Composing a Classic

by Diane Carroll

Philip Kirk can tell the tale of the day he walked into a salvage sale and came out with a fine, nineteenth-century English sideboard, his wallet only slightly slimmer for the transaction. Craig Schumacher can recount how he discovered antique Chinese trunks in the aisles of a home improvement store.

Uncovering great finds is all in a day's work for both Philip and Craig--shopping is literally part of their job descriptions. As a photo stylist for companies ranging from Neiman Marcus to Pier One Imports, Philip is always on the hunt for just the right pieces to furnish or accessorize locations. Craig, both an artist and an interior designer, does the same for clients' homes. "You see so much that you learn over time what has a good look for a good price," says Philip.

Although they are savvy shoppers, their true talent is in knowing what to do with their finds. "If we didn't know how to be selective and edit, our house would look like a flea market," says Craig. "What we've learned over time is how to compose a room like I would a painting or Philip would a set: with color, shape, size, texture, scale, and balance--basic artistic principles."

Having renovated and lived in six houses over the past 20 years, Philip and Craig have had plenty of practice. Their current home, a 1932 cottage in Dallas, has a decidedly English cottage feel, and each room has been thoughtfully composed with a hand toward restraint--enough elements to be cozy without becoming claustrophobic.

Their first step was a major cosmetic overhaul, updating the house with simplicity and consistency in mind: sanding down textured walls and ceilings, painting, refinishing wood floors, replacing chandeliers, and retiling counters.

Onto this canvas, they layered functional, comfortable furnishings. "Family, friends, and our three dogs need to fit within each space or it's never going to feel like home to us," says Philip. "And some elements just naturally compose a comfortable room," says Craig. "By every chair, you need a lamp to read by, a place to put your drink, and a place to prop your feet."

Accessories transform the setting from mere comfort to sheer artistry. "We're both collectors of sorts," say Philip. "I gravitate to china, trays, linens, and boxes; Craig loves art, sculpture, and lamps." Strategically placed, their collections bring the rooms to life.

In the living room, for instance, a brick fireplace, beamed ceiling, and beaded board walls set a textural background. Starting with crisp white walls, they added a comfortable grouping of furniture topped with white slipcovers (made pet-friendly, claims Craig, by using bleachable white denim), then layered on the accessories. A tray tops the ottoman, now practical as footrest and drink holder, while pillows and throws provide color and make the space winter-cozy. A vintage chandelier, found in New Orleans, adds a touch of glamour and formality--or as Craig puts it, "the jewelry."

The mantel is a microcosm of their design philosophy: "Using just a handful of elements keeps a mantel visually interesting without becoming cluttered," says Philip. With an English landscape painting as the focal point, they placed iron candlesticks for height, and a long, low Chinese lacquer box for balance. A copper African mask provides contrast. "I like the juxtaposition of a soothing pastoral painting with the tension of a tribal mask," says Craig. "And the combination of all the elements--iron, lacquer, oil, gold-leaf, copper--adds texture and color for visual interest."

In this classic cottage, it's not the particular items that draw attention, but the overall aura of comfort. "The biggest compliment to me," says Craig, "is when someone tells us our house feels nice, not just looks nice. Then I know we've gotten the composition right."


The home's living room offers a case study in classic composition: Elements are arranged to create a comfortable, visually engaging space. Craig and Philip placed the Chinese lacquer screen along the wall to "visually anchor this end of the room and act as a textural backdrop to the lamp and other items on the table," says Philip They updated the classic Chesterfield-style sofa, purchased at an estate sale, with stripes to "wake up the space and add some punch," says Craig. A family heirloom armchair was kept calm and textural in neutral velvet, topped with an African Kuba cloth pillow for a twist on tradition

Items on the side table are favorite collections, artfully arranged: Craig's ink drawing on paper offers a modern counterpoint to the screen, the artwork's thick white mat enlivening the expanse of black lacquer. The nineteenth-century Ching dynasty urn lamp is one of a pair Craig purchased for the room: "Pairs of lamps add symmetry and keep a room more orderly," he says. The bronze Olympiad sculpture terraces down in height from the artwork and lamp, and lends "that touch of humanity" Craig likes to include in a room. A stack of books, topped with a plate to act as a coaster for drinks, adds weight. Grouping a brass clock, Chinese vase with flowers, and antique red bowl boosts texture and color. "Using a range of materials--like the lacquer, glass, porcelain, bronze, and brass shown here--keeps the grouping visually interesting," says Craig. "And then I always like to add a touch of red, to keep things lively."

COPYRIGHT 2004 Meredith Corporation