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The House That Dad Built

A new take on tradition that may take you by surprise

Writen by Sandra S. Soria
  • John Granen

    A builder by trade, Brian Thompson has overseen the remodeling or construction of four of his family’s homes in the Houston area. So this isn’t exactly the story of the cobbler’s shoeless kids. There is a moral, however, and it pertains to design: Take a new tack on tradition, and it may take you by surprise.

    To move into this new English country-style home, the Thompson family only had to go around the corner in the neighborhood they love. But for Brian’s wife, Katherine, it was a big leap in terms of style. “Our last house was more eclectic and layered,” she says. “It had richer, darker colors. This house is definitely a different look for us. It’s larger but with a lot less stuff. It took some getting used to, but I love this style now.”

    The style is a signature look for designer Kevin Spearman of Bellacasa Design, a firm Brian has admired and worked with for years. Spearman describes the home as having “timeless appeal and a humble presence.” Translated: classic and collected. “We achieve our style by using such classic elements in the home’s shell as traditional moldings and mantels, and wall, window, and ceiling treatments,” notes the designer. “Then we couple those with antique furnishings and quiet, textured surfaces.”

    The interiors have few patterns and limited fabrics, but the eye is still entertained, thanks to statuesque furniture shapes and textural walls, floors, and fabrics. Accessories are used more sparingly. The pieces that did make the cut from the couple’s collection of treasures offer pops of color and personality.

    Katherine succumbed to the idea of a pared down look after a few attempts at bringing forward vestiges of the family’s previous house. “In the beginning, I kept putting a few more things out while Brian was at work,” she remembers with a laugh. “But he would just come home and shake his head. So I ended up renting a storage area. I figure I’ll hold onto some things; we’re bound to move in a couple of years, so I’ll wait to see what the style of our next house will be.”

    For now, the spare look has advantages for this busy family of five, which includes children Courtney, John, and Will. For one, it’s easy to keep up. Less means less dusting. Fewer layers also means more room for hanging out with friends. The house was designed for entertaining all ages. “We put all of our entertaining spaces downstairs,” says Brian, “and all of the private spaces, including the master bedroom, upstairs. We even pushed the house forward on the lot so that we had a bigger backyard.” Adds Katherine, “When you have teenagers, you want to coax the entertaining to the downstairs. It keeps them from disappearing upstairs behind closed doors.”

    The Thompsons adjusted the floor plan to make the house live the way they want it to. The kitchen opens to a large sunroom space rather than a small breakfast room. The classic granite-and-marble checkerboard floor ties the two spaces together and evokes the look of an older home. In the sunroom, the most popular spot for the kids to gather, horizontal planked walls warm the room, as do the layered floor coverings: an antique rug over a seagrass rug. The pivot point between the kitchen, sunroom, and adjacent family room is an antique table and chairs used for casual family meals. The great room space, with its beamed and planked vaulted ceiling, is divided into several intimate seating areas ideal for entertaining.

    Also ready for company is what designer Spearman calls the “wow” room, a.k.a. the dining room. The space was paneled, then painted in an earthy green to simplify the backdrop. The floors are vintage oak with a raw, weathered finish. A casual trestle table has a related relaxed look, even with the more formal French chairs drawn around it. But the stunners are the baby grand piano and the white-painted branch chandelier. “We topped off the room with the surprise of the ‘edgy’ chandelier,” says designer Spearman. “It throws the room in a more artistic direction without sacrificing comfort and approachability.”

    Upstairs, the master bedroom is equally minimalist, but it’s more “ahhh” than “wow.” The focal point is a custom headboard upholstered in fine linen and monogrammed. The foot of the high bed has its own unique mark—an antique writing table replaces the ubiquitous bench for another design surprise.

    What isn’t surprising is that Brian already has his sights on building another home for his family in yet another style. Next time, he wants to build in the plantation style of famed Louisiana architect A. Hays Town.

    Will Katherine get her layers back? The outcome of that story remains to be seen.

    Photography: John Granen
    Produced by Susan Fox 

  • John Granen

    Great Room

    The expansive great room features a lofty beamed and planked vaulted ceiling and tall windows, which saturate the space with light. The room is divided into several intimate sitting areas, ideal for entertaining guests. Here, a pair of ottomans double as additional seating.

  • John Granen

    Living Room

    In the living room, a grid of antique botanicals flanked by salvaged columns imparts quiet beauty.

  • John Granen

    Living Room Details

    A custom daybed from Bellacasa brings lends elegance to the living room. A metal side table and shapely white vases add touches of contemporary design to the mostly traditional style of the home.

  • John Granen


    The trestle table and eclectic seating, including a primitive antique bench, add family function with less visual bulk than the originally planned second island.

  • John Granen

    Kitchen Details

    Warm maple countertops on the island and “Taipei” window covering from Castec keep the kitchen cozy and inviting.

  • John Granen


    A honed black-granite-and-Carrara-marble checkerboard floor flows from the kitchen to an adjacent sunroomto give the home an established feel. The room is the established favorite of John, Will, and sister Courtney.

  • John Granen

    Sunroom Details

    A vase of daylilies brightens up the sunroom.

  • John Granen


    Just through the open doors of the sunroom where the kids hang out is a stone-walled loggia where the whole family often entertains.

  • John Granen

    Loggia Details

    Satellite sitting and dining areas wrap around the home, sheltered from the elements to maximize utility.

  • John Granen


    The English country-style home is located near downtown Houston.

  • John Granen

    Dining Room

    In the formal dining area, pale oak floors provide a neutral landscape for the room’s more striking details. A demilune bay window in the dining room provides a dramatic stage for the family’s grand piano.

  • John Granen

    Dining Room Table

    Like the rest of the house, this room offers a visual punch without relying on layers of pattern or objects. The contrast of the formal piano and Louis-style chairs with the casual weathered oak floors and painted twig chandelier stirs up interest.

  • John Granen

    Master Bedroom

    The master bedroom exudes the home’s calm, cool, and collected style. It starts with quality, found here in fine linen bedding and fabrics. Add a few choice antiques, such as the writing table and ottoman, and the style is enriched by the past. Comfort and light are also pivotal players. Note how the sofa basks in the glow of simply treated windows.

  • John Granen

    Master Bedroom Sitting Area

    A mirror made of naturally shaped pieces of wood adds an undeniably organic element to the bedroom. Distraction by color is kept to a calm minimum, like the chair’s pale lavender pillow and mossy hue of the footstool.

  • John Granen

    Master Bath

    Katherine loves the way the dark green tiles ground the room.

  • John Granen

    Family Portrait

    Katherine and Brian Thompson with their sons John and Will, along with Bear, the family pooch, in the expansive great room of their home.