fashion with those in it.”

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