F!D Luxe – Dec 2008
By Paige Phelps
Photography by Terri Glanger
Feathers fly when Nest owner Heather Wiese-Alexander gives her University Park manor a modern makeover.
Perhaps the best way to understand Heather Wiese-Alexander’s aesthetic is to explain her quest for the perfect bathtub.
A self-described “tub girl,” Heather scoured shops here and abroad before finally scoring an Italian soaker with the ideal oval shape.
“I can’t help it, I want symmetry and clean lines,” says Heather. “At the end of my day and the beginning of my day, I don’t want to deal with anything asymmetrical.”
That obsession with order presented a problem when Heather, a former Neiman Marcus art director who now pulls double-duty as owner of Snider Plaza home store Nest and designer of the couture letterpress line Bell’Invito, fell in love with an aged University Park traditional.
The Federal-meets-Colonial brick two-story had uneven floors, cracks in the walls and a foundation in need of a major overhaul. But it also had charm and history. The house was built in the 1930s by Robert Stewart Hyer, the first president of Southern Methodist University.
The trick for Heather and husband Scott Alexander was giving the two-story a thoroughly modern makeover while keeping it in line with their buttoned-up neighborhood.
It took a year for Heather to put an architectural and design team she trusted in place, and another six months of weekly meetings to draw up the plans.
“Basically, it was a big, overpriced dog house for about a year,” Heather says.
The couple, who lived in a loft at South Side on Lamar during the renovation, would rough it by “camping out” at the property on weekends, Scott says. It took three years from start to finish before husband, wife and two dogs finally moved in, but the payoff was huge.
Outside, the original crumbling red bricks were removed and new concrete block walls erected. A metal roof that resembles oil-rubbed bronze compliments the home’s traditional lines, but adds to the contemporary point of view.
The streamlined exterior signals what you’ll find inside. The Alexanders say they simply refined, edited and opened up. The only new additions to the home’s original footprint are a spacious family room off the revamped kitchen, and the master suite directly above.
“We tried to keep the whole house intact except for the kitchen,” says Heather. “The door hardware was just re-plated; we replicated the original claw-foot tubs. Where there was a door, we tried to keep the door. Where there was a staircase, we tried to keep the staircase.”
Emphasis on try – the couple planned to restore the home’s original entry staircase, and had even found replacement spindles and newels to match, but the rickety structure collapsed during renovation.
“The whole house was made of plaster, and it was all cracking and pretty much brought the house down in chunks,” Scott remembers. They rebuilt the stairs from scratch, reusing any woodwork they could save.
On the more fortuitous side, while shopping in Milan, Heather discovered a pair of Venini glass pendants in pale blue and amber that now make their own statement in the foyer. She also got creative in the connecting powder room, where overscaled damask wallpaper by Studio Printworks and whitewashed paneling hide a dirty secret: the Alexanders installed a hidden mudroom for their German Shepherds, Caesar and Chloé, complete with a floor drain for baths and a door to the backyard.
It’s just one of the ways the couple maintains serenity in the rest of the house. In the living room, a soothing palette of white, cream and taupe is punctuated by four Barcelona chairs and a wood-and-leather chaise that Heather commissioned through Nest. A painting over the fireplace by Italian hyper-realist Michele Taricco depicts an unmade bed and adds a wink of mischief in this otherwise formal space.
Heather has more than a slight obsession with Italy. She travels there three times a year for vacations and buying trips, but first fell in love with the country when she was 20 and spent a semester abroad in Scandicci, a suburb of Florence. She now weaves Italian style throughout her everyday surroundings.
The dining room’s dramatic mirrored ceiling, for instance, was inspired by a favorite Italian cafe.
“It’s a touristy bar and patisserie, and all the displays are antiqued mirror, all the walls and the ceiling. I love, love, love that,” Heather says. “And I thought that’s what my cove ceiling needs, a sort of mosaic of mirrors.”
The glam result offers a sleek contrast to the room’s ornate wood paneling, painted white. A Murano chandelier, Design Within Reach table and Italian modern chairs in sculpted plastic also keep the vibe young instead of stuffy.
“We didn’t want an overly elegant house,” Heather said. “That’s just not us.”
Some might consider the couple’s kitchen an exception, however. The rich wenge wood paneling, frosted glass backsplashes, terrazzo floors, white statuary marble countertops and central soapstone island have caused more than one jaw to drop. But Heather says the clean lines and sleek surfaces help to keep her creative mind quiet and centered.
“The thing I love about my house is that, instead of a sexy stiletto, it’s a great pair of flats,” she says. “Really nice flats, mind you, but livable, comfy and homey.”